What Green Looks Like: The Development of Sustainable Technology with Heather Clancy

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist with a passion for green technology and corporate sustainability issues. She writes on diverse topics with thoughtfulness and precision. She speaks here with Women Of Green about information technology, Facebook, and her hopefulness in the green movement.

As a journalist that covers topics from e-waste to net neutrality and social media tools, what are the most interesting trends taking place at the intersection of technology and society right now?

I am someone who gets very excited about “possibilities” so I constantly have to reign myself in when it comes to my green technology and corporate sustainability coverage. Right now, there are a few stories that I am trying to advocate in my coverage this year. Not that I won’t follow other things, such as electronic-waste developments or renewable energy technologies, but there are three things guaranteed to capture my attention.

What are they?

1. Real world uses of information technology to collect the data that we need to make buildings smarter and more energy efficient. The reality is that the United States is a culture of instant gratification. In order for the green energy movement to have a chance, we need to demonstrate — quickly — the very real financial value that lies in thinking about energy efficiency. We need to help businesses and consumers save money. Because money makes the world go around.

2. The ongoing evolution of corporate sustainability management practices. The smartest, most innovative businesses in the world “get” that being sustainable isn’t a trivial matter, nor is it simply something that companies do to get environmentalists off their case. Thinking about sustainability is good for profits. There is more data proving that every day, and this really excites me. In fact, I get choked up about it.

I agree. The economic viability of sustainability is growing more and more convincing. And the third topic?

The other thing that has intrigued me for more than a decade is the potential role that technology could play in saving our education system—in improving access to great teachers, and in helping decrease operating expenses so more budget dollars can go into education not administration. In my mind, this is one of the biggest developing stories in the history of our country, not just the technology industry. If we get it wrong, we will not be the world’s leading economy in the next generation. I really believe that.

What does the average American consumers relationship to technology look like these days? Do you see it as a healthy relationship?

Generally speaking, I think that Americans do have a healthy relationship to things like Facebook and mobile phones and such. I know many of us wail about how addicted teenagers are to their gadgets, but I do think many of them will grow out of that. For me, technology has been a boon and a blessing for helping me stay in touch with my family — which is scattered from Florida to California to Hawaii to Manitoba and probably Peru by the summer. I love being able to see photos of my niece and nephew on Facebook. Nothing makes my day more than when I receive a video text on my iPhone.

I do think that technology is a privilege, though, not a right, and that parents need to assume more responsibility in teaching their children proper tech-etiquette. The other day, one of the teachers I know told me that one of her 3rd-grade students regularly receives texts from her mother during class. Does that woman realize what a horrible example she is setting? What is she thinking?

Is electronic recycling keeping pace with production? How about limits on greenwashing? What other measures should we be taking in the public and private sectors?

Generally speaking, I think that the individual states are starting to wake up to their responsibilities when it comes to stewarding the environment. More than half of them have electronic waste recycling or reuse policies in place, many of which require the private sector to share the burden. That is, these laws expect the companies selling technologies that could have a negative impact on the environment to recognize that upfront with programs to help collect them or dispose of them at the end of their useful life. The different federal agencies are working as quickly as you might reasonably expect on many of the issues that will help companies and businesses become greener. I am most disappointed, perhaps, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which continues to resist the idea that businesses should think more about their potential impact or contributions to climate change. Whether or not you believe that humans caused climate change or ARE causing it, why should we run away from the fact that maybe we can do something about it?

You are seeing more institutional investors and private investors using a green lenses when managing their portfolios, which is absolutely a step in the right direction.

The thing that frightens me most is the rhetoric that some politicians still throw around suggesting that paying attention to environmental concerns is somehow responsible for ongoing unemployment.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘green’? What’s your working definition and do you consider yourself to be described by the word?

I think that anyone who takes a moment to consider the impact of their day-to-day actions on the world around them and then takes action on that thought is green.

If I decide to walk across town, rather than driving, I am being green. If I buy a product that has fewer toxic chemicals, ditto. If I chose to brew my coffee in pots rather than opting for those ultra-wasteful one-cup machines, that is a green decision. I am absolutely not as green as many of the people that I write about. I don’t own a hybrid or electric car, and I won’t until I’m in the market for a new car purchase. I don’t own solar panels and am not likely to do so in the near future unless I can find a way to convince my design-conscious partner that they don’t look ridiculous on the roof. I finally convinced him to ditch some of our incandescent light bulbs for more energy-efficient options, and we are ultra-concerned about our energy usage in peak hours.

I made a conscious decision to use my writing abilities to aid the green movement. That doesn’t necessarily make me green, but I think anyone who is legitimately trying to change their consumption habits with the planet in mind should get some credit for that.

Heather’s Links:

Corporate sustainability and social responsibility http://www.smartplanet.com

Greentech developments http://blogs.zdnet.com/green

Ramblings about technology & culture @ Technophile http://www.heatherclancy.com

Heather Clancy’s articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Heather started her journalism life as a business writer with United Press International in New York. She holds a B.A. in English literature from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and has a thing for Lewis Carroll. When she’s not hunting for a great green story, she’s singing a cappella or scuba-diving with her husband, Joe.

1 Comment
Leave a Reply