Making Things Happen in the ‘Green’ Industry

It was Kermit the Frog who immortalized the words “it’s not easy bein’ green.”

There are some entrepreneurs who can relate, and perhaps alter the lyrics slightly and offer that it’s not that easy being in the ‘green’ business world.

There are opportunities in that sector, certainly, but, as the stories in this issue’s focus on green energy will attest, there are some serious challenges as well. Many are common to those in practically every business sector — such as the hurdles being faced by George Huber as he attempts to raise capital and complete the other steps necessary to take what looks like a dramatic breakthrough — a development some call ‘grassoline’ — from the laboratory to the marketplace (see story, page 21).

But there are other challenges that would have to be considered unique, or at least unique to this sector. Specifically, there’s the inconsistent nature of this broad industry and the nagging reality that, while people often want to do the right thing when it comes to their carbon footprint, they often need to have some real incentive. For some businesses and instituitions, such as colleges and universities, public relations is enough of an incentive. But for most, it comes down to dollars and cents.

Consider the case of Justin Carven, the young entrepreneur who has made the term Greasecar a household name — sort of. Actually, it’s a household name among those who read Car & Driver and the New York Times. These are just a few of the dozens of regional and national publications that have chronicled his success in developing technology that will enable diesel-powered vehicles to also operate on common kitchen grease — hence the name.

The technology works extremely well, but that’s not the big concern anymore. At issue is the nerve-wracking manner in which consumers respond to the technology. In short, when diesel prices go through the roof, Carven can’t keep up with orders. When they fall or stabilize, he’s challenged to keep his people busy. Such fluctuations make it nearly impossible to plan long-term or even short-term and to even remotely gauge cash flow.

This would be enough to drive any business owner crazy, and Carven is at that juncture.

Consider also the plight of solar-array installers and others in this sector. Given all the attention solar is getting, the economic advantages, and the growing tendency to ‘go green,’ one could say that these business owners are in the right place at the right time.

But for some, it’s taken many years to get to this point, because it’s taken awhile for many individuals and businesses to warm to the notion of solar power. And now that more of them have, the economy has softened to the point where interest is cooling off, making the ‘right time’ portion of this equation a moving target.

But it appears that it will come, and perhaps quite soon. As for Carven, well, he recognizes that such wild swings on the ledger sheet can’t continue. The good months and years have been really good, but the inability to know if and when they will come again has prompted Carven to revisit his business plan with the goal of fine-tuning it to gain much-needed measures of consistency and control over his own destiny.

In the end, there appear to be better days ahead for those in this sector, and some very good days for this region and the country if ‘grassoline’ and the so-called Q microbe, being developed by another area firm called Qteros, become reality.

It may not be easy to thrive in the green sector, but we’re certainly happy that dozens of entrepreneurs are persevering. Their determination is not simply creating jobs and the potential for many more of them, but it is fueling the imagination of others — both literally and figuratively.