Modern science indicates that human activity is having a sizeable impact on the environment. NASA has reported that "the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity".1 Green tech solutions are designed to help mitigate (or, in some cases, reverse) human impact. They are generally focused on making improvements to manufacturing techniques, the energy efficiency of production of goods, and to the product itself. Business, Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, commented that the UK is tacking climate change by "becoming the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050".2

Green tech is therefore not one technological solution, but many. The move towards sustainable goods can be seen across many different markets, from the uptake in electric cars, to the rising interest in sustainable investment options and the advent of green FinTech. Solutions range from the incorporation of highly efficient LED lights in large-scale building projects and the deployment of AI building management systems and services, to autonomous vehicles and renewable energy solutions. Consumers are putting pressure on businesses to lead the way in sustainable living and to help guide them to living more sustainably.

In response to this, the Financial Conduct Authority assisted in the development of the Cogo app, which connects consumers with businesses that align with their ethical values. Consumers are opting for sustainable goods where possible, with 50% of the increase in sales of packaged goods between 2013 and 2018 coming from sustainable products.3 For many, the value of a product now extends beyond its cost. There is an increased focus on the whole lifecycle of the product: design; production; consumption; re-use; recycling; and waste.

The current green technology market

Green technology is an expanding market and one which is supported by many governments. In the UK, the Treasury has launched a £400 million fund to help develop Britain's vehicle charging infrastructure, with the first £70 million allocated for 3,000 charge points – more than doubling the number across the UK to 5,000. It is also investing in programmes supporting innovative green technologies and strategies, such as a £31.52 million investment into greenhouse gas removal technologies. A further £22 million will contribute towards research in new kinds of air pollutants to minimise their effects on public health.4 Change is also being driven by consumers, with 64% of the population surveyed preferring products from companies that give something back to society.5

Unilever reported in 2017 that there was a potential untapped €966 billion out of a €2.5 trillion market for sustainable goods. It also reported that its sustainable living brands grew 30% faster as compared to the rest of its business in 2016.6

The International Trade Centre has identified similar trends across Europe. According to its 2019 report, 85% of retailers interviewed reported an increase in sales of sustainable products over the past five years. 65% also reported that such increase was more than 10%.7

The growth of green tech has been most stark in the renewable energy sector. Twenty-five years ago, China did not have a single solar panel. However, the country now boasts a £1.7 billion solar farm and twice as many solar panels as any other country. As a result of this development, China's solar power is now cheaper than grid electricity.8 McKinsey recently reported that, post 2035, more than 50% of power generation will be renewable.9

Emerging legal issues

Many green tech solutions that are seeing mainstream adoption, such as autonomous vehicles and smart metering, rely heavily on the collection and utilisation of user data. This leads to complex legal questions around the collection, storage and transmission of such data.

In respect of autonomous vehicles, the European Commission is considering a range of issues – such as whether your vehicle number and location count as personal data. While these are more clear-cut, more complex issues concern braking levels and car fluid. Car rental companies want to acquire this information as it could transform the way in which they operate.

However, the Energy Data Taskforce, which has been commissioned by the UK government, Ofgem, and Innovate UK, set out recommendations in June which seek to modernise the UK energy system and drive it towards a net zero carbon future through an integrated data and digital strategy.10 In conflict with the apparent desires of certain car manufacturers, the report focuses on the importance of making infrastructure data securely shareable between relevant stakeholders.

Consent is another key issue when looking at autonomous vehicle data. If data is collected by car companies which sell or manufacture automated vehicles, when will consent to processing that data be given? Will this be at the point of buying the car, or when the car is driven?

These are just some of the questions cropping up in one area of green tech. At our panel event on 14 November we will be exploring many of the commercial and legal issues across a range of industries. If you would like to hear more about this event, please get in touch.

Conclusion

With climate change and water scarcity making headlines, companies are facing increasing pressure from governments and consumers to change. This is having a huge impact on the market and opening up new areas of investment in green tech. As with the emergence of any new technology, there are complex legal and practical issues to navigate.