Green initiatives will take a beating next year in areas where economic incentives are not more than offsetting costs, and they will accelerate where there are savings multipliers like financial benefits and government incentives. The world, as we all well know, is going to be focused like a laser on saving money and that will have interesting implications for "green."
While governments will clearly want companies to be green and there is a lot of interest everywhere, when you put the majority of people's incomes at risk, they begin making hard choices. One of those hard choices will be deciding whether "green" is more important than the survival of the company or any group of jobs.
In most cases, I expect that green programs not currently offset by economic incentives, either naturally or from the government, will fall off sharply in 2009, along with other nice-to-have programs that aren't critical to the firm's survival. Survival will be the number-one priority for most firms.
The end result is that many of the disposal programs protecting landfills and avoiding toxic contamination are likely to go wanting. I expect an increasing number of companies to fall into violation of disposal laws. Part of this will be enabled because enforcement in this area will likely fall behind as concerns about cyber and physical crimes mount. In short, law enforcement will have fewer resources and will focus more on traditional theft and capital crimes.
Conservation and Alternative Energy Flourish
On the other hand, there are expected to be strong incentives to remove or eliminate the dependence on foreign sources of energy. That suggests a combination of benefits will drive even more interest. This will be offset somewhat by falling gas prices, but with incomes falling as well, the need to conserve expenditures will increase. This will likely extend further with efforts to conserve paper and raw materials.
One downside is the possible adverse impact on some goods and services; in some places, cuts may be too deep and adversely affect the quality of the resulting products.
Alternative energy gets several boosts. First, the cost for the technology should continue to drop sharply as more capacity comes online and government financial incentives should increase. Particularly for solar, energy yields appear to be increasing, resulting in potentially significant combined benefits. Alternative energy programs remain best when coupled with energy conservation efforts. An increasing number of companies will likely decide to largely go off grid, working to effectively disconnect from their power utility supplier. Be aware, however, that until the incentives kick in, alternative power is likely to stagnate.
One of the more interesting areas of conservation is the elimination of standby power loads. Some of the most recent PCs submitted for evaluation drop to near zero power on standby. Monitors are going in the same direction. I imagine a lot of folks will move to testing for this as we go into 2009. Both firms and individuals focus on these power leaches as a way to conserve, though I doubt if any conserve enough to justify replacing the related product. I see this more as a way to choose between products.
Green will remain a hot topic through 2009, but the most actual traction will be where green, incentives and financial savings coincide. Money will trump everything else in 2009. The end result, unfortunately, is that those things that are nice to have will likely be discontinued in many companies that are trying desperately to survive what is likely to be a very difficult year. Fortunately, conservation falls under this umbrella and, coupled with government incentives, alternative power should remain an area for increased investment. However, until the subsidies kick in, even this area will struggle.