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Where the Cleantech Companies Are

We’ve been working on a database of “clean economy” companies and jobs, meaning those involved in producing goods and services that improve the environment. (Look for that in a few months). As always, though, we are preoccupied with the spatial distribution of these firms and their workforce: where and how they cluster. Which is why we were delighted to see that the Guardian newspaper and its partner the Cleantech Group seem to share the same interest as we discovered when we came across their interesting Global Cleantech 100 list.

To compile the list, the Guardian and Cleantech Group asked hundreds of experts from around the world to name the 100 companies likely to make the largest impact on the market in the next decade. In doing so, researchers limited their list to independent, for-profit cleantech companies that aren’t listed on a major stock exchange.

What did they find when the nominations came in? First, their list of future-leaning companies yielded up an intriguing census of the exotic segments and niches that look ready to create the next low-carbon economy: concentrated solar systems, smart grid applications, cellulosic ethanol production, synthetic genomics, algae biodiesel, carbon-negative cement.

But beyond that, the list also revealed that the next generation of hot cleantech firms is highly concentrated in California and a few other areas. Check out the U.S. portion of the Guardian’s dot map

That’s pretty cool, huh? Of the 58 U.S. based companies listed on the Cleantech 100 list, almost all of them are headquartered in large metropolitan areas. Moreover, the metro orientation is hyper-concentrated in very specific places. Just four metropolitan areas—San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, and Los Angeles, in that order—are home two-thirds of these companies: 39 of the 58. New York, San Diego, and Chicago are the only other metros with more than two firms. It just goes to show the power of place. Innovative firms—in cleantech especially—really do seem to cluster together.

In our next post, we’ll share some thoughts on what explains this concentration.