Foundation of our green future

I recently got to speak with Steve Vassallo, an exec at Foundation Capital. They're an investment firm firmly in the greentech camp.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

I recently got to speak with Steve Vassallo, an exec at Foundation Capital. They're an investment firm firmly in the greentech camp. They've been in the VC business for 14 years. They don't just talk the talk, Foundation's putting their money where the matter is. The firm's headquarters just got LEED gold certification.

Foundation Capital offices. Courtesy: Foundation. Foundation Capital General Partner, Paul Holland, is currently building a LEED Platinum home with his wife, Linda Yates, in Silicon Valley. That home uses tech from several Foundation-backed companies. When completed the house will create more energy than it uses, recycle and reuse water, use the latest in green tech. FOUNDATION'S BUILDING BLOCKS Here are some of the green tech firms Foundation is backing: CalStar. A Wisconsin company making low-CO2 brick and other materials.Control4. They build smart device systems that can run on any platform. Manage your windmills from a cell phone, or your home media from a remote location. eMeter. They make software systems for the smart electrical grid. They also have investment from Sequoia Partners. enerNOC. They build systems for energy demand management. They're all about energy efficiency. Naverus. Systems for more energy efficient air travel. Silver Spring Network. They build "plug and play" smart grid systems. Florida Power & Light are among customers using SilverSpring tech. We've blogged about them before. FOUNDATION'S VIEW OF TOMORROW Mr. Vassallo said Foundation sees CleanTech as the inevitable trend in coming years. A great adventure for ventures new and innovative. He pointed out that much of the current infrastructure technology is antique. Cement was first developed back in 1824. Eighty years before the Wright Brothers flew their tiny airplane. The first double-pane windows were made in 1865, just as the first railroad was connecting California to the eastern U.S. Drywall was invented in 1917, at the end of the First World War when there was no radio, no TV and no nuclear energy technology. So we can see how far other technologies have changed yet the building industry remains mired in the antiquated. Vassallo reminds us that buildings use over half of all the energy in America. 12% for construction, another 39% for operation once the building is finished. Materials used are crucial, he points out. The cement industry alone has an environmental impact equal to that of the auto industry in America. A ton of CO2 is produced to every ton of cement we make. Vassallo is convinced that great innovation, growth and eventually, IPOs, are in the offing for the building industry which must change in an era of energy costs rising and materials shortages. He points that much of the current building tech was developed when energy was essentially free. And long before governments and corporations had any inkling of long-term pollution effects. We are no longer so naive. CLEANTECH TRENDS AND ISSUES Vassallo pointed out some crucial factors in the development of CleanTech. Construction is necessarily a local and regional industry. Building projects cannot be out-sourced. Zoning, permitting and planning issues will continue to be important. New technologies will need to be recognized by governing agencies. Thus spreading information will be paramount. Vassallo pointed out that most local regulations assume windows are far less energy efficient than walls so laws tend to favor less windows now. Yet one Foundation investment, Serious Materials, can now make windows more energy-efficient than standard walls. Change will often be from the bottom-up, he concludes. I've blogged about Serious Materials here. And here's the Serious website. But there is plenty of room for top-down change. The largest landlord in America: U.S. government. Largest single user of energy in America: Deparrment of Defence.

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