It's Time For Green Industry To Unite
While cuts to schools, hospitals and libraries take the headlines, state funding for cleantech has also taken a significant hit. In New Jersey, for example, the $29.4 billion 2011 budget includes tens of millions of dollars in cuts to clean energy programs.
In the past, financial difficulties were often seen as temporary because the economy seemed always quick to rebound. However, the current recession has created a fundamental shift in the way people spend and earn money. As a result, we are likely to see government belt-tightening for the next three to five years, as states finally get serious about working out deep structural deficits. Whether it's the $11 billion deficit New Jersey was facing next year or the $19 billion gap California currently finds itself in, cuts are inevitable across the board.
It then becomes a battle for government funding over what's left on the table. Interests groups, accustomed to fighting over larger pies, will now fight even harder to get smaller pieces. These battles will be defined by the ability of interest groups to communicate the necessity of their funding to the public and lawmakers. This is where cleantech is at a significant disadvantage.
The most powerful interest groups in the nation are public employee unions. These unions are well funded, highly organized and capable of undertaking extensive public relations and communications campaigns to advance their objectives. When cuts to schools were threatened in New Jersey, the teachers' union spent $6 million to fight the measures.
When cuts to New Jersey's clean energy and conservation programs were proposed, barely a whisper of objection was heard. This is, in part, due to the fact that "green" as an industry is an emerging business category and interest group. Its immaturity as an industry group leaves it unorganized. Unlike worker unions or more mature industry associations like national and local chambers of commerce, cleantech as a "special interest" is poorly represented.
Cleantech is currently represented by a hodgepodge of smaller and often disparate interest groups -- environmentalists, entrepreneurs, start-ups, investors and some large companies. While some of these groups have been somewhat effective in steering the national policy debate toward green jobs, climate change, and cap and trade, when it comes to getting government money, cleantech has a difficult time competing against other groups.
As state governments continue across-the-board cuts for the foreseeable future, and federal stimulus money to cleantech dries up in the next year, the cleantech movement needs a new public relations framework in which to coordinate its efforts and communicate its message of jobs, energy independence and environment.
To do so will require a coming together of minds and money to effectively engage public audiences, policy makers and politicians. The multibillion-dollar cleantech industry must direct its resources toward establishing a Cleantech Association of America -- to raise funds, build awareness and lobby for government dollars. Other nations, such as Switzerland, have such associations, and it is time U.S. cleantech establishes one as well.
Tighter budgets mean bigger fights for fewer government dollars. If green is to get its fair share, it is time for the cleantech workers of America to unite.