Joel Makower, Executive Editor of, graciously made time to speak with InnovatingSMART, even as he was burning the midnight oil to prepare the 2013 State of Green Business.  The annual intelligence report released this week will be spotlighted at the GreenBiz Forum, to be held in New York (Feb 19-21) and San Francisco (Feb 26-28).


Joel Makower
Chairman and Executive Editor

GreenBiz Group



  • I'm a journalist by training, and if you look at the thread of what I've been writing about [for the past 35 years] it's the intersection of business, technology and society... and for the past 25 years about the intersection of business, sustainability and innovation.
  • [I'm interested in] how sustainability leads to innovation - new products and services, new technologies, sometimes whole new business models that address climate change and air and water and waste and bio-diversity, and the people side of sustainability too, creating better lives particularly in the developing world, giving opportunities... and how all this fits together.


Personal journey...

  • I studied journalism in college because I'd didn't have a clue what I wanted to be if I grew up... My hypothesis was that by sticking my nose into other people's business and writing about it, I would find something I was interested in and believed in and synced with my interests and values and passions and everything else.... Sticking my nose in other people's business turned out to be the thing itself.

  • My father said, You don't really understand something until you can explain it to someone else... About 25 years later I realized "Oh my god, he's right."

  • I had been asked to create the American version of the British bestseller "The Green Consumer Guide", and soon after, I had a syndicated column on the Green Consumer Movement...  I looked over my shoulder and I was standing there by myself...  It turns out there was no green consumer movement in the U.S., but the companies I was being asked to come to to talk about it [to] were interested in their own [green] issues....


Sustainability is about everything...

  • Topically, what I write about, it's a little bit about everything... It's business operations, and facilities and fleets and product design, and marketing, and finance. It's HR, it's every sector, it's entrepreneurial. 

  • It's not just about the dumpster and the drainpipe or the smokestack -- it's about how companies even understand what business they're in.


Smarter business models...

  • ...They can own the assets, and take them back after their useful life and make them into new assets... They realized it's a whole different business model in some ways.

  • Now we're seeing that spin out into what we are calling the sharing economy, where access and experience trumps consumption and ownership.

  • The reality is cars don't give you freedom.  What gives you freedom is mobility.  What if you had access to a whole fleet of cars that you didn't have to own or park or wash or insure, and all of that ?  


The inspiration of Woodstock...

  • Most people don't know the story of Woodstock... It's a really interesting story of how these four twenty-five-year-olds came together [to put on this music event] ...two music guys and two money guys... and they created a hodgepodge quilt of handymen and hipsters and hangers-on, and creative people. They put this city together but [couldn't] really finish it. 

  • The response was overwhelming... people were crowded into this hot sticky August east coast weekend, and then it rained, and rained and rained... there was an extreme weather event.  And what should have been a disaster turned out to be anything but.  They didn't have food, they didn't have sanitation.  The way those people came together.. with no precedent for this...

  • [It's a story about] what happens when people come together to solve problems with good spirits and good intentions, and creativity -- even under the most dire conditions.


Context is King...

  • It became axiomatic in Silicon Valley in the late 90's that "content is king".  It turns out that in all but a few cases, content was cheap and ubiquitous and not all that exciting.  But it was context -- making sense of information -- that became the valued commodity on the web.  That's really what's needed in sustainability.
  • As a company, we don't do alot of daily news...  It's much more the conceptual stuff.  I ask my reporters to put "How" and "Why" in front of the questions they ask.


The brand we're most excited about...

  • VERGE refers to a convergence of energy, information, building and transportation technologies. It's really about data and how it transforms our buildings and our cities and our transportation systems...  It has to do with Smart Grid and Big Data and the Internet of Things and the Cloud and mobile computing and next-generation cities and smart buildings and connected vehicles -- a lot of things we're all talking about -- but put into context.

  • Our conferences are "not your father's sustainability conference".  It's more a convergence of cultures and technologies and worldviews.

  • The sustainability people are kind of stuck in "the most we can hope for is to do less bad" while the technology people say "that's an engineering challenge; we can bring radical efficiency and a systems view and bring new levels of innovation to the table."  That's exciting to us, and that's a conversation that hasn't happened enough and so we're trying to help that along.


The State of Green Business 2013...

  • Every year we publish our State of Green Business report -- and this will be our 6th annual -- to really put into context all the stuff that's going on out there, and it's a lot of stuff, and most of it is under the radar of the public.  Is it moving the needle?   We are bringing that to light at this event.

  • It's about the right to operate.  If you're a big water user in a water-stressed area, even if you are using the water more efficiently than the locals, you may get tossed out. Companies have been tossed out of town. 

  • This maps sustainability to the things companies care most about, the heart of business.  They're managing risks all the time, but I really don't think they see sustainability as a risk factor. So we're going to talk a lot about that.


Closing thoughts...

  • In a world where everything is connected to everything else, environmental issues are often about the things themselves -- the tree, the polar bear, the smokestack, the pipline.  This is an opportunity to look from a systems view.  It's a huge opportunity for innovation.


See Joel's blog at


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