Insights on the Green Economy

Lynelle Cameron, Autodesk

The green economy has to be part of our sustainable future. How would governments and businesses step up to drive the green economy, and what are the challenges and opportunities? Green Business Singapore recently interviewed Lynelle Cameron, Senior Director for Sustainability, Autodesk, and CEO, Autodesk Foundation, to seek her insights on the green economy.

1) What is your definition of a green economy? Is it driven mostly by governments or businesses?

By 2050, the global population will hit 9 billion people and the increased demand for water, food and energy will exceed our current capacity to provide. This will be the defining challenge of the 21st century, but also its greatest economic opportunity. Nothing short of a revolutionary approach to the way governments think and businesses operate is required to meet this global challenge. Business leaders and policymakers who do not embrace the transformation to a global, green economy will find themselves left behind in the new world order.

As environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author, Paul Hawken wrote nearly two decades ago, “we have the capacity and ability to create a remarkably different economy, one that can restore ecosystems and protect the environment, while bringing forth innovation, prosperity, meaningful work and true security…. a restorative economy that unites ecology and commerce into one sustainable act of production and distribution.” I couldn’t say it better. It is our human economy that has transformed both the planet and human life. I envision an economy that restores natural systems rather than degrades them.

2) What are the existing opportunities and challenges for businesses in the green economy?

There continues to be an explosion of entrepreneurs testing new technologies, new designs, new systemic approaches, and even new financing schemes. We are not lacking ideas or entrepreneurs but we are lacking investors (be they private or public sector investors) who are willing to take risks and invest their capital in designing a better world.

The cost of developing these solutions is substantial with many interconnected moving parts and complicated supply chains. Even with the advent of digital prototyping that enables entrepreneurs to build and test their ideas in the computer long before building physical prototypes, the time to market for these new technologies is still capital intensive and very lengthy. Once a technology is proven, there’s the cycle of explaining and selling the idea first to investors and then to customers – all development costs before we even get to costs of deployment.

This is where the public sector plays an integral part in jump-starting the chain of players in the ecosystem. We need to invest in the entrepreneurs who are working at the very earliest stages of inventing and designing our path to a low-carbon economy. Once an idea is proven and ready to bring to scale, the investment community is more willing to step in and carry the ideas forward. It’s the early stage of the design process when entrepreneurs need a helping hand from the public sector to make an investment in prototyping and designing solutions for the green economy.

One trend that is changing the trajectory significantly is the prevalence of 3D design technology being applied across the entire ecosystem. With the ability to build a digital prototype early in the process, designers and engineers can do real time simulation and analysis to fully understand how their design will operate – thereby enabling them to optimize the design.

The savings on time and cost that clean energy entrepreneurs and design teams are reporting is astounding and may be the key to reducing the barriers to entry for low carbon solutions.

3) How can entrepreneurs and companies capitalise on the green economy? Do you have examples of successful companies?

Businesses have the opportunity to partner with government to support early stage entrepreneurs so they can iterate, test and design the solutions we need. Introducing early stage clean tech entrepreneurs to the latest design technology is often far more helpful than an infusion of cash. Instead of cash, they get access to the latest technology and expertise to help bring their idea to market more quickly and more affordably than ever thought possible.

The Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program, for example, provides Autodesk Digital Prototyping software to clean technology companies for a minimal fee, with the goal of accelerating innovation and addressing some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. With the strong support of government, the program has attracted clean tech companies in North America, Europe, Japan, and Singapore involved in diverse businesses including solar power, wind power, electric vehicles, green buildings, waste and water treatment, and smart grids.

Some successful green economy entrepreneurs include:

  • Biolite, a Brooklyn, New York-based startup has designed an efficient, low-cost cook stove aimed at the roughly 3 billion poor people around the world who cook over open fires. Biolite’s stove uses waste heat to generate electricity too. With software, Biolite is able to speed up the design process and take out costs – the company models potential designs, and then simulates performance without having to build physical prototypes of each design. Biolite’sHomeStove is being tested in a series of pilot projects that will reach approximately 10,000 people in India, Ghana and Uganda. The product delivers multiple benefits – it requires less wood (which protects forests and saves time), generates less smoke (which causes diseases), reduces climate emissions and provides much-needed electricity.
  • Uncharted Play has created the Soccket, a soccer ball that converts kinetic energy into electricity that can be used to power a light bulb or charge a cell phone. Via Autodesk Inventor, the soccer ball has been through numerous redesigns intended to cut costs, prevent breakage and protect the pendulum mechanism inside with lightweight foam. The company is also developing a jump rope that will likewise harness kinetic energy.
  • Bristol-based IT Power, a hydrofoil tidal energy technology company, used design tools to run complex performance tests, resulting in a design that can be installed in shallow tidal flows and can be offered at a highly competitive price.
  • Swedish offshore wind company Hexicon used digital prototyping to guarantee the accuracy of its designs and ensure that installations are affordable and efficient energy producers.
  • Cleaner Air Solutions in Durham, UK, applies the latest design technology to its processes. It designs modular solar panel systems for sites where most solar-power systems would not be feasible. By using digital prototypes to ensure systems fit in whatever space is available, they are able to bring solar panels to a whole new range of sites. The subsequent shortened turnaround time for projects has enabled the company to take on more business and create new jobs.

4) Does Singapore have what it takes to be a green economy?

Singapore is of strategic importance to the green economy. For example, the country has demonstrated strong initiative and support towards clean tech development. This local focus has shown a spillover effect on other markets in the region; as well as an increasing influence on industry segments such as green manufacturing, smart-grids, smart-cities, energy efficiency and energy generation.

To name just a few entrepreneurs in Singapore who are contributing to the green economy:

  • BioMachines develops environmental monitoring solutions for remote locations, such as those in forestry and agriculture. Its intelligent platforms improve the accuracy and quality of data in remote locations and enable research scientists to save valuable time collecting information on changes in atmosphere, soil, plants, animals and water. According to co-founder Vincent Wei, they use digital prototypes to explore and communicate ideas and test multiple concepts to accelerate improvements for clients. One such client is Asian Plantation Capital, a leading operator of sustainably managed forestry and agricultural plantation based in Thailand.
  • Green Building Group develops a third-generation thin film solar technology solution known as Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV). This technology is tailored for the façade cladding industry. It is a breakthrough technology that can drive solar industry growth. Managing Director Philip Kwang says that they use Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD software products to customize product design to meet special architecture requirements.
  • Sing Yue Technologies develops renewable energy products. Its current product portfolio includes the patent-pending Compressed WindTurbine design and Wind Controller product that is under development. Its unique WindTurbine is targeted towards urban living. They leverage design technology to save time and resources when assessing materials and parametric data needed to fit design specifications, as well as conduct the eventual sell-in.
  • Greenlots improves energy efficiency of the grid through managed charging of electric vehicles. The company offers a cloud-based network with charging station hardware for businesses, governments and utilities to set up and operate their own charging networks. Greenlots has sold systems in 13 countries. Focused on low-cost prototyping and rapid product development, being part of the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program has given the company a significant boost to accelerate innovation and compete globally.

5) How would the green economy evolve over the next 5 years?

Governments and businesses in Asia Pacific have recognized that sustainability is not just a minor piece in economic development but a key driver for growth and competitiveness of the economy. Today, Asia has developed from being the manufacturing plant of the world to becoming a major driver for global economic growth. Singapore, as one of Asia’s most liveable cities, is also leading the way in sustainable development by boldly tackling challenges common across many of today’s urban centres.

Today, we have the tools that can help us improve and accelerate in every step of the design process. Collaboration platforms that were unimaginable a decade ago are now taken for granted. Testing and iteration that once took years can now be achieved in minutes. Crowdsourcing and crowd funding are tearing down barriers and enabling us to more fully tap human ingenuity.

At Autodesk, we are also optimistic about the role our company can play to help people imagine, design, and create a better world in which all 9 billion people can thrive. As designers, we have the power to design a different future and we are on that path. The future is a design challenge – and the aim is to provide far more for people while demanding far less from our planet. Living well and living within the planet’s limits requires careful attention to resource consumption and conservation. Hope lies in design and the technologies and mindsets that are deploying it to revolutionize everything. As designers, we need to remember that we all have a stake in creating a better, cleaner and brighter future.

Image credit: Autodesk

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