Saturday, October 8, 2011
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I just finished a project for a client involving research into the New England venture capital sector to identify potential business leads among their portfolio start ups. As I worked my way through it, I was impressed by the extent of capital allocation moving toward the sector of what they collectively call 'Clean Tech'.
This surely bodes well. It should be noted that VC's allocate their own money, unlike investment banks and more frequently come from the sectors they now support. A lot of them seem to come from engineering back grounds and a common aspect of their group photo site visuals is they don't wear ties.
Good old Big Belly, a local enterprise, is one of their picks and is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in cities.
The BigBelly® Solar Compactor is a patented compacting trash receptacle that is completely self-powered. Instead of requiring a grid connection, BigBelly uses solar power for 100% of its energy needs. The unit takes up as much space as the "footprint" of an ordinary receptacle—but its capacity is five times greater. Increased capacity reduces collection trips and can cut fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. BigBelly also provides cost efficiencies from labor savings, fuel cost and maintenance savings, as well as environmental benefits from reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Safe, easy to use, and designed to keep out pests, the BigBelly has already proven its worth in urban streets, parks, colleges, arenas—and in all weather conditions.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
James Howard Kunstler often tosses valuable gems on where the post oil future will see positive prospects by describing the attributes. Big metro areas like Boston that are half choked by vast layers of unsustainable suburbs will be severly impacted by a peak oil future.
Small gateway cities with good rail infrastructure and lots of arable farm land close at hand are in far better shape to weather the Long Emergency. Charming little Pittsfield meets all the specs. One very important concept to embrace in all this is John Maynard Keynes sense of 'capacity'.
Pittsfield was dealt a horrid hand by General Electric in a case study of horrific corporate conduct. They polluted the daylights out of the place with PCBs from their transformer manufacture operation. The worst element of their long toxic regimen involved giving away contaminated dirt to homeowners as free leveling fill so it is nearly impossible to determine where all the PCB loaded dirt ended up.
Then, under Jack Welch, they closed the plant, wiping out a significant number of jobs and leaving a mega superfund site that is still causing problems. The city lost a tenth of its population in addition to elevated cancer risks and a half ruined drinking water supply with unusual damage to the Housatonic River.
But the silver lining in this dismal cloud is this capacity. The remains of the GE Plant are now becoming an elaborate complex of mixed use commercial property in a campus setting. GE is making efforts to redress the consequences of its conduct albeit weakly. It is perfectly poised to become a significant eco-tech center for light manufacturing that also draws on the strengths of its existing workforce and the capabilities of Berkshire Community College to craft an eco-tech curriculum with minimal fuss.
Pittsfield has little need for elaborate grad school degrees or expensive certifications for a life in Cubistan. It needs smart, cheap and fast two year orientations to an emerging sustainable future. It has this in Berkshire Community College.
Pittsfield city officials have been unusually dedicated to support for the arts following the recommendations made long ago by the Dukakis administration about the role of arts in stimulating economic growth. While it is a mild stretch, (arts act as more of a potentiator than as a fundamental), the enthusiasm is genuine and deeply touching. They have set the table well and now is the time to find some diners.
Moreover, Pittsfield is well suited to take advantage of the various mandates the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has imposed on utilities to generate a significant percentage of electrical power from alternative energy resources such as photovoltaic and wind. There are plenty of flat rooftops with good insolation potential and a number of squeeze points between Taconic mountains where good wind flow obtains.
Pittsfield is also the epicenter of Berkshire County which has a peculiar demographic symmetry. To the south lie the affluent baronial NIMBY towns who expect the region to have a weak hospitality service economy that echoes a world of serfs and lords. But they are ethically bankrupt and count for little beyond reflexive obstruction. Since when shall this region be hobbled by oligarch's urge to maintain their pristine multi million dollar vacation homes? Many will soon be wiped out by the terrifying onrush of planetary financial collapse that some of these very oligarchs caused by greed and incompetence.
Their view of Pittsfield is larded with contempt and unseemly class biases that should have no place in an honest egalitarian society. Ethan Zuckerman does a very good job describing the underlying tension between the 'Orchid' towns and the rest of the county.
The north marches are more interesting as there is a significant acreage of arable land for intensive sustainable cropping even though some now persist in dumb business plans involving pumpkins to waste for Halloween and Christmas trees.
They are seemingly oblivious to the advantages of market produce in an area where the major supermarkets have abnormally high prices in what looks a lot like market price collusion. And intelligent market farming would also create the potential for added value food production such as preserved asparagus vinaigrette or other unique products made from the land's capabilities.
The farmers market system in the area could easily undermine any potential supermarket price hike collusion and the money goes directly to the producers.
It is therefore my hope and conviction that Pittsfield is nearly perfectly poised to make an adept transition from the dying fossil fuel era toward the emerging smart sustainability future and it may well thrive and prosper as Boston chokes.