Partnerships: Your Booster for Clean Technology Growth

April 26, 2018

Watch the press conference that took place at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo.

When the automobile was first rolled out to U.S. consumers, carmakers had to solve problems beyond how to sell the next vehicle. How would people be able to drive on roads by customers used to horses? Where would they refuel, and how would they repair their vehicles when they broke down? How would they compete with fast and reliable urban mass transit systems?

These are challenges of market building, and I’m sure many sound familiar today (although with customers used to horsepower instead of horses) as we pursue a transition to more clean, low-emissions technologies. While suppliers and buyers are well versed in partnering one on one, and the next sale is an absolutely essential factor to success, sales alone are not enough. New technologies are also a matter of building markets, and building a market requires partnerships, often with unexpected groups.

New technologies are also a matter of building markets, and building a market requires partnerships, often with unexpected groups.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments in particular have a critical role to play in the clean transportation transition. They are addressing many of the problems that accelerate sales, such as infrastructure development, data collection and sharing, standards development, and supporting the deployment of new technology.

That’s why partnerships with these two groups ensure your business is part of building, shaping, and influencing the market favorable to your business goals. But more than that, in today’s era of accelerated technological change and societal disruption, partnering with a wider range of organizations will help you to better understand, innovate, and adapt to rapidly changing customer and social expectations.

Most businesses interact with governments primarily through corporate and industry lobbying. But in limiting your relationship with government to these activities, you will miss the full benefits to your business that can come from government partnerships. For example, governments are committed to ensuring that companies are able to move their goods in a way that protects both public health and the environment. Sometimes this manifests in the form of permitting or regulation, but governments also undertake partnerships and provide resources to promote business success while meeting public sector goals.

In today’s era of accelerated technological change and societal disruption, partnering with a wider range of organizations will help you to better understand, innovate, and adapt to rapidly changing customer and social expectations.

Several public-private partnerships, as these are called, are already helping to build our industry. The Cummins Westport, Inc. partnership with South Coast Air Quality Management District helped bring their near-zero-NOx NGV engine to market. Other companies are developing electricity and refueling infrastructure with governments: Shell is working with the Government of Gibraltar to build a small scale regasification terminal and LNG supply for power generation, and Toyota is planning a renewable electricity and hydrogen refueling plant for its Port of Long Beach facilities with a suite of government partners. At a national scale, the U.S. EPA runs the voluntary clean road freight initiative, SmartWay, in which fleets report operational data so they and their customers can benchmark performance on efficiency and emissions. Public-private partnerships give valuable data for innovation, builds relationships and trust with regulators and often with customers, and ensures the market grows ripe for clean transportation technology.

Business-facing NGOs are also directly focused on many activities that build the market. While NGOs may have been viewed skeptically by some in the past due to the activism of a handful of groups, a new breed of business-facing NGO is dedicated to building the clean economy by partnering with business to achieve social, environmental, and economic goals. The program I lead, BSR’s Future of Fuels, builds buyer demand for sustainable fuels and designs tools for corporate decision-makers to set direction for their transition to cleaner technologies for road freight. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) plays a valuable role by testing, gathering data, and educating fleets on market-ready trucking efficiency technology and has begun to help guide future change on emerging solutions to improve freight efficiency. CALSTART focuses on consulting, technology commercialization, testing and validation of technology, policy, purchase incentives, and industry education and engagement to develop and implement clean, efficient transportation solutions. We work with fleets, OEMs, fuel providers, and others to educate the industry and build business relationships, act as neutral advisor and source of data to companies, and sometimes even act as a referee on clean claims.

Partnerships, including public-private partnerships, will be key to making the clean transportation transition.

So how you can you boost growth of the technologies important to you by leveraging these NGO and public-private partnerships?
  1. Identify the partnerships aligned with your strategy. Look to understand the partnerships that your customers, suppliers, and competitors value. Asking your business partners which NGOs and governments they work with and why they do is an opportunity for relationship-building, understanding their goals, and other market intel. All of the partnerships listed above host their own webinars and forums for industry, including several next week at ACT Expo.
  2. Join an existing or planned partnership. The NGOs listed above are well recognized and provide a good starting point to engage with existing initiatives. Local governments often also have their own public goals and funding for which industry partners are needed, and they may be actively planning a new partnership to pilot infrastructure or new technology for which they need business participants.
  3. Leverage your partnership to help you tackle market-building problems. Market-building NGOs, like BSR, set our agenda based on the needs and opportunities expressed by the companies we work with, and local governments seek public-private partnerships to help them realize their own publicly stated goals. For example, our Sustainable Fuel Buyers’ Principles, Fuel Sustainability Tool, and soon-to-be launched Case Study Library were designed to fill needs identified by our business members and were developed with their guidance.

Partnerships, including public-private partnerships, will be key to making the clean transportation transition. While these partnerships can meet very different needs for individual fleets, OEMs, and technology providers, they create important opportunities to boost the growth of clean, low-emissions transportation technology for everyone.

Catch Future of Fuels next week at ACT Expo where they will launch a case study library that will – for the first time – allow fleet owners to compare clean fuel technologies independently tested and rated by peer companies and shared in a standardized format.