Steven Atneosen, Managing Director, Grand Chasm Ventures
The slogan “Think globally. Act Locally” in the late 1970s related to an early outcry for public awareness regarding climate change and aptly described the best design for sustainable systems, mobility included. Often found adorning the bumpers of Volvos, it came at a time when we had an opportunity to reverse runaway global warming. Not everyone ignored the warning signs and a few made addressing it good government and business. If you spend time in Norway, you see that its citizens walk the talk of sustainable living with hydro generating 97% of its electricity, which powers its trains, buses, almost half of its passenger cars and commercial vehicles
both on land and on water. In Silicon Valley, I doubt that you would see any difference in how people live and move about their community now versus ten years ago - outside of a few electric vehicles used as private cars. Americans suffer from an abundance mentality which does not create an environment of innovation to conserve. We lack the spirit or impetus to address sustainability as an immediate problem. It is this disparity of prescience that will distinguish the true innovators of sustainable mobility systems because innovation is most prolific where the pain is greatest. Sustainable mobility is a system problem, not a technological one.
Silicon Valley has long been a leader in software and chip technology because it has access to talent and capital, but this abundance has made our innovation engine aimless and sloppy. The new world order for sustainable products will be led by communities that marry sustainable vision with the ingredients to deploy complex systems - i.e., whole products and services that serve global stakeholders to address the effects of climate change. This whole product leadership exists in Nordic countries and China. The former because of a strong social contract that exists with its constituents to act responsibly when others and resources are concerned. The latter because China’s central government has determined that the pollution that seriously threaten its viability has also produced a business opportunity for sustainability and peripheral components, such as artificial intelligence. We’re all in the same boat when it comes to the effects of climate change, but only a few of us are bailing, and to survive everyone must grab a bucket.
The best sustainable solutions will have a market relevance that makes them extremely profitable and scalable. The TAB of sustainable mobility solutions are global and unlimited as the threat becomes more evident to people
How the Valley can Achieve Leadership
Sustainable mobility leaders embrace a business model paradigm that attributes societal costs to certain behaviors in order to properly align priorities that have global relevance; difficult to achieve if you live in a place with cheap oil. As James Clear, a noted behavior change expert, so aptly opined, “environment is the invisible hand that shapes behavior.” Norway presents a clear behavior cost environment that speeds development of sustainable systems despite an innovation engine that lacks the urgency and abundance of the Valley’s. Climate change, while a lethal threat, has imposed a convergence of factors to create an unlimited opportunity for anyone who is motivated to solve big problems leveraging technology. We have largely ignored a seminal opportunity to add scalable relevance to the new world order of sustainable solutions for every industry vertical.
The TAM of sustainable mobility solutions are global and unlimited as the threat becomes more universally
accepted. For now, early products have found innovator/early adopter customers where global climate change thought leadership and need exist. Most new market opportunities are a “do-over”, as technology disruption, like history, rhymes. This familiar development lifecycle has occurred consistently worldwide and serves as a good road map to commercialize successive disruption. Sustainable mobility systems will contain many elements that efficiently allocate cost and benefit to society and present responsible and fair choices to consumers. People behave the way the pay and are paid, so all elements of the formula must be included and be presented to properly elicit good choice. It is this efficient formula that vexes the Valley as true climate costs have not been historically represented in its traditional business models because of our geography and government.
The Importance of Geography, Government and its People
Sustainable mobility systems present choices for people that are optimal not just for them but for their community and are almost always bounded by strong governmental influence.
Good change is halted when new alternatives negatively affect favored existing systems. The enemies to sustainable mobility are the usual suspects: the gas and oil industry, ICE vehicle companies, and consumer habits. Disruption will take hold when the true cost of a particular behavior becomes realized, and the clean alternative is made competitive.
The ingredients for a whole product in sustainable mobility include governmental imposition of a strong social contract that attributes financial cost to bad behaviors; people movement prioritized over vehicles; local and cultural preference in design; technology (AI, network, data access, etc…) with a feedback loop for all stakeholders to balance the system and improve it; and the ability to modify behavior via multiple modes. In the end, solutions that address global climate change are akin to a perpetual motion machine in scale and opportunity; there will be no objections or impediments to growth in the early markets that are ready for them. The road map is clear to those who have made the disruptive journey before.
The New World Order
The Valley has produced technology that supports existing mobility models, such as the electric passenger car and self driving vehicle. But neither is disruptive in the way in which these early technologies are proposed to be commercially applied. Legacy auto and technology players are following the wrong leads in innovation. Autonomous taxis and X-share models as deployed are iterative and poorly executed in what must be a whole product delivery of mobility. Their relevance is severely skewed by a suspicious public because of bad governance and lack of proper vision that has resulted in embarrassing outcomes; a sorry state and a severe lack of judgment on the part of investors and corporate officers.
We are due for fresh leadership with integrity to establish the new world order of sustainable solutions, both in our private companies and government. The United States was in a position of thought leadership almost a century ago. Thomas Edison pondered in 1931, the year he died, that "[w]e are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature's inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind, and tide.” I doubt that Mr. Edison would be encouraged by our progress to date. But, we are a town of reinvention. I am confident that we can do better.