Cleantech Market Snapshot: Get Ready for Innovation — and Consolidation

I attended the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum in San Francisco this morning, where green jobs guru Van Jones’ opening remarks kicked off the morning with an it’s-a-great-time-to-get-down-to-work tone that was carried on during the following executive panel. While all the speakers — Kevin Surace of Serious Materials, Don Shaffer of RSF Social Finance and Susan MacCormac of Morrison Foerster — had interesting things to say, I thought MacCormac’s presentation had several gems that were worth sharing with the Earth2Tech audience. So, fair readers, here are some nuggets from her panel comments:

  • Investors Double Down: In the current economic climate, consolidation is the name of the game. Investors who have put capital into cleantech companies that look solid — carbon accounting systems, for example — are looking to “double down” on that investment, and that means buying up shaky competitors in the space. MacCormac said her firm has been engaged by several clients in recent weeks to help with this kind of work. We’ll keep our eyes open for examples as they come to light.

  • Crisis Can Help Build Skills: Morrison Foerster gives its lawyers equal billing for paying clients and pro bono work. In a recession, when lawyers want to keep up their hours — and their paychecks — that means taking on more pro bono work. Innovative cleantech-related enterprises that qualify for pro bono support actually have a better chance of getting their accounts accepted in this climate. While she didn’t say this, specifically, I also gathered that it’s also a good time for lawyers looking to develop an expertise in cleantech: Pro bono work can help them gain experience to land paying clients in the area down the road.
  • Greenwashing Crackdown: The Federal Trade Commission’s effort to put the kibosh on greenwashing is serious. According to MacCormac, there’s been a five-fold increase in staff at the FTC, and warning letters have been sent out to some offending companies. At least two suits have already been filed against companies for misleading green claims. Those that want to put a green spin on their product had best proceed with caution. For those that are doing good green work, though, the FTC’s new, toothier rules could help weed out the competition.
  • Carbon Pricing Is Coming: For companies working in industries where impending carbon regulations could become an issue, drafting proposals and contracts that “bake in” a placeholder for carbon prices is a great strategy. All the panelists agree that companies will be facing carbon pricing sometime within the next two years, and MacCormac says the clear pricing and forward-looking practice has helped her clients win contacts. (At least that’s what I understood. I’ve reached out to her and will update with additional information.)

Disclosure: Previously, I was the Managing Editor for Sustainable Industries, and I occasionally contribute feature articles on a freelance basis.