'Israel can lead way on cleantech'

Developer of ‘cradle to cradle’ concept says country should think less about ways to minimize carbon footprint and more abut making it "beneficial."

By NADAV SHEMER
April 14, 2011 06:36
3 minute read.
MICHAEL BRAUNGART

MICHAEL BRAUNGART 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Israel has some of the world’s most talented scientists, but it can do more if it is to lead the way in cleantech innovation, the developer of the ‘cradle to cradle design’ concept said in his keynote address at Wednesday’s fourth annual Green Economy conference in Tel Aviv.

German chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, the director of the Hamburgbased Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency, said that his organization planned to open an office in Israel in the near future. But he added that Israelis needed to think less about how to minimize their carbon footprint and more about how they could make that footprint “beneficial.”

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As an example, he said that Israel could begin to lead the way in areas of cleantech that are now developing, such as phosphate recovery.

Braungart’s cradle to cradle concept, which he developed together with American architect William McDonough, is in its most basic form a framework for manufacturing and industrial design that aims to create systems that are not just efficient but also waste-free. As Braungart said at the conference, “Efficiency means doing things right, but when they are wrong, you make them perfectly wrong. Effectiveness means [doing] what is the right thing, and that is important to understand.”

In other words, Braungart said at the conference, “Why minimize your carbon footprint when you can have a big footprint that is beneficial?”, adding that some countries have set themselves the target of being completely carbon neutral at a certain time in the future, “but you can only be carbon neutral if you don’t exist.”

The cradle to cradle concept has been growing in popularity. Among others, Belgium made the concept part of its agenda when it held the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2010, during which it promoted sustainable materials management.

Following Braungart’s speech at Wednesday’s conference, panel members discussing the current state of cleantech agreed that the industry had survived the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and that the time was ripe for Israel and other countries to take advantage of new opportunities.

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Tracy Wolstencroft, head of environmental markets at Goldman Sachs, said that Chinese engineers now understand the risks in maintaining a carbon-based economy.

“They also need to invest deeply in the alternative opportunity, because they realize that if their economy keeps on growing, in fact to keep it growing, they’re going to have to figure out a cleantech solution,” he said, adding, “China also realizes that if they become experts in clean energy, not only does it solve their problems, but it becomes another industry that they can export.

Neil Auerbach, founder and managing partner of global private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy, said that Israel was still underrepresented in its contribution to cleantech relative to its contribution in areas such as life sciences. He said that there is a tremendous amount of human capital in Israel that could be directed toward the cleantech field, and added that his advice to Israelis in terms of energy would be to diversify.

“In the next five years, the Middle East will see solar energy flourish,” he said, “because it has become economic folly for Saudi Arabia to be powering its electricity sector through oil, which could be much more profitably sold to export markets “It is only a matter of a couple years before the Middle East starts really powering up with solar energy, and it would be a shame if Israel watches its neighbors to the east take the lead.”

Wolstencroft seconded Auerbach’s comments, saying that this is a “massive opportunity” for Israelis and that they shouldn’t “look for a quick hit as defining whether your policy has been successful or not.”

He added that Israel should “think very pointedly about partnering around the region and around the world and be seen not only as a solver of technological challenges, but as someone who can partner directly with players, it will be a validation for the technology you have here, it will be source of revenue, it will be a way for Israel to export its expertise.”

The Green Economy conference was hosted by Ernst & Young, The Marker and Shibolet law firm.

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