There’s plenty of high-minded talk in the tech community about terms like sustainability and cleantech, but why does this talk rarely translate to results? Why are developers more interested in creating hot new mobile check-in apps for partiers rather than using their skills for social good? I attended a SXSW panel yesterday named “Techies Can Save The World, Why Aren’t They?” featuring Brooke Farrell of RecycleMatch, Graham Hill of Treehugger, Jack Hidary of Samba Energy, Joel Serface of Clean Range Ventures and Rebecca Moore of Google Earth that addressed these questions and took a look at tools that are already enabling social change.
– Google Earth Engine allows people to track deforestation from one week to the next. Moore used Google Earth in 2005 to visualize a logging plan in the Santa Cruz Mountains and helped galvanize the community to stop the plan.
– Techies and entrepreneurs need to rethink how they consume and collaborate–services like carsharing are great examples of this new paradigm. Hill of Treehugger plugged sharing services like Zipcar as a sustainable form of social entrepreneurship.
– Traditionally we’ve looked to places like Austin, Colorado and Silicon Valley for cleantech innovation. Instead, innovation spread out around the world, to places like China. Emerging markets play a much larger role in cleantech innovation.
– Too many tech startups are using buzzwords like sustainability without actually having a green business model.
– Moore stated that it’s divisive to argue whether approaches by Google, the United Nations, NGO's, philanthropy are more effective–these organizations need to partner and combine resources.
– The infrastructure of technology–such as data centers–is not sustainable, so techies need to innovate within their own space while they consider the larger environmental issues.