2012-05-10

Co.Exist

Force Multipliers Can Take Good Ideas And Make Them Great

There are lots of good ideas in the world that need magnification. Sometimes it’s not more money that you need, but ways to create more impact for each action.

Zhongwei “Wally” Jiang is a multicultural entrepreneur with more 24/7 activity than the Energizer bunny. His WesTech Solar Energy company in China and green city developments in Texas make the most of what nature and efficient technologies can provide. His secret to success is stitching together people, technology, and ideas that might not normally interact, a process he calls “1+1=11." Like Jiang, we can all find these force multipliers that leverage our assets beyond what many might think is possible--but only if we look for them.

One of these unique leavening agents for any business that spends money on advertising is EcoMedia, a clever program that takes a piece of ad dollars and invests it in community improvement projects, like solar panels on a school. The ad spend is the same, but the advertiser earns more positive impressions than they otherwise would have, because local newspapers and TV cover the story at the school, usually with smiling elected officials, parents, and students. As the Visa commercials say, that’s priceless. EcoMedia has been so successful with this program, it has now expanded into wellness and education, putting fresh money into community improvements and making more corporate halos a lot brighter. The value of each advertising dollar for the company is multiplied far beyond what it would be if it was spent traditionally.

I came across another force multiplier last month in Brazil. The Agencia Nacional de Energia Eletrica announced a new net metering program modeled after California’s successful Million Solar Roofs Initiative. Brazilians who install solar can now sell excess power to the grid, encouraging residents and businesses to become clean energy entrepreneurs. Today, Brazil has only about 1% as many solar installations as world leader Germany, but in the days following the announcement, this simple regulatory change inspired Braxenergy Desenvolvimento de Projetos de Energia to announce a new $50 million factory to make solar panels and Tecnometal Equipamentos announced a new $127 million facility to refine silicon and make other components for the panel market. Considering that the sun shines about 40% more of the time in Brazil than Germany, every panel installed thanks to this new rule will be a force multiplier of its own.

Closer to home, Phoenix-based Climatec is a force multiplier for large energy consumers. Unlike other contractors that perform energy audits and upgrade inefficient lighting, HVAC, and other systems, Climatec keeps a building “tuned up” by monitoring every energy use and performance from its high-tech headquarters, often hundreds of miles away. Climatec is leveraging what we learned in California a few years ago when the state conducted an experiment in “retro-commissioning,” essentially tuning up existing energy systems to operate as originally intended. We achieved an average of 18% energy savings from those tune-ups and learned the valuable lesson that, just like a car, you need to stay on top of those maintenance metrics to maintain peak performance and maximum saving of energy and money. Hospitals discovered that a small investment with a service like Climatec’s pays even bigger dividends when they use the same monitoring system to manage fire and safety alarms and things like patient call and A/V systems, saving more money and improving customer service.

Finding force multipliers for your company may not be obvious, but the thing these examples have in common is that they look at existing resources and ask, “What more could we get out of what we already have or already spend?” In June of this year, when many will focus on the Rio+20 summit to look for ways to make resources support a population of 7 billion and a rapidly growing middle class, finding your force multipliers can make a big difference in a more sustainable planet, economy, and business.

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