The idea machine

Inventor Saul Griffith just dreamed up your next business.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)

Selling green Selling green Selling green
In his new book The Plot to Save the Planet, Fortune Small Business editorial director Brian Dumaine chronicles how entrepreneurs are tapping into what could be the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century: clean, money-saving technology.

SAN FRANCISCO (Fortune Small Business) -- The last thing Saul Griffith wants me to write about is how smart he is.

Winner of a $500,000 MacArthur "genius" award and founder of Makani Power, a startup that generates wind power from flying kites, Griffith gets up to 30 e-mails a day from qualified scientists eager to work for him. He can't afford to hire them, so he wants to inspire them to be entrepreneurs instead.

"Pithy articles about genius boys be damned," says the 35-year-old Australian, thumping the table at a San Francisco coffeehouse. "There are more important things to cover a page with. I'll give you one graphic with 600 new business models in it. Done."

Griffith is talking about, a Web site that calculates your precise impact on the environment -- not just the energy it takes to heat your house or run your car, but the energy needed to manufacture all your possessions, as well as the energy the government hogs with your taxes. With all that data, WattzOn produces a detailed pie chart of your life. It's a shocking sight, and it's also where the new business models come in.

"Pick any one slice of that pie, figure out how to do that slice with 10 times less energy, and you have a billion-dollar company," says Griffith, who launched WattzOn last year as a side project. "It's that easy." So much so, he says, that he's using WattzOn to come up with ideas for his next 10 companies.

You want examples? Griffith is brimming with them -- he says he suffers from "inventoritis" -- and it's a joy to watch them spill out. (Not least because the guy uses enough unprintable Australian colloquialisms to make a kangaroo blush; a sanctimonious tree hugger he is not.)

How about effervescent pills that purify water and turn it into soda, without all that wasteful bottling? (Get the taste right and you'll drive Coca-Cola out of business.) Or smart string that attaches itself to wet items so we all start using clotheslines instead of dryers? Or a mechanical coffee grinder that's more fun to use than old-school grinders but lasts longer than today's electric models? Curtains haven't seen much innovation in the last 100 years and could be far better insulators. How about designing a house that'll stand for a millennium and produce its own air conditioning?

We're not just talking about the benefits of energy savings, lower overhead or green PR. Sooner or later, every business will be forced to think seriously about minimizing its environmental impact. The 21st century is shaping up to be what Griffith calls "the age of consequence," when consumers will obtain more and more access to WattzOn-style data. The faster climate change kicks in, the more environmental damage will be done. Inevitably fingers will point, governments will regulate, and class-action lawsuits will be launched against those of us who use more than our fair share of carbon -- directly or indirectly. Look at Big Tobacco, which is buckling under the weight of unimpeachable science, ferocious litigation and public outrage.

But enough with the doom and gloom. That, after all, is half the problem with the modern environmental movement. Far better to focus on the imaginative things we can do with less energy, as Griffith does when he talks to school-kids. Two of the most efficient forms of transport, he says, are zip lines and roller coasters. "Tell 10-year-olds they're going to take roller coasters to school instead of a stinky yellow bus and they go ape," he says.

Better get ready to compete with a whole new generation of geniuses.  To top of page

To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.

QMy dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering to acquire a set of skills first. Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice? More
Get Answer
- Spate, Orange, Calif.
10 of the most luxurious airline amenity kits When it comes to in-flight pampering, the amenity kits offered by these 10 airlines are the ultimate in luxury More
7 startups that want to improve your mental health From a text therapy platform to apps that push you reminders to breathe, these self-care startups offer help on a daily basis or in times of need. More
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.