The Beam interview series, edition 27: Saul Griffith
CleanTechnica keeps on publishing some of The Beam interviews and opinion pieces twice a week. The Beam magazine takes a modern perspective on the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.
This week Anne-Sophie Garrigou, journalist at The Beam, interviewed Saul Griffith, an Australian-American inventor whose innovations span industrial design, technology, and science education. Saul shared his thoughts with The Beam about future innovations and his interactive map that shows the flow of energy through the entire American economy and society.
Hello Saul. We’re interested to know what made you want to become an inventor.
I’m not sure I wanted to be an inventor as much as I couldn’t do anything else. I think of myself more as an engineer, and occasionally a scientist, but my wife and children prefer inventor more because it sounds more fun. I like being an inventor because it allows you to look at problems in the world, or gaps in the marketplace, and figure out what would help those things. It’s an optimistic job in every sense, always looking to improve things and make the world better.
When did you start thinking about applying your skills toward energy and environmental global issues?
About age 11. My mother was an artist and environmentalist, my father an engineer, and the union of the two was always important to me. I’ve been working full time on energy pretty much since leaving graduate school at MIT in 2004.
OtherLab can be described as an accelerator that develops the best inventions of the coming decades. How do you decide if one idea is better than another?
New generation of robotic orthotics constructed entirely out of fabric. Otherlab runs projects that we feel are important or will be important. The majority are ideas developed internally, although sometimes someone brings one in. The right people are sought after to work on each, and away we go. Candidates are picked on their skills and portfolio and their drive to independently get it done.
How optimistic are you about our ability to solve the world’s energy problems?
A little bit. One has to be a little bit optimistic, but quite honestly it isn’t looking good. The Paris Agreement isn’t strong enough, and people are already pulling out of that. I’m hoping people will realize that it is more of a political and sociological problem than an energy one. There are many entrenched interests in the fossil fuel industry, and there is a lot of inertia to doing things “the way they’ve always been done,” even though the way we do most things are ways that were developed after the 1950s.
You recently decided to calculate the carbon footprint of every single action in your life. Why and how did you do it? And what were your conclusions?
Not the carbon footprint but the energy content. I wasn’t surprised by the overall results (too much!) but was surprised at some details like just how much newspaper and magazines use, and how significant the energy cost of transportation is for most people.
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