On a global level, to achieve the 2˚C agreed upon during the Paris Agreement, a decrease in emissions of 40-70 percent (relative to 2010) should be obtained by 2050. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2017 global green investments exceeded 2016´s total of $287.5 billion. With strong government policy support, China has experienced a rapid increase in sustainable investments over the past several years and nowadays this country is the leader of global renewable investments. Besides, as of 2017, giant wind projects spread between the U.S., Mexico, U.K., Germany and Australia.
Considering the global market at the beginning of the 21st century, sustainable or green investments have gone through three stages—Envirotech, Cleantech and Sustaintech (2017 White Paper, Tsing Capital Strategy & Research Center).
First, the envirotech stage has been driven by environmental technology in addition to government policy and regulations. Envirotech investments have aimed to address traditional environmental issues, such as solid waste treatment, water treatmen and renewable energy. Considering the related business models, the envirotech business has been characterized by capital intensive investments reliant on scaling up for competitive advantage.
After the emergence of the envirotech stage, cleantech investments have described those green investments driven by technological innovations and cost-reduction. Among other examples, we can highlight solar photovoltaics, electric vehicles, LEDs, batteries, semiconductors, and energy efficiency-related investments. The requirement of long research and development periods in cleantech business models has created high technical barriers for competitors.
The latest evolution of green investments has been defined as the sustaintech stage where digital and cloud based technologies are currently being applied to accelerate sustainable investments through the removal of environmental, energy and resource constraints. Venture Capital investments have successfully funded sustaintech companies through the past several years, such as Opower, Nest, Solarcity and Tesla. While Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion in 2014, Oracle acquired Opower for $532 million in 2016.
Considering the new business models, sustaintech firms have shifted towards less capital intensive investments and the proliferation of disruptive technologies. Disruptive technologies are playing a key role in sustainable development such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, Big Data, 3D Printing and Advanced Material.
- Internet of Things sensor technology are enhancing sustainability with regards to energy efficiency, water resources and transportation.
- Artificial Investment technology, satellite imagery, computational methods are being used to improve predictions to improve agriculture sustainability.
- Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (AR/VR) technologies have shown signs of potential to transform business processes in a wide range of industries.
- Big Data has been oriented to optimize energy efficiency and to reduce the cost of clean technologies -related to solar panels and electric vehicles, for instance.
- 3D Printing technology can improve resource efficiency in manufacturing and increase the use of green materials.
- Advanced Materials technology can substitute non-renewable resources by recyclable and it can also enable efficiency in power devices
Indeed, $13.5 trillion in investments are needed in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies up to 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement’s. Considering the investment landscape, despite the new investment frontier, we are still far from this target. The case for climate action has never been stronger.