In the Spring of 2010 three executives in New York University’s CleanTech Executives Program, conducted a field survey and study on locally-driven sustainable energy initiatives: Wendy Brawer, Brett Barndt, and Lakis Polycarpou, Real Returns for Sustainable Communities: White Paper, Linking Communities and Investors for Sustainable Development (downloadable PDF of the complete study). They were particularly interested in how such projects could be financed:
Our survey found that investment professionals are interested in local sustainable development projects as a potential asset class. As one professional put it, “Local infrastructure projects like these are very suitable to our investor profiles.” Project finance professionals also said that they expected the sustainable development industry to “grow immensely,” and the key is to “build a platform” for growth.
What then is needed to increase adoption of cleantech and sustainable development projects? “We need to get beyond the bias we have toward centralized energy sources,” and develop ways to get small projects funded, said one professional.
From the executive summary:
Results of the survey, along with an independent review of current literature, support the hypothesis that conventional, top-down project development faces significant obstacles, especially when applied to cleantech or sustainable development projects. At the same time, the successful experiences of many survey participants in using democratic, self-organizing community engagement tools (including cutting-edge organizational development processes, crowd-sourcing and community mapping) to start sustainability initiatives in their communities suggests that a skillfully designed, holistic and well-structured community engagement process can circumvent many of the common roadblocks to sustainable development for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Furthermore, the responses of financial professionals surveyed support the idea that there is significant interest in cleantech and sustainable development among investors of different classes. In addition, respondents indicated that community-originated and designed projects may have an even greater appeal to project developers because an upfront process has the potential to mitigate or eliminate the political risk of NIMBYism associated with conventional project development.
What is needed now is a comprehensive, beginning-to-end process that ties best practices for community organizing and crowd-sourcing to investors to rapidly grow community-centered cleantech and sustainable development projects.