What is this “cleantech” puzzle and what does it mean for you?  How do you do “cleantech”?  I think a historical perspective is best, so you know where you can get the best help.

I started working in what is now called cleantech in 1991 for the Washington Department of Ecology’s Pollution Prevention program.  For 21 years since then I have been working in 16 countries in a variety of “cleantech” programs, and for the last 5 years I have been CEO of a “cleantech” start-up company now going commercial, and have participated in dozens of cleantech contests, events and conferences.  I’ll be specific here on the key points for solving the puzzle.

Cleantech is a relatively new “pop” phrase.  A good attempt to explain the history of that specific term has been published:  “What is Cleantech?”:  “Cleantech is new technology and related business models offering competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges.”

For those of us who have been around longer than we want to admit, this article is notable for omitting completely the concepts Cleaner Production and Pollution Prevention, which have been the operative programs around the world to promote “cleantech” to industry since 1990.  There are related concepts which I have explained in this 1996 paper, What is the Relationship Among Cleaner Production, Pollution Prevention, Waste Minimization and ISO 14000?  These are the concepts from which “cleantech” gets its history and meaning.  Most importantly, if you want to know how to do cleantech, these are the search terms you need to know to find technical answers for your specific industry sector.

Pollution Prevention or P2 is the term coined by the US EPA around 1988 to describe what we now call cleantech and sustainable business.  Pollution prevention is the reduction or elimination of pollution at the source (source reduction) instead of at the end-of-the-pipe or stack.  Here’s the trick:  Source reduction begins with the product design itself – how to make it cleaner and greener than the tech it replaces.  Further, it has always assumed that this is done on an economic basis, eg. the owner or investor makes money at it.  So Pollution Prevention has always meant cleantech.  This is why you care:  There is a USA nationwide network of Pollution Prevention programs, organized by the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR).  They have produced the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx™). It is a national partnership of regional pollution prevention information centers with vast amounts of info, organized into about 100 Topic Hubs.   This is the single best technical cleantech info source in the world, in my opinion.  Browse it and be amazed.  There are P2 technical assistance programs in most American states.  If you want cleantech help, you can get it for free from them.  Why wait?

Cleaner Production or CP is the United Nation’s version of Pollution Prevention.  The term Cleaner Production was defined by UNEP in 1990 as: “The continuous application of an integrated environmental strategy to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment”.  The UN has developed formal programs to promote Cleaner Production in 47 countries around the world.  Their combined knowledge has produced great education products, including the Cleaner Production Toolkit in English and Spanish.  The UNEP Resource Efficiency program is a global collaboration now looking for participants!  The UNEP Finance Initiative is a global partnership between UNEP and the financial sector, including over 200 institutions, focused on financing cleantech in general, that produces great guidance.

What is called “cleantech” today is Pollution Prevention or Cleaner Production – take your pick.  Cleantech has caught fire as a phrase because it’s quick and effective.  In contrast, “pollution prevention” makes business managers wince, and “cleaner production” means, to to some people, that you make soap.  But the P2 and CP networks are vast and deep, and managed by honest people working for non-profit organizations and governments who do their best to provide objective information.  Cleantech, in contrast, is a marketing phrase invented and used by consultants and promoters.

To solve the puzzle of “How do I do cleantech?”, first give thanks that there is a global community of P2 and CP professionals who will help you, with over 30 years of good technical information to share for free.  Then, start searching for “pollution prevention” [your industry].  For example, search for “pollution prevention” restaurants on Google, then try cleantech restaurants.  The first search gets lots of practical how-to guides; the second search brings a confusing mix of odd stuff.  Try another search with “cleaner production” and you’ll see lots of resources from outside the USA, where the UN’s terminology holds sway.

From 1991 to 1997 I worked in pollution prevention programs for the Washington Department of Ecology and the US Agency for International Development in southeast Asia.  From 1997 to 2003 I worked for the Asian Development Bank on cleaner production policy analysis.  In both periods I collaborated with peers from around the world.  Let me mentor you to understand the global resources for “cleantech” that you can really use to practical benefit.

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