Steve Jobs & the Environment

steve jobs environment

Yesterday, when I was hit with the shocking news that Steve Jobs had died, I thought about writing a piece on his extremely innovative spirit and skills and how they relate to our current clean energy revolution. But, I was really in a bit of shock (not because I didn’t think he was approaching that day after his recent resignation, but because I hadn’t read anything about his health getting dramatically worse recently and, probably more so, because the man had such a profound effect on our society). Additionally, it seemed almost irreverent to write about such things to me….

But, truthfully, his wonderful successes and spirit should be celebrated. We should celebrate what he offered the world and how he helped to change it. Still feeling a bit uncomfortable writing on such things myself, though, I have read two really good pieces on this that I thought I’d just share here on CleanTechnica. The first is from Bob Keefe of the NRDC, and the second is from Tom Dowdall of Greenpeace. Enjoy.

And, of course, I’m wishing Steve Jobs the best, wherever he is now.

Steve Jobs, Clean Energy and Innovation

by Bob Keefe, Natural Resources Defense Council

In a previous life, I was a technology reporter who covered a company called Apple Inc. and a guy named Steve Jobs. I was lucky enough to be there in San Francisco when Jobs introduced something called the iPod, the iPhone and a bunch of other iProducts in between and after.

I never really knew what the “i” stood for in all those Apple products. But certainly, it could’ve stood for “innovation.” Steve Jobs was an innovator extraordinaire in the most innovative industry in recent history, the technology industry.

So maybe it’s not surprising that a day after his death, it was Jobs who came to mind while I listened to President Obama speak about what could and should be the next great inflection point in American innovation: Clean energy.

Obama was asked at a press conference Thursday about the Solyndra debacle and the Department of Energy loan guarantee program that created by Congress in 2005 (not by Obama or the current White House, mind you) to help get the clean energy industry rolling in America.

Obama’s response, at least to me, sounded a bit reminiscent of Steve Jobs.

“If we are going to be able to compete in the 21st century, then we’ve got to dominate cutting-edge technologies,” Obama said.

That’s what Jobs did with Apple.

When nobody else could figure out how to (legally) sell music over the Internet, Jobs and Apple did with the iPod. When nobody else could figure out how to make a cell phone with decent Internet capabilities, Jobs and Apple did with iPhone. When nobody else could figure out how to make a tablet computer that everyday folks could want and use, Jobs and Apple came along with the iPad.

Of course Jobs and Apple had stumbles along the way: the Lisa, the Newton, the Cube.

Lots of other tech companies stumbled even more. Remember Commodore Computers? How many people do you know who has a Microsoft Zune? And weren’t we all supposed to be driving hovercars by now?

That’s the nature of innovation. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you it hit out of the park, sometimes you whiff.

But if you don’t try, you never succeed.

And when it comes to something as big and as important as redefining how we communicate, how we get our entertainment or – much more importantly – how we get our energy, we’ve got to try.

If we don’t try to innovate – and if we as a country don’t support and encourage innovation, whether through research grants to universities, funding through agencies like DARPA or loan guarantee programs through the Department of Energy – somebody else will.

In the case of clean energy, it will be China and other countries that are already investing much, much more in clean energy development than the United States.

“Part of what’s happening is that China, Europe, and others are putting enormous subsidies into these (clean energy) companies and giving them incentives to move offshore … and that’s part of the reason why a lot of the technology that’s developed here, we’ve lost the lead in,” Obama said Thursday.

“If we don’t prepare now, if we don’t invest now, if we don’t get on top of technologies now … we are not just going to be able to start when all heck is breaking loose and say boy, we better find new energy sources,” he said.

Obama, fortunately, realizes the value and the risks of innovation.

Silicon Valley realizes the value and risks of innovation.

Steve Jobs realized it too.

Now if only our lawmakers in Congress and luddites who think we should stay shackled to fossil fuels instead of innovating our way out of high energy prices, pollution, dependence on foreign oil and all the other problems that come with it would realize it as well.


Steve Jobs – a worthy opponent, a valuable ally

by Tom Dowdall

Like many people, I heard the sad news of the passing of Steve Jobs first thing this morning, shouted up the stairs before I was properly awake. My first thought was the sadness of the news, then about the legacy left by Steve Jobs. While for many, his legacy is in the products they own, for me it is the changes Apple made under Steve’s leadership to drive the electronics industry towards a clean future that are well worth remembering.

Greenpeace and Apple have history. During our campaigning for a greener electronics industry, Apple and Steve Jobs have been central figures. I never met him, but I think it’s safe to say he was never a Greenpeace fan. Despite this, he did make a rare promise in 2007 to be the first computer company to phase out the worst hazardous substances from all Apple products. In 2008 Apple lead the industry with the first computers virtually free of toxic PVC and BFRs. He clearly understood the value to Apple of being the first. Today, all Apple products are free of these hazardous substances and where Apple lead, HP, Acer and others have followed. That alone made Steve Jobs ultimately a valuable ally in the fight for a toxics free future.

There’s still much more for Apple and the rest of industry to do to be truly sustainable, both in terms of toxic free products and a clean energy future. But today is a day to reflect that among all of Steve Jobs achievements in the technology industry, one of the less well known ones is one of the most important. We need many more leaders like Jobs at the top of global companies who have the vision, drive and personality to deliver real solutions to the environmental challenges of today.

Rest in peace Steve Jobs, and thank you for leaving the world a greener Apple.

Image via Red, Green, and Blue

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