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The Aftermath of Solyndra: Can ‘green’ companies stay out of the red?

With the failure of green energy poster child Solyndra – even after the California-based company received a $528 million taxpayer investment — the question being asked in many circles is whether the green industry is a smart investment for either the public or private sector.

Scottsdale-based ReNature, which recently received a grant from Arizona State University’s Edson Entrepreneurship Initiative, believes its venture and green industry as a whole is a worthy investment for multiple reasons.

Like many in the new “green industry” Metoyer and his team at reNature want to take something traditionally seen as a liability – like trash – and through natural processes turn it into an asset.

reNature is taking a well known concept, composting, and attempting to use it on a large scale to produce an alternative to petro-chemical fertilizer.

“We want to work with nature’s systems and add value to something that is usually worthless,” said Metoyer. “We want to commercialize nature.”

In recent years there have been many companies that have had a similar creed to that of Scottsdale based reNature. However, like Solyndra, many of them have not been able to make it through many of the hurdles that every start-up business faces.

At a hearing last week, Jonathan Silver, director of the Department of Energy’s energy loan office said that factors such as China flooding the market with cheap solar panels and a tough European market has cause solar-cell prices to drop sharply, significantly hurting companies like Solyndra.

California based Solyndra manufactured solar-panels. Their website said, "Only Solyndra works so well with reflective, cool roofs, offering customers conservation and power generation from their rooftop."

When Solyndra filed for bankruptcy earlier this month the company was forced to lay off over 1,000 employees.

So, the question that remains to be answered is, how can green companies stay out of the red?

Metoyer and his team at reNature believe that they have a green model that is truly sustainable, economically and environmentally.

First of all, reNature is “going for the low hanging fruits now,” Metoyer said.

In other words, the venture is entering the industry carefully, fully aware that there are some “green” business models that can survive now, and some that cannot.

“We need to make sure that any new green company makes business sense,” said Will Heasley, director of business development for reNature.

“It has to be economically viable – you have to find a method that makes sense financially,” said Metoyer.

This type of cautious entry into the market is something that other companies should mimic, said Metoyer. He believes that the American consumer may not be ready for all of the green products that are being introduced.

“They (consumers) say, ‘as much as I want to be environmentally conscious, I have to make sure I have enough money to simply keep living’,” said Metoyer.

And as for companies that “go green” as a way to look good in the public eye, Metoyer says, “It has to be more than doing something green to get good press – It has to be more than PR.”

Another question that green ventures need to ask themselves is “the technology may exist, but does it exist at the right scale?” said Metoyer. “Many times the answer is no, it doesn’t.”

The failure of Solyndra and other green companies goes to show that even with massive help from the federal government, being green does not guarantee profitability.

Nevertheless, many believe there is a market for clean and sustainable industry, but like any other market it’s one that must be entered cautiously, said Metoyer.

“Every new company has to look at the triple bottom line,” said Metoyer. “What effects it will have economically, socially, and environmentally.”

Solar-Panel Photo: http://www.solyndra.com/

Compost Photo: http://blog.missouriorganic.com/slider/food-waste-composting