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28 October 2013

Tesla: The Apple of Greentech

Remember what smartphones were like before the iPhone? Fiddly keyboards, nests of menus and terrible web navigation. Then along came Steve Job's little shiny slab of cool and the market, and arguably society, were transformed. As every hagiography of Jobs reminds us, it was that constant drive to produce 'insanely great' products that work for the user (rather than the programmer) that delivered this mobile computing transformation.

I can't help but see a parallel with Tesla motors - insanely great products that people love, driven by an outspoken entrepreneur, Elon Musk, and just happen to be the greenest cars on the road. With the original Roadster, the company bucked the trend for dull, utilitarian electric vehicles by launching a sports car whose acceleration terrified petrol head Jeremy Clarkson (before he pretended it broke down). Now with the Model S, they've produced a saloon which has single handedly boosted US EV sales by 447% in a single year, tackling the 'fiddly keyboard' of the electric car world - range anxiety - with 310 miles in the tank battery. Musk's uncompromising vision, like Jobs, has set the bar high enough to finally make this revolution happen.

And the lesson for the rest of us? To succeed, green products and services must be insanely great. Full stop.


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30 August 2010

Lighten Up, Pal!

Just over four years ago, I needed a catchy name for my new environmental/sustainability consultancy, so I, ahem, 'borrowed' the name from one session in a children's international conference I spoke at (I wasn't getting paid so, being a mercenary git, I had to steal something!). It's not a bad company name, but it does have a number of disadvatanges:

1. It is difficult to read out over the phone.

2. Just after I registered it and bought the stationery, the VC firm Terra Firma suddenly hit the headlines by buying out EMI - cue confusion at my end (I doubt they got many calls looking for an environmental review).

but more importantly,

3. It's a bit doom and gloom.

If you see any of my talks, I very rarely mention environmental damage - no pictures of melting glaciers or oil encrusted birds (a rare exception here). I am resolutely upbeat about green business and sustainability. I genuinely find it exciting to see an organisation making the right moves, rejecting business as usual, learning and innovating.

And this is the key rule of environmental communications, whether internal or external - make it fun. No-one wants to be beaten over the head with guilt or be lectured on how they're destroying the planet. And being human, if we don't want to hear something, we just switch off.

In practice, how do we do this? Well, for a start, get rid of all those annoying posters, all the pious 'hands cupping a sapling' pictures and any hint of sanctimony. This is a challenge, we're all in it together, so we might as well have some fun while we're doing it. Run competitions, use humour and make people feel that they can contribute.

I love the fact that Tesla's first electric car is a sports car. That's way cooler than a Prius. And cool will beat piety any day of the week - even a Bank Holiday Monday!

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11 September 2009

Brrrm, brrrm (or not as the case may be...)

On Wednesday I was in Bedford at the Low Carbon Vehicle exhibition as part of the work we're doing with Innovation Scout to identify business opportunities in the low carbon economy. There was a real buzz about the place and some extraordinary vehicles including a hydrogen powered Morgan, and, getting most attention, the £87,000 electric sportscar, the Tesla. According to the nice lady on the stand, they've sold 1200 of these worldwide and are moving into profit.

I was working unfortunately and couldn't get a test drive. We were picking experts' brains to spot gaps in the market - OK if you're going to have electric cars, who is going to maintain them? Who provides the breakdown service? Who trains the emergency services in not getting an electric shock when they attend a road traffic accident involving an electric vehicle? While some experts could let this kind of idea flow freely, it was interesting how many found it difficult to think around their area of expertise. The conclusion was that there were dozens of opportunities around any one emerging technology for anyone with entrepreneurial spirit and, importantly, an inquisitive mind. Many of these are essential enabling products and services for the core product (the car).

Yesterday I interviewed Vic Morgan, founder of the Ethical Superstore for the Green Executive (my second book). His view is that if you take an ethical/green stance, you have to overcompensate with commercial attitude. He finds it easier to employ people with a passion for commerce and then interest them in the ethics later rather than the other way around.

Both these insights chime with the first secret of the Three Secrets of Green Business:

"Treat the environmental agenda as an opportunity, not a threat. Grasp it with both hands but, whatever you do, don’t forget you are still running a business."

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29 May 2009

Mitsubishi i MiEV hits the UK

This week I got to drive one of the first two Mitsubishi i MiEV plug-in electric cars in the UK. Like most electric passenger vehicles it is a sharp mover and a sharp stopper too as the regenerative braking kicks in, charging the batteries again.

According to Mitsubishi, its range is 100 miles on a full charge and its carbon emissions are about 30% of a petrol equivalent (presumably using the carbon intensity of Japanese electricity as a guide). A quick charge will take it to 80% of battery capacity in 30 minutes, but a full standard charge takes 7 hours.

This is quite a breakthrough - an electric car that you could imagine being seen (but not heard) in. The range would be a bit limiting for me - I'd like to see an extra 50 miles there as I often do a 80-100 mile round trip to clients on Teesside and I would want a bit of headroom in case of traffic problems etc. Tesla, makers of the impressive electric sports car, are working on a 300 mile saloon, which would be brilliant.

It is clear that electric cars are starting to evolve quickly and it will be very interesting to see how quickly they become a mainstream choice.

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