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Puget Region Not as Green as We Might Think; comparing cities for cleantech innovation

Puget and Six Competing Regions Compared for Cleantech

I have recently mapped the cleantech innovation ecosystem in the Puget Sound region.  More than 250 firms engage in a range of innovative cleantech activities, from green building to renewable energy. The Greater Seattle area has a strong environmental reputation and it should rightfully follow that the region has a healthy green economy to match its social outlook.

Lest we paint too rosy – or green – a picture, how does Puget Sound compare to other US metropolitan areas in cleantech? Is the Puget region any greener, for example, than the San Francisco Bay area, or Portland, Oregon – two locales that also boast strong green credentials? And what about other cities across the nation that might not at first seem  as environmentally – oriented, such as Austin, Boston, Minneapolis and Atlanta?

Using the evaluation methodology originally developed for the Puget region, I queried a national business database for firms in each city metro region corresponding to a variety of key terms associated with clean tech, such as “renewable energy” and “green building” (see the link below for full description). I also interrogated the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) database of LEED projects for a more in depth examination of green buildings and LEED professionals by city. I normalized all the cities for population and then determined whether the Puget Region exceeded, lagged behind, or had generally an equivalent number of cleantech firms as competitors.

xls table: Puget Innovation compared to six US metro regions

Not as Green as Expected

What do the results show? Not surprisingly, the Bay Area leads the country in cleantech innovation, by numbers of firms. Seattle, a bit more surprisingly, isn’t all that green when compared to Portland, Austin, Minneapolis and Boston – at least in numbers of firms. The Puget region does have a strong green building community, evidenced by a high per capita number of LEED professionals.  The region also has a number of public policies that encourage green development and Seattle is ranked highly on a recent study of Green Cities in North America, commissioned by Siemens.

Room for Improvement; More and Better Innovation Finance Options?

For those of us seeking to grow the Puget region as a hub of cleantech activity what can we learn from this exercise? One telling result of my analysis is the relatively low number of venture capital firms here (see line item Venture Capital on linked table), when compared to more renowned innovation centers such as the Bay area and Boston. As I have asserted in an earlier post, innovation is about more than merely invention; it requires a robust ecosystem of services, including financial support, in order for new technologies to flourish.  While there is no magical way to make more venture capital appear, emerging models for funding new initiatives, such as crowd sourcing investments – pending federal rule making, may offer improved opportunities to grow cleantech in the Puget region. I will be examining this topic in future posts.

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We develop and market energy efficiency strategies and technologies. We focus on the building and transportation sectors, which account for more than two thirds of the energy budget.