Eco-Advantage Blog

December 15, 2006 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (0) | Post A Comment

What Will Become of Houston?

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days in Houston this week. I spoke at two events — the annual meeting of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development and a Green to Gold book party/panel discussion hosted by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of Houston.

Houston has that unique feel of a one-industry town. (I’m vastly oversimplifying — of course tech and other industries thrive there. But go to L.A. (entertainment), D.C. (politics) and even downtown NYC (finance) and you know what i mean.) You walk through downtown and it’s a who’s who of global oil giants — the companies powering modern life. It’s awe-inspiring, just like seeing the Washington Memorial and Capitol Building.

But I kept thinking about what’s going to happen to this town if fossil fuels get forcefully pushed to the side by a society increasingly concerned about climate change. Let’s face it: nothing guarantees the survival of a particular company or industry. I’ve seen it quoted that only one of the top 12 companies in 1900 even exists today (that would be GE). Companies like U.S. Rubber didn’t quite make it. Technological transitions can be rough. Horse and buggy manufacturers were riding high until Ford came along.

So I come back home and see this editorial from Thomas Friedman today about how Texas is the leader in wind power, due in part to then-Governor George W. Bush’s commitment (see Whichever Way the Wind Blows). Could Houston lead the charge toward a new energy future?

Energy companies can morph over time from really being about fossil fuels to providing truly diversified energy. Of course that’s what BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” campaign has been pitching for years. But there’s a long way to go, and as Friedman focuses on, we need the government to get behind the transition and fast. With the right incentives, these giants could make the switch. They may not all make it, but some will. We know who the biggest companies of the last turn of the century were — besides Wal-Mart, it’s basically energy and auto. Which ones will survive until 2100?


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