TOM RAND is a cycling venture capitalist and philosophizing engineer. When not hunting clean-tech investments for his VCi Green Funds, Rand advises the public-private MaRS innovation centre in Toronto. He is also a novice hotelier. I met the first-time author on an icy December morning at his new über-green Toronto hostel, The Planet Traveller.
Chris Lowry: You’ve done a complete retrofit on this old building to reduce its carbon footprint by 75 per cent. If a guest uses a hairdryer, will it use more juice than all the lights in the building?
Tom Rand: We’re not asking guests to give up anything. We show you can live in a low-carbon building and not give up any creature comforts, because I don’t believe for a second that the public will give anything up to solve this problem.
CL:What was your biggest discovery on this project?
TR: How easy it was. All of it was economically viable. These technologies are old; there’s no risk here. You just had to decide to do it. But it’s a very conservative industry – construction. My book is an extended argument about how we can solve the problem.
CL:I think the best new idea in your book, Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World, is the “green bond.”
TR: Globally, there is a lot of interest in the green bond. The idea is that capital [for green investments] exists in money markets. The government simply lends its risk rate to back a bond that raises a bunch of money from markets that don’t do anything, into a fund [with] a mandate: reduce carbon. It’s technology-neutral; it’s adaptive, uses all the creativity and dynamism of the market, but it’s backed by the government. [That means] I, as the general public, can invest in a green bond without great risk. I can do more than just change a light bulb. I’m putting my money toward fighting climate change without the risks and without knowing anything about it. I think it’s the tool that can move the most capital into the sector with the least push-back from people who think the government doesn’t have any business picking winners.
CL: Your book is very linked to a particular moment. You talk about Copenhagen, COP 15, Obama. A year later, would you change anything?
TR: I would say that the way we are going to solve this problem is not through Copenhagen or COP 16 or 17 or Johannesburg. You’ll never get it [done] at the UN because any one nation can hold it up. Consensus is not how you get things done. We’re going to solve it through bilateral agreements that force the rest of the world to play the game. China gets this. Its leaders know they will have problems feeding their population. They take that very seriously and they think in very long time frames. I think there will be a bilateral agreement between China and the United States. Once those two move, it’s done.
Take a look at the makeover, and read about the hostel’s energy-saving efforts, at theplanettraveler.com.
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