Crossing the chasm: how we need to get smarter to tackle sustainability challenges

As tall an order as it may be, that’s exactly what geo’s very own Chief Strategy Officer Simon Anderson had the opportunity of doing at a recent sustainability event.

Simon Anderson talks sustainability at the House of Lords

Held at the House of Lords and hosted by UK environmental think tank Sustainability First, Simon was invited to represent Green Energy Options alongside four other high profile speakers.

Each speaker came prepared with a short 3 minute presentation outlining how they thought we should get smarter to address sustainability issues. Following the speeches a vote was held to decide which idea was best – both in terms of being implementable and exciting.

Entitled Crossing the Chasm, Simon’s speech explored 3 practical ways of how to bridge the gap between technology that works and large-scale market acceptance. It was too good a presentation not to share – which is why we’ve transcribed it here so that you can read it for yourself!

And, to save keeping you in suspense any longer, yes, Simon’s proposal did get voted overall favourite! We’d love to hear whether his ideas on the future of sustainability won you over too – please leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Crossing the chasm – Simon Anderson

The challenge with technology is not getting it to work, but getting it to sell.

In the UK we pay a lot of attention to technical research and product development. We are happy to fund initiatives and get behind ideas. We are curious and headstrong.

There’s no lack of the clean technology we need

So why is it, with all this brainpower, that truly innovative tech that helps promote energy efficiency and lower carbon impact is still sitting on benches and hard drives labelled ‘if only’.

I believe part of the answer is what Geoffrey Moore describes as ‘Crossing the Chasm’- the gap between technology that works and scale market acceptance.

The challenge of getting energy efficient products to market

It’s that the sheer cost of marketing and selling new products is very high, and exacerbated by the cost of low-volume short-production runs. Getting to market is, to put it mildly, extremely challenging.

We are not without means: there are grants, awards, subsidies and tax rebates. But mostly to get to market we rely on venture capitalists, all of whom are extremely wary of backing businesses that rely on subsidies. Subsidies that are often withdrawn at the last minute…

In this sphere the venture capitalist market is not working. The net result is that great technology languishes on the shelf and R&D money is wasted.

Three practical ways of getting smarter to tackle sustainability challenges

Here are three things that, with the help of Sustainability First, we could do.

1. Regulate rather than subsidise

It works. Just look at cars and white goods since the introduction of fuel efficiency regulations.

2. Procurement rules

There are two methods for procurement competitions: specify the solution and compete on price or specify the price and compete on solutions. The first works when buying commodities – but is used for everything. The second works for new products – but is rarely used.

Requiring government and regulated industries to compete on solutions would open up significant volumes and get new products to market more quickly and more effectively.

3. Market entry funding

R&D usually focuses on the early stages. We need to work to get it focused equally across the whole spectrum to include market entry activities, particularly for SMEs.

How to tackle sustainability challenges – a summary

To conclude, we have much of the technology we need if only we could get it to market: we need to get to work on crossing the chasm from great ideas to mass market.