10 Signs that 'Going Green' Is Just a Fad

Last Updated Mar 15, 2010 4:57 PM EDT

Bloom Box Hype or Breakthrough?In 2008, I made a prediction: "What do you get when you mix Al Gore, global warming, whacky environmentalists, skyrocketing oil prices, lots of venture funding, and irrational exuberance? An alternative-energy bubble."

In 2009 I called global warming an environmental fad: "Mark my words: twenty years from now people will be saying Atkins diet, male enhancement, colon cleansing, and global warming all in one breath."

Today, I'm declaring war on everything "going green." No, I'm just kidding. In fact, the Tobaks just installed a huge solar array that, with all the tax breaks, is supposed to pay off in less than six years. Not bad.

On the other hand, I still use antiperspirant from a spray can. Hey, sticks just don't cut it. You see, I'm pragmatic about green tech, clean energy, and all that "going green" stuff. As for the rest of the world, not so much.

Here are 10 Signs that there's a great big overhyped green bubble just waiting to burst:
  1. Bloom Energy launch. Despite the presence of headliners Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, and Kleiner Perkins' John Doerr; big customers like Coke, eBay, FedEx, Google, and Walmart; and 400 million in venture funding; some bloggers are quick to point out that the Bloom Box may be more hype than breakthrough.
  2. "Climate Gate". Whether the hacked emails between top experts on global warming show a conspiracy to manipulate the data or not, with respect to climate change, only one thing's certain: that it's not at all clear what's happening, what's causing it, and what we should or shouldn't be doing about it.
  3. Crazy venture Funding. VC funding in green technology dropped from $7.6 billion in 2008 to $4.85 billion in 2009. While that's a good thing, it's still stratospheric and strikingly reminiscent of the late 90s Internet bubble.
  4. Return of the nukes. When a democratic president and congress bring nuclear energy back into the picture, you know alternative energy isn't cutting the mustard.
  5. Al Gore. Come on, folks, let's get real here. In case you missed it, check out Neal Dikeman's CNET post: Is Al Gore Nuts? The comments are priceless.
  6. Major defections in climate coalition. ConocoPhillips, BP America, and Caterpillar have all decided to drop out of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP).
  7. China's coming. According to Business Insider: "If the Chinese use as much oil per person as Americans, then the world will need seven more Saudi Arabias to meet their demand." Do you really think alternative energy will meet China's needs?
  8. The fall of First Solar. When I first wrote about the coming "alternative energy bubble" in mid-2008, Wall Street darling First Solar had a $25 billion market cap. Today, it's one third of that.
  9. Thin-Film solar: where'd the investors go? In 2007 and 2008, thin-film solar was the rage, with over $2 billion in venture funding invested in dozens of firms. Now, it's all-but dried up. When VCs jump from one technology to another like that, it's not a good sign.
  10. Even White Castle's gone green! While doing research for my interview with this week's Undercover Boss, I learned that even White Castle, that bastion of what we love to eat, not what's good for us, has gone green. What's that tell you?
Last Word. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for cleaning up the planet and we should all - individuals, companies, and countries - do our part. But from a purely business perspective, I'm just telling you, this whole thing has overhyped fad written all over it. Whatever you do for a living, don't get too caught up in it.

Image courtesy Bloom Energy

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