A Smart Green Explorers Wheel: Empowering Innovative Local Communities

04/08/2015 03:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

Co-authored by Julian Gresser, MA, JD and Francisco Acuna, MPA MBA, JD

Green technologies are beneficially transforming every aspect of life on Planet Earth in the 21st century. Partners in Prosperity--Strategic Industries for the U.S. and Japan documented how in specific historical times and places certain economically "strategic" technologies and industries served as catalysts to accelerate innovation, raise productivity, stimulate economic growth, and produce jobs. Japan's global industrial growth in the 1970s and 1980s proved the point in automobiles, household electronics, semiconductors, computers, and robotics. The Green Industrial Revolution describes how "social capital" is being created in the Nordic countries and China through the rapid diffusion of green innovations and technologies originating in the energy and environmental sectors to all areas of society.

People tend to think of green innovation as a matter of systems integration implemented by experts on a technical level. One example is "agile energy systems" that combine power generation, distribution, storage along with the transmission of renewable energy sources at both the central grid and locally on-site or distributed power to communities. Such agile systems are often linked with transportation infrastructure networks based largely on sustainable fuels. But technical solutions, no matter how innovative will not ensure local community engagement, support, and adoption.

An expanded definition of "sustainability" is emerging that explicitly includes human wellbeing, eco-services of natural assets, resilience of material systems, integrity of institutions, and community knowledge. A new conception of "capital" is also replacing outdated notions of energy and materials utilization that have focused to date on slowing rates of consumption. The real challenge for advanced and developing economies alike is to find a way to engage local communities creatively in the design and implementation of these green and now "smart" systems, so that the resulting prosperity is more widely and equitably shared.

A major success story is unfolding in Mexico which possesses a vast treasure of untapped solar, wind, geothermal, biofuel, and ocean wave energy resources. During the past several years a consortium has been formed by InTrust in cooperation with Harvard's Center for Global Health and the Environment. It includes 300 professors from 120 universities who are training young entrepreneurs to work together on 100 high priority projects with support from Mexico's Ministry of Energy. The consortium is precedent-setting in that local communities, including many rural and indigenous peoples, are themselves owners of the green energy projects, rather than being the passive observers of "artificial bubbles" of economic development happening on their incredibly rich lands.

Yet a central challenge remains: how most effectively to promote a creative dialogue among all stakeholders that will catalyze new discoveries, inventions, and innovations? As in advanced industrialized economies Mexico is searching for a new collaborative architecture that can capture the benefits of green innovation, while financially rewarding cooperation through recognizing mega-patents, patent pools, and other legal innovations. Creating incentives for international smart green technology transfers to Mexico is also critical, especially through alternatives that replace the old colonial model of foreign ownership of natural resources in exchange for patronage.

One useful tool that can help Mexico meet these challenges is a "Smart Green Explorers Wheel." The Wheel introduces a new way of connecting diverse domains of knowledge and people that are currently fragmented in vertical silos as a result of increasing professional specialization. The process begins by the explorers posing a central innovation challenge at the hub which they then investigate from eight perspectives: the Past, Wisdom, Beauty, Life Force, Innovation, Humanity, the Networked Brain, and the Future. This way of exploring trains the mind to perceive the world differently and to discover its deeper patterns. Important breakthroughs can often be found at the "intertidal" connections among conventional fields which reflect the eight realms. The Explorers Wheel can be designed as an online intelligent aide, which continuously learns along with the participants and provides useful feedback on their core innovation challenges.

A Smart Green Explorers Wheel can help provide the connective tissue for Mexico's green innovation initiative. How might it work? A Visual Matching Engine will first identify and display the optimal linkages of people, places, and resources for each high priority project. The resulting team and supporting network would then formulate the core innovation challenge. The challenge serves as the integrating focal point. An example: how can the available wind and solar energy in this location be optimally harvested to generate significant revenues for the community as whole as well as the developers and financiers? Through the Wheel participants gain access to the leading collaborative invention methodologies they can directly apply to solving the challenge. Together they then design and implement a plan to commercialize the resulting IP portfolio. The Wheel will also provide a venue for the stakeholders to record their personal stories -- their dreams and struggles, victories and defeats, and the lessons drawn from the expedition. The resulting "visionary community narrative" will provide coherence and build momentum. By being showcased on the Wheel the local wind/solar project will attract foreign sources of capital, talent, and new technologies which will benefit the overall program.

For the Green Industrial Revolution to succeed it must become a force of convergence for a broad segment of society. Although strategic technologies and industries have historically been the engines of accelerated economic growth, the vitality and exuberance of local communities have always been its heart, brains, and fire. By engaging people around purposeful, vitalizing, and compassionate activities a Smart Green Explorers Wheel may provide one essential resource in a world that is increasingly isolated, lonely, suspicious, and despairing of viable alternatives.


Woodrow W. Clark II, Managing Director, Clark Strategic Partners; Julian Gresser, Chairman, Alliances for Discovery, Francisco Acuna, CEO InTrust Global Investments, LLC