November 03,2020 - Forget Politics, The US Will Lead In Sustainability Because Of Its Entrepreneurs

Oct 27, 2020,02:24pm EDT

Background:  The ideas in this article were significantly sharpened by a panel on  “Life After Covid-19” held by Florida Polytechnic University’s Executive Leadership Initiative (ELI). Special thanks to Syd Kitson for explaining the vision behind Babcock Ranch.

Aerial picture of babcock ranch

Climate change has been on the forefront of the public consciousness for many decades. Historically, regions outside of the United States have led on topics of regulatory or government action. Meanwhile, the United States government has traditionally been reluctant to participate, so the lack of engagement of the USA on the Kyoto protocol(signed 1997, effective 2005) was par for the course. Given this backdrop, it was quite a surprise to see the following headline “USA meets Kyoto protocol goal – without ever embracing it.”  In fact, the United States became the first major industrialized country to meet the United Nations original Kyoto Protocol 2012 target for CO2 reductions.


What happened ?     A new technology pioneered by entrepreneurs in East Texas called fracking revolutionized extraction of oil and gas. This technology caused natural gas prices to plummet such that coal was a much less interesting fuel source for utilities. As a consequence, most utilities moved their capacity towards natural gas plants and coal based emissions were drastically reduced.

While much cleaner than coal, natural gas is still a petrochemical with adverse carbon consequences. Following Kyoto, the Paris accords were signed in 2015, and the perhaps predictably the United States government left the agreement in 2017.

Will there be technology alternatives driven by entrepreneurs which can again provide solutions ?

Accelerating Technology Adoption is The Key to Solving Climate Change” argues that accelerating electronics based technologies around virtualization, electrification, and smart infrastructure is in fact the fastest non-linear method to solve climate change. Indeed, massive sectors in the United States are actively absorbing these technologies for purposes of productivity, and an interesting positive side-effect is the positive impact on carbon emissions. Before Covid-19, the US was “flattening the curve” on overall energy consumption and increasing the use of renewables. Covid-19 has reduced overall consumption such that renewables are now poised to eclipse coal. The drivers for all of this change are private markets and the key role of visionary entrepreneurs.

Perhaps the most quintessential American entrepreneurship story is the Florida master planned community. A rarity, even in the United States, the master planned community is the ability for a developer to look at a large tract of land and decide to build a city based on a driving vision.

Babcock Ranch is the vision of an innovative sustainable community driven by Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. Specifically, it offers a living experiment of the potential and most importantly the reality of building sustainable communities which integrate in one place the power of virtualization, electrification, and smart infrastructure. Finally, all of this must be done in a manner which is viable from a business point-of-view. In other words, you must build something which is valuable to consumers.

So, what are the steps to building a sustainable community which is also a fantastic lifestyle destination ?

  1. Preservation:  Babcock Ranch consisted of 91,000 acres of largely virgin land with an operating ranch in southwestern Florida. A key part of sustainably is to minimally disturb nature, so the first job is to preserve the core. Upon sale, 73,000 acres were moved to the State of Florida for preservation purposes and the formation of the Babcock Ranch Preserve. The real-estate development was focused on the areas which were already cleared for the old operating ranch.
  2. Enable Electrification:  If one is to build a sustainable community, the first step is to have renewable energy as the primary source of power.  With that in mind, a 150-megawatt solar capability with 10 Mwatts of associated battery storage was built to provide power to the development. The solar power station generates more power then is consumed by the community, so the remainder is pushed to the broader Florida Power and Light grid.  At Babcock Ranch, if residents use electric cars, they are assured that their transportation energy is based on renewable sources.
  3. Enable Virtualization: If one is to attract people from all over the world, they must be able to operate remotely (virtualize). Babcock ranch provides giga-bit fiber access to every home. With this core capability, online education, work-at-home, telemedicine, streaming, and ecommerce are all enabled.
  4. Enable Last-Mile Transportation:  If one is to minimize in town traffic, one must provide convenient transportation services. Babcock Ranch has announced an autonomous shuttle service for residents.
  5. Enable Smart Infrastructure:  Along with an active farm-to-table program, Babcock ranch has announced smart greenhouse technology which focuses on maximizing yield while minimizing water and space.

    How are the customers responding ?

    “Before Covid-19, Babcock Ranch was growing to plan. When Covid-19 shutdowns occurred, I told my investors that we might have zero sales. However, I could not have been more wrong. Our sales activity has shot through the roof with over 50 contracts/month,”  said Syd Kitson, CEO and Founder of Babcock Ranch.

    Overall,  Babcock Ranch is a very interesting living experiment which demonstrates the bottom-up entrepreneurial nature of sustainability activity in the United States. Will the scaling of experiments such as Babcock Ranch create another Kyoto moment ?    Time will tell.


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