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Why I'm optimistic about the future

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Friday, September 13, 2013


09.13.13 Blog Cleantech1The past hour has left me feeling enormously more optimistic about the future of the human race — and about the future of the economy of my beloved home state of Oregon.

As I type this, to one side of me are six special booths at the Oregon BEST Fest.

BEST Fest is a celebration of the Built Environment and Sustainable Technology.

These six booths are staffed entirely by students from Portland State University.

One booth, Continuum, showcases a seismic brace, newly designed yet using off-the-shelf materials, that vastly prolongs the useful lives of old buildings by giving them a faster, cheaper, non-corroding, less-invasive way to conform with updated building codes. People are safer, and beautiful old buildings can continue to serve their neighborhoods. Tons of material (and millions of dollars) are saved by not tearing down those buildings.

09.13.13 Blog Cleantech2Next booth over at EndoBright, the cosmetics industry is becoming more humane (and more vegan). A novel way of extracting brightly colored pigments from fungi offers to replace the industry supply of pigments from beetles.

Then at Mobius Microfarms, an automated system pairs a fish tank with grow beds for organic micro-greens and herbs. Restaurants and soon apartment dwellers will be able to grow a portion of their weekly vegetables in a beautiful cabinet — combining gorgeous indoor decor with the most local food imaginable. No pesticides or herbicides needed, and it recycles its own water and runs on $3 a month for the grow-lights. How many tons of carbon will be saved when we’re all getting our delicious ultra-local organic herbs and greens from our living rooms or the neighborhood vertical farm?

Next over at the Diatomix booth, tiny diatoms are grown and turned into a material that has astonishing properties — such as the creation of

  • a paint that regulates the humidity of the room it’s in, actually cleans the air, and dampens unwanted sound frequencies and provides thermal insulation
  • a self-healing polymer that’s both stronger and lighter than conventional
  • a drop-in coating that boosts the efficiency of solar panels

09.13.13 Blog Cleantech3I lost track at that point — Diatomix is astonishing.

Next to them, another team has a system that recycles both used tires and used motor oil into fuel and other usable products. Another has a sunlight-powered water purifier for remote or impoverished areas of the world that lack both power and clean water.

None of these companies existed a year ago. All are now seeking to productize and sell their creations.

People make a lot of problems for each other. With the chance — and support from allies like PSU, TiE, Wells Fargo, and others — people can also create amazing solutions.

So too can you. So too can the people who work for you and with you.

Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust.


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