U.S. behind in green investment

Cleantech venture capitalist says U.S. is 20 years behind and better get onboard if it wants to take the lead and cash in.

BOSTON--At Red Herring East on Wednesday, Nicholas Parker, the chairman and co-founder of the Cleantech Group, gave a keynote address that painted a picture of clean technology as the next industrial revolution.

Parker's mantra: clean technology offers as much potential for profit as it does for global environmental benefit, if you know where to look.

Companies are so concerned about globalization right now, but they need to include clean technology as part of their plan or they will fall behind the rest of the world, according to Parker.

He pointed to IBM's green initiative and other programs from Microsoft, Google and Sun Microsystems in energy efficiency to illustrate where the smart market leaders are headed. Parker predicted that people will see some major announcements by several big companies by the end of the year. He attributes this to the green that can be made from green technologies.

"Now that people see the economics of climate change, we are all finding our inner Gore right now," Parker quipped with the audience.

But venture capitalists looking for opportunities should look beyond energy. The power generation sector is only 24 percent of carbon emissions, according to Cleantech's numbers.

Since the dot-com bust, the growth rate for clean technology has grown by 243 percent, while semiconductors lost 18 percent of its growth rate, according to figures compile by the Cleantech Group.

And while China may be known for a poor environmental record, it's hip to the idea of efficiency as profit as much as for preservation of its large population. The tide is changing with about 10 percent of venture capital in China going into clean technology ventures, at a conservative estimate, said Parker. That number is going to grow to 20 percent within the next 2 years.

The growing scarcity of water due to both climate change and an exorbitant population growth are contributors.

Parker warned the group of companies and venture capitalists here that the providence of America when it comes to technology is not guaranteed.

"We have always been the leader in all technology, but it seems like with this one it is going to explode outside of America," Parker.

Even if American policymakers and capitalists embrace the money that can be made, it's going to take a while for industry leaders and investors to get up to speed on both the technology and the global economics of the relatively new space.

"When I am here I tell people, America is missing the boat. When I go around the world, I say, the Americans are waking up and while you have had a 20 year lead, they are going to catch up fast," Parker said.