Data Sheet—’Cleantech’ Was a Dud, But There’s Still Money to Be Made in Green Investments

September 7, 2018, 1:20 PM UTC
Apple Stores Mark Earth Day, Day After Announcing New Green Initiative
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22: A green leaf adorns the Apple logo on Earth Day at the company's Fifth Avenue store in Midtown Manhattan on April 22, 2014 in New York City. The store is one of at least 120 Apple stores currently powered by renewable energy. To coincide with Earth Day, Apple announced it's offering free recycling of all of its used products. Employees wore green shirts for the occasion. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore—Getty Images

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

A decade ago, when smart venture capitalists should have been dumping every dollar possible into investments that would benefit from the rise of the smartphone, many instead embraced the “green” or “clean” revolution. At the time, I deployed quotations marks disparagingly. “Cleantech” startups were merely exceedingly risky energy investments, and were best understood that way by investors.

The sector, such as it was, was a giant flop. It ended careers and otherwise dented reputations on Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley’s VC epicenter. The investments left pitiful scars in the entrepreneurial class, too. Many who had wanted to do good went back to trying to do well.

And so Matt Heimer’s incisive report in the current issue of Fortune on “green” bonds—no mockery here—came as an epiphany. Championed by Bank of America, the bonds tied to energy projects not involving the burning of fossil fuels have been a modest hit. That the yields on some of these bonds for projects like solar and wind farms are low, a bit over 1%, is a testament to their relative safety.

Donning the green garb always runs the risk of self-righteousness, but BofA spearheaded an industry group that agreed on terms. Corporate borrowers from phone maker Apple to utility NextEra have availed themselves of the pleasingly named financial instruments. It helps that tax benefits often are part of the investment rationale behind alternative-energy projects. So be it. There’s money to be made here.

Green bonds won’t lead to breakthrough innovations the way backers of the “cleantech” hoped it would. But they do fund worthy projects that do their bit to add less rather than more pollution to the environment. That’s a praiseworthy development.


There is way too much news of interest today, so please pardon this lengthier-than-usual round up:

Guessing game. It's been one year since Amazon announced it was planning to build a second headquarters, or HQ2, somewhere in North America and still no decision from Bezos & Co. To be fair, Amazon said only it would decide by the end of 2018. The company revealed its list of 20 finalists back in January and could be negotiating with one or more final finalists as you read these words. (My money is still on the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area.) Meanwhile, some workers at Amazon's Whole Foods grocery chain are talking about starting a union and distributed an email making the case for organizing.

Guessing game, part two. Saying he wants to follow in the footsteps of former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, Alibaba chairman Jack Ma tells Bloomberg TV that he is preparing to shift away from business and into philanthropy, though he didn't give an exact date for the switch. “There’s a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates. I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier,” Ma said. “I think some day, and soon, I’ll go back to teaching. This is something I think I can do much better than being CEO of Alibaba.”

Great expectations. Turns out that whole strategy to build a third major player in digital advertising next to Facebook and Google isn't so easy. Verizon appears to be seriously reconsidering its effort under new CEO Hans Vestberg. A report in Friday's Wall Street Journal says Tim Armstrong, the former Googler who heads the carrier's Oath ad and content unit, may be on the way out within a month. Where that would leave Oath, built from the remains of AOL and Yahoo for $9 billion, is an open question. Verizon had no comment.

Flying away with it. In the latest personal data theft incident, hackers stole credit card and contact data of 380,000 British Airways customers who made purchases between 10:58 p.m. BST (5:58 pm. EDT) August 21 and 9:45 p.m. BST September 5. Travel and passport information was not stolen.

Eagles by six. Only months after the Supreme Court legalized sports betting nationwide, FanDuel is rolling out its SportsBook app–just in time for the start of the NFL season. Fortune got a sneak peek and saw features including seven payment options, future betting lines, and in-game wagering that allows users to bet on live games.

Going dark. With less than 2% of its population still watching free over-the-air television, Switzerland is letting broadcasters turn off their programming starting in 2019, though the transition could take until 2024. The vast majority of viewers already rely on cable, satellite or Internet connections. Switzerland will be the second country, following Norway, to end TV broadcasts.

Long overdue. Following multiple controversies, Twitter said it was permanently banning conspiracy theory monger Alex Jones and his Infowars site. Jones had been temporarily suspended for a week in August, but Twitter said it now had new reports of violations of its terms of service.

Rock the Casbah. With Apple on tap next week to introduce new iPhones and other gear, Google sent out invitations to its own new product unveiling slated for October 9 at 11 a.m. EDT in New York City. The company is widely expected to show off a third generation of its Pixel phones and possibly a new Pixelbook laptop. Rumors of the debut of a Google-branded smartwatch were shot down last week, however.

Shareef don't like it. Remember way back on Wednesday when rumors that Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs was not opening a digital currency trading desk sent the price of said digital currencies plummeting? Well, that's not quite true according to the firm's CFO Martin Chavez speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference on Thursday, who said the firm's trading plans are still "evolving over time." Also, I mistakenly referred to the cryptocurrency associated with Ripple as "Ripple" but it's actually called XRP. Apologies.


A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:

The Cult of WeWork (Property Week)
Watching Adam Neumann, the billionaire co-founder of WeWork, address the crowd at the co-working company’s annual three-day Summer Camp is a bizarre experience. Minutes before his much-hyped appearance in front of an estimated 8,000 people gathered in a field near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, a marching band that is playing endless renditions of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ merrily leads festival goers to the Creator Stage to hear their leader speak.

José Andrés’ New Memoir: How the Chef Fed Puerto Rico (Wall Street Journal Magazine)
At nearly 3 a.m. on a Saturday in early June, I receive a series of text messages from the chef and activist José Andrés explaining why he will not be joining me in Puerto Rico as planned. Before texting a single word, Andrés sends several photographs from southern Guatemala (where the Fuego volcano had just erupted, killing more than a hundred people and affecting the lives of an estimated 1.7 million others) documenting volunteers as they prepare meals, families arranging their belongings in a shelter and children lining up to eat.

Inside the Haywire World of Beirut's Electricity Brokers (Wired)
When the grid goes out, gray-market generators power up to keep the Wi-Fi running and laptops charged.

Inside the Daring Life of a Forgotten Female War Photographer (National Geographic)
Dickey Chapelle was one of history's most fearless conflict journalists—and the first American woman to die on the job.

Ten Things I Never Knew About Las Vegas Until I Ran a High-Roller Suite (Bloomberg Businessweek)
A stint managing premier client relations at the Cosmopolitan revealed secrets that probably should stay in Vegas. Oh well.


With news this week that Spotify is trying to sign musicians directly, thus avoiding the onerous fees it must pay record labels, the streaming wars are only getting more intense. The subscription-only tech news site The Information has an in-depth profile (behind its paywall) of Apple's efforts under Eddy Cue to compete with Spotify. It's certainly worth a read. MacRumors has some highlights, including how Steve Jobs tried to keep Spotify off U.S. shores:

The profile also looks at Apple's entry into streaming music, following former CEO Steve Jobs' derision of the idea of renting music. Apple reportedly "fought tooth and nail" to keep Spotify out of the United States following its debut in Europe, with Jobs going so far as to privately threaten Universal Music by stating Apple would remove its content from iTunes if it worked with Spotify in the U.S.

Following his death in the fall of 2011, Cue decided that Apple had to shift its music business to streaming somehow, ultimately spearheading the largest acquisition in Apple's history with the purchase of Beats for $3 billion. Following the deal, one former Beats employee who joined Apple told The Information that it eventually became clear that "Apple was under-resourced to manage this."

Moreover, the two companies clashed so much about decisions over how Beats Music would transition into Apple Music, "there were almost literally fistfights over design aspects, features, aesthetics," one person said. "They all hated each other." Amid all of this, Cue's leadership style was put into question.


Snapchat Eyes the Fashion Set With Its Latest Line of Spectacles Eyewear By Rachel King

It's Rude to Wait More Than 20 Minutes to Reply to a Text, Google Research Says By Kevin Kelleher

Drone Wars: Lockheed Martin Is Offering Millions in Prizes for AI That Can Beat Human Pilots By David Meyer

Why a Top Scientist Thinks AI Could Face a Massive Public Backlash By Lucas Laursen

Facebook to Build $1 Billion Data Center in Singapore By Renae Reints

A Major Short Seller Is Suing Elon Musk Over His Tweet About Taking Tesla Private By Lucas Laursen

Bumble Adds Snooze Feature: 'We Aren't Scared of Damaging Our Bottom Line' By Emma Hinchcliffe


There's almost nothing Paul McCartney does lately that shouldn't put a big smile on your face. His spot on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden was unmissable fun and now he's done a great bit with Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. The former Beatle is also planning a free YouTube concert tonight featuring songs from his upcoming album Egypt Station.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

Read More

Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward