Project Managers and the Next Big Thing

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What will be the next big trend that drives the economy?  History tells us it will be something. From Tulipmania through the Roaring 2o’s, there are many examples of market bubbles that create enormous wealth while the bubble inflates, and significant pain when it inevitably bursts. The Internet Boom of the 1990’s and real estate frenzy of the 2000’s are the most recent examples. So, what’s next?

My bet is sustainable energy. Green energy has everything one would look for in a trend: A real need; inextricable linkage with corporate growth; economies of scale etc. When you look closely at the sustainable energy industry, you see some interesting parallels, in my opinion, with the commercialization of the internet. Especially, relative to the interest among innovators and early adopters. If you want to anticipate where the next big thing will be just follow the venture capital money. It’s flowing to renewable and sustainable energy related start-ups.

A lot of attention is paid to the potential  replacement of fossil fuels with bio-fuels. The thought of replacing foreign oil with domestically produced alternatives is exciting. However, the marketing issues are daunting.  We will get there, but maybe not as quickly as we would like in the short-term. Thankfully, there is low hanging  fruit that could be picked, which would have an immediately positive impact on our economy and natural environment: Buildings.

According to the EPA, today’s buildings consume  65% of all electricity; produce 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and represent 36% of all U.S. energy use. There are immediate opportunities for companies to improve their profitability by addressing issues related to the costly and inefficient heating and lighting of buildings. Project managers are uniquely positioned to be leaders in this effort. While the ongoing maintenance of buildings is a process, it will take the skill sets of project managers to fundamentally change how stakeholders view this important issue.

For example, imagine the benefits if project managers from every global company implemented their own Project Green (i.e. internal projects to design and implement sustainable energy practices within their companies). Savings could be easily measured, and the benefits to shareholders quantified without much difficulty. Ben Franklin told us “a penny saved is a penny earned”. When it comes to energy savings…we are talking about a lot of pennies.

The Department of Energy provides a wealth of data and green building case studies that prove the long-term economic benefit of green building design and renovation. Energy savings of 40% a year are not unrealistic, and companies often begin seeing a positive ROI with a few years on green energy projects.

Project managers from every industry should be getting involved in the sustainability movement. If we use electricity and other forms of energy, don’t we have an ethical responsibility to use our knowledge, talent and expertise to assure this use isn’t negatively impacting our company’s bottom line or the planet?

At Kenney College, we believe our experience in entrepreneurship education could be used to help project managers develop sustainability solutions. Therefore, we have  partnered with the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living to create the first Sustainable Energy MBA Fellowship. This non-profit educational initiative is designed to equip corporate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in the sustainable energy movement with management, marketing, finance and entrepreneurship knowledge that will manifest in the creation of green building related projects and ventures.

I know some will say that not enough critical mass can be generated to make sustainable energy competitive;  and that the recent Solyndra  scandal is fodder for cynics. However, costs will drop rapidly once benefits are recognized by the early and late majority. One needs to look no further than America’s own history of electricity generation as proof. The theory of how to distribute electricity was know for decades before the first commercial power-plants were launched. The laws of diffusion of innovation and economies of scale will combine to reduce costs in sustainable energy, and the savings associated with green building and conservation are too significant to ignore.

In my opinion, a paradigm shift is already happening.   Sustainable energy is the future. If you want to ride the next wave…you need wade into the surf today.

If you’d like to join us in developing the nation’s first sustainable energy MBA fellowship within your company please connect with me via Linkedin. This non-profit project will help a small cohort of corporate entrepreneurs develop sustainability and/or green building projects within your company. In addition to generating additional revenue streams and reducing costs, your leadership in this area of corporate social responsibility will be recognized with an award at a leading sustainable energy conference in 2012.

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