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By John Grafman
Clearly, the message hasn’t gotten out to everyone. Business as usual isn’t going to cut it in the future as the population increases. Nine billion people on the face of the earth using the same limited resources is going to be more challenging if not downright troublesome.
There are those that scoff at the notion that we’re on a slippery slope. Do we really need to take extreme measures on air and water quality, food sources, and energy? The public might not be totally convinced. But, kicking the can another ten years down the road and finding we are too far-gone to recover is not an acceptable approach. Try explaining to your children or grandchildren why we didn’t do what we could when we had the chance.
Long before we get to the point of exhausting resources, it wouldn’t be surprising if people or even countries take up arms in a quest to secure these vital resources. If developing countries, including China, begin to consume like western countries, it might not come close to the prior estimates of having roughly 100 years of petroleum left. Furthermore, as we have already picked the low hanging fruit, or in this case petroleum, the rest will be more difficult and expensive to extract. And unless we are really shortsighted, 100 years is really a blink in time. And then what?
Mercifully, there are some solutions. At the fifth annual Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, California, a few hundred CEOs, VPs and assorted executives convene to forge a path to a sustainable future.
It’s easy to question the sincerity of the companies taking part in many of the recent wave of green-related seminars, conferences, conventions and the like. After all, numerous companies just want to be tagged as being green, regardless if they are seriously undertaking necessary changes. However, with the keynote being provided by Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, it does elevate the importance of Fortune Brainstorm Green. This isn’t softball, this is the big league! After all, Alan could find something more productive to do with his time if this wasn’t high on his agenda.
Alan, in a very respectful, almost school boyish manner, is only too happy to cover Ford’s challenges over the past few years. In particular, Mr. Mulally reflected on how he came into the blue oval from Boeing and carved a path towards Ford’s survival. Believe it or not, he outlined and doodled his plan to profitability on a single sheet of paper at the time he became CEO. He still carries that paper with him today folded up in his wallet.
Part of that plan called for elimination of all the brands that were not at the core of Ford. So, such glorious companies like Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land-Rover, and Volvo were all sold off. This stemmed the drain on financial resources.
In addition, Alan also understood that the market is changing, and consumers are across the board shifting their collective buying habits and opting for smaller cars. Thereby, cars like the Crown Victoria are being phased out, as cars like the Fiesta are now being developed.
Also, it wasn’t clear what consumer preferences would be, so the upcoming models needed to be engineered to accept different powertrains from the start. We are seeing the results today with the Ford Focus available with an efficient gas engine, a hybrid, and an electric.
The good news keeps coming as Alan explains how a new deal with Dow Chemical is going to further advance all personal transportation from Ford and Lincoln. Taking a page from Colin Chapman of Lotus, FoMoCo is going light, as in bringing carbon fiber to the masses. The reduction of mass will allow for greater efficiencies regardless of the powertrain.
Ford will be reducing the number of large pick-up truck models to just a couple of choices. This is much more efficient from a production standpoint, as well as being able to comply with CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards.
While the car companies are at the front line when it comes to sustainability, the representation is relegated to just a couple companies, including Thomas Baloga, Vice President of Engineering, U.S. of BMW of North America, Stella Li, President of BYD, and Robert Bienenfeld, Senior Manager, Environment and Energy Strategy, Product Regulatory Office, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., as well as the previously mentioned Ford. Almost all companies are investing in alternative energy powertrains of all types, but it’s clear that for the near future transportation companies will be targeting electric vehicles.
BYD (Build Your Dreams) is planning on bringing its 100 percent electric vehicles over from China in the near future. Given China’s huge, forthcoming need for personal transportation, it makes sense to get on the alternative vehicle bandwagon as soon as possible.
However, as illuminating as the automotive companies are, the energy companies are really the ones to watch. Fortune Brainstorm again has a number of key players in the energy sector attending. But, the solution from their point of view is not what most people would expect. With the cost of natural gas relatively low in comparison to other sources, they’re betting on this as the next big thing.
The bad news is, even the energy companies see this as a short-term solution bridge to keeping America on the path towards being self-sufficient. Ultimately, the plan is to continue to forge ahead with unlimited energy sources like solar and wind.
The Fortune Brainstorm panels cover a wide range of subjects, and speakers like Scott Griffith, Chairman and CEO, Zipcar. Clearly, companies such as Zipcar need to maintain profitability, but if they can’t solve our global concerns then they really aren’t successful. So, many are finding a way to combine traditional ideas, while incorporating forward thinking, sustainable solutions to their business plans.
As usual, the conference has unbelievable movers and shakers in attendance, from Rob Walton (Chairman, Wal-Mart stores), Todd Brady (Global Environmental Director, Intel Corp.), John Faraci (Chairman and CEO, International Paper Co.), John Huey (Editor-in-Chief, Office of the Chief Executive Time Inc.), David Neeleman (Founder, Chairman and CEO , Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileirasto, and former founder of JetBlue), Gregory R. Page (Chairman and CEO, Cargill Inc.) and even Jessica Scorpio (Founder and Director of Marketing, Getaround) to less obvious speakers like Mary Sue Milliken (Co-chef and Owner, Border Grill Restaurants and Trucks), and Chuck Leavell (Director of Environmental Affairs and Co-founder, Mother Nature Network and Rolling Stones keyboardist).
It was someone that really hasn’t spent much time the limelight that captures the spirit of the three day event: Daniel Kim of Lit Motors shows that we don’t have to be CEOs of mega billion dollar companies to do the right thing. Daniel’s company uses potentially sustainable electricity in place of conventional fuel sources in Lit’s two-wheeled transport. But the company isn’t relying on that alone. Lit goes to the next step and reexamines almost everything we know about transportation on two wheels. Rreexamining everything we do is really the only way to get past where we are and reach our tomorrows.
Find out more at fortuneconferences.com/brainstorm-green-2012