Japanese, US firms lead green innovation

04 October 2010

BRUSSELS: Companies in Japan, the US and Germany are leading the way regarding green innovation, according to new figures.

The European Patent Office partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development to assess emerging trends in this area.

Six countries – France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the UK and US – contributed 80% of applications concerning clean energy technology, based on an analysis of 400,000 patent documents.

Registrations in this category have increased by around 20% annually since 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol, establishing objectives for tackling global warming, came into force.

"Far from being a drag on economies and innovation, international efforts to combat climate change have sparked technological creativity," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.

"The challenge now is to find ways in which these advances can be diffused, spread and transferred everywhere so that the benefits to both economies and the climate are shared by the many rather than the few."

Siemens, the German conglomerate, dedicated over €1bn ($1.4bn; £871m) to green research and development at the height of the downturn.

"We can spend a lot of time talking about how we manage our way through the crisis but it's all rather benign and short-sighted compared to the real challenges that mankind is facing," Peter Löscher, Siemens' ceo, said earlier this year.

General Electric, the US giant, introduced its pioneering Ecomagination initiaitve in 2005, targeting $20bn sales by 2010.

It has also recently outlined plans to invest $10bn in R&D during the next five years, supplementing expenditure of $5bn thus far.

"While we've grown our Ecomagination revenues in the first five years, we're now committing to grow them at double the rate of overall company growth," Jeff Immelt, GE's ceo, and Steven Fludder, vp, ecomagination, wrote in its latest annual report.

"We are a global company. We operate in more than 100 countries and we see growing demand for our Ecomagination products practically everywhere."

In March, online search specialist Google invested $38.8m in two windfarms, having first pledged to achieve carbon neutrality in 2007.

"The goal is not to become green," Google's ceo, Eric Schmidt, said in late 2009. "The goal is to make money and rebuild the energy infrastructure of the United States."

"If you rebuild the infrastructure ... you create a lot of new jobs, American jobs, you drive innovation. It's the next great challenge, I think, for America."

The auto industry is placing a particular emphasis on this area, with the CR-Z, built by Japan's Honda, billed as the "world's first sporty hybrid coupe", epitomising such a shift.

Honda estimates US sales should reach 15,000 units in 12 months, despite struggling to exert an impact through its previous hybrid model, Insight.

Steven Center, American Honda's vp, advertising and PR, suggested the CR-Z "fits very nicely in the world going forward" as consumers are looking to "cars that have better value and an increased focus in fuel economy" while also carrying emotional appeal.

Data sourced from European Patent Office/New York Times/Daily Telegraph; additional content by Warc staff