Yesterday, I briefly attended the CEATEC exhibition in Tokyo that focused on electronics and had a lot of green technologies on display: solar panels, EV charging stations, new energy efficiency measures, and even a planned sustainable community. What was lacking, however, was a whole other type of electricity- the electric atmosphere found at certain events where the audience knows something exciting and new and big is taking place; the electric atmosphere that accompanied an Apple event led by Steve Jobs, for instance.
As the remembrances, accolades, and reflections on his life and work pour in, let’s remember that Steve Jobs and Apple were so successful by making cool, quality, breakthrough products that people wanted. By loving his work, making beautiful products that were easy to use, and striving to match the visions he had in his head, he became the spokesperson for how these devices could make our lives better.
Steve Jobs wanted to have an impact on the word, and he unquestionably did. Now where do we go? Think different? We need too. For all the innovation and disruptive technology Apple brought us, the truly enormous leaps in human society are still waiting; an economy that doesn’t run on oil, for one. Who will bring passion and simplicity and excitement to the products and services that will transform us into a sustainable society? Who will turn the tide and push the boundaries – behind the scenes and in public – to create and sell the green technologies to a consumer base who, at least according to Jobs, is not supposed to know what it wants? Will someone come along who will make sustainable gadgets the must have items? Who will be the Steve Jobs of the clean energy sector? As a kind of remembrance, the following post from March of 2010 begs that question.
Whether you love him, hate him, or are indifferent, Steve Jobs has major street cred. His company makes products that are elegant, well-designed, easy to use, and revolutionary. The hype and excitement that accompanies the lead up to and release of a major Apple product is second to none. Not only that, but the products go on to be wildly successful, while turning entire industries upside down. Think the Macintosh in the computer industry, the iPod in the music industry, the iPhone in the mobile device/phone industry, and now perhaps the iPad in the publishing industry. The presence of Apple has done wonders not only for Apple but for the entire electronics sector. People are excited about seeing the next useful technology and how it is integrated into a computer, phone, or GPS system. All this begs the question: Is there someone who can lead a company to develop breakthrough technologies and integrate them in products in the clean energy sector that consumers will get excited about? Is it even possible to have that in regards to green technology? Who would be a candidate for the role?
One name that jumps to mind is Elon Musk, the South Africa native now making his mark in California in businesses as diverse as SpaceX, and Tesla Motors after co-founding PayPal. Known as a brash and headstrong entrepreneur, Musk has big pockets to match his big dreams. With Tesla, he’s founded a company that has the potential to be the first major addition to Detroit’s Big Three. He is also looking to challenge NASA in space travel with the development of safe, cheap, and more widespread voyages into space by the general public. Shai Agassi may be another contender as he tries to shake up the transportation, battery, and energy sectors with his Better Place model for swap-out car batteries that can be changed in five minutes at a “battery stand” instead of filling your tank at a gas stand.
The one main question I have, however, is whether there is even an interest and excitement about the green technology sector akin to that within the electronics sector. We started this website not only to increase awareness of the people, products, and companies contributing to the second green revolution but perhaps more importantly because we find that the changes taking place in technology, education, and business as we shift to sustainability are extremely interesting. We get excited at the mundane Sunchip bag that’s 100% compostable and are really blown away thinking about the possibilities that come with something like the Bloom Box. But the advances that come in the green energy/clean technology sphere don’t seem as rewarding as buying a new cell phone or computer. It seems a pretty good bet that there’s a much more personal satisfaction that comes with opening the packaging around a brand new gadget and trying out all its features than, say, hooking up solar panels to your electricity supply (though, personally, they’d be pretty close). Buying a souped-up sports car that doesn’t emit any fumes, goes 0 to 60 in no time, and doesn’t cost you a cent in gas bills, however, may be the kind of personal product that could fuel the same over-interest and cult-like atmosphere that surrounds Apple.