Green Build Wrap: The Commercial Service Steps Up

November 16, 2009

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Daniel Harris has been a Foreign Service Officer for over 25 years serving at posts in Europe, South America, Africa, and Washington, DC, most recently as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Operations, U.S. Commercial Service.  He currently serves as the chief of the Commercial Section and the senior representative of the U.S. Department of Commerce in the U.S. Mission to France.

At the end of two weeks of living and breathing “Green,” our Commercial Service travelers feel exhausted but happy.  The adrenaline high that comes from pushing into new markets and meeting many innovative companies overcomes the fatigue.  We also feel proud of our organization.  This whole experiment – the Green Build Road Show, our partnerships with the private sector and our participation in the Green Build Show in Phoenix — was driven by the “field” – that is, the Commercial Service people overseas and in the national offices.  Several of us in Europe grasped that Green Build was a growth opportunity and started developing the notion of a Road Show.  Our colleagues in the United States jumped on board and our folks in Headquarters supported us.  Then we went to the private sector to find marketing partners and their positive response confirmed we were on to something.

What’s so cool is that we brought this together in a very 21st Century style – we coalesced around the power of an idea and we pieced the rest together as we went along.  Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people collaborated across nine time zones, with no guarantees of success or promises of particular reward.  The Commercial Service DNA seems to include genes for both entrepreneurship and altruism.

We’ve learned a lot from thinkers at Carnegie Mellon, the National Renewable Energy Lab, the Green Build Council – and of course from the companies we met.  Our challenge is helping them succeed in overseas markets, and for that we can draw on years of experience.  It feels really good when you offer  ideas and see lights flashing in an entrepreneur’s eyes.  On Wednesday, I told a start up that they were selling themselves short – that we could help them take a much more ambitious approach to the European market, despite their limited resources.  After talking to a couple of my colleagues, they circled back to tell me they wanted to go for it!

Al Gore and Sheryl Crowe energized several thousand Green Build participants on Wednesday night – giving us a sense that, through supporting American innovation, we’re making our own contribution to saving the planet.

All of us sense that the Road Show is just the beginning. This sector is still ramping up – and we want to be players.  So, where do we go from here?  Already we have a couple of big events on the horizon – the Bright Green Pavilion at the COP 15 in Copenhagen and the Green Industries Trade Mission we’re doing with FedEx in April.  Beyond that, we want to expand and deepen our partnerships with top research institutions, with our private sector partners and with associations.  For the rest, we’ll move with the needs of American companies as this exciting sector continues to unfold.

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