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Material Mix — Barriers to Clean-Tech Manufacturing

February 7, 2013 • Arch Grant News

Reimagining the Past

Sustainability is neither a PR bullet point, nor a fuzzy green feeling. Sustainability is smart. Sustainability is being resourceful. It’s long-term planning, resource endowment, and improving operational and fiscal efficiency.

Material Mix

Sustainability is the capacity to endure (what every start-up dreams of). It is the underlying principal that allows our country’s most beloved game-changing industrialist up starts; like Ford, Dow Chemical Company, and John Deere; to continue to grow their brand over generations.

The American industrial revolution was catalyzed by a perfect storm of underlying environmental and political conditions that supported immediate and exponential growth in new ideas in manufacturing.

Growth Catalyst Then Now
Game changing ideas Cotton cloth, interchangeable parts Alternative fuel, six sigma
Urbanization Working-class migration High-tech migration
Communication breakthroughs Telegraph Social connectivity via the internet
Flattening of the supply chain Railroads, steam engine technology Multinational corps, lean logistics

Today a new wave of innovation in science, engineering, and education is sparking a second period of accelerated growth in manufacturing; driven by the same underlying success factors.

Clean-Tech Needs a New Message

Manufacturers are often characterized by a Midwestern etiquette, engrained resourcefulness, and “no nonsense” business accounting.  At a glance this industry is a perfect fit for Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, profit) practices.

So why do contemporary clean-tech startups struggled to gain traction? The issue is complex. Operating in a burgeoning industry has its own challenges: longer sales cycles, uncertain and hard-won regulatory support, political regionalism, and a high-cost infrastructure.

However, at the heart of the issue is a something much more human – broken trust. “Green” technology is continually over-hyped by consumers, media, and the companies themselves. Consumer and investors alike have been misled by green-washed promises and inadequate ROI.

The biggest challenge true clean-tech startups must overcome is rebuilding this trust – through methodological consistency, execution of strong corporate ethics, and the implementation of a results-driven strategy.

To achieve this, emphasis must be placed on corporate risk assessment, full transparency, global standardization of best practices for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), and environmental accounting.  To allow new ideas to flourish; there must be cooperation between business, government, and social institutions.

Saint Louis: Just Doin’ It

Saint Louis serves as a hospitable ecosystem for vetting new innovations in sustainability and business. Our active and empowered community, robust resource endowment, and strong regional infrastructure present an optimized habitat for entrepreneurial synthesis and gestation.  Moreover, the city has emerged as a thought leader in supporting big ideas that re-shape the community and industrial landscape. As an Arch Grantee, business person, tree-hugger, and St. Louisianan transplant; it is my hope to take an active role in this industrialist movement and support St. Louis in re-branding Missouri as a progressive and innovative community of doers.

Allison Carmen

Material Mix is an Arch Grants and Capital Innovators partner, winner of the 2013 Missouri Clean Energy Challenge, and semifinalist in the 2012 Clean Tech Open.

Allison Carmen serves as CEO of Material Mix, Secretary of the Missouri Gateway USGBC Advocacy Committee, and Steering Committee member of WEST (Women Entrepreneurs of St. Louis).