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On Campus

Israeli Green Technology Innovation

By Josh Halpren

Greentech Symposium

Solar panels at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

From solar-powered water heaters to hydrogen-fueled cars, the big impact Israel has made as an innovator in green technology and the push for a more sustainable society is unexpected from a country of Israel’s small physical size. “Israel is unusually good at looking at problems and then taking solutions from lab to venture to commercialization,” says Erran Carmel, a professor in the Kogod School of Business and one of the coordinators for this year’s Israeli Innovation in Greentech symposium. “This is the meaning of innovation.”

The symposium will take place February 7 and feature environmental innovators from a variety of sectors. The symposium promises to cast light on the innovative solutions that Israel has developed in response to environmental challenges.

Laura Cutler, acting director of the Center for Israel Studies, explained that the impetus for the symposium came in November 2010, when the Israeli government launched the most ambitious energy and environmental initiative in the country’s history. The investment plan initiative designates $500 million to support a variety of green technology sectors including energy efficiency, smart-grid/communications technology, and energy, water, and agricultural innovations. As a result, Cutler, Carmel, and a representative from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a leader in green innovation in Israel, decided to organize the symposium to highlight Israel’s unique contributions to the green technology sector.

Cutler says that energy resource scarcity is a particularly important issue to Israelis. “Israel has a special strategic interest in being free from oil dependency,” says Cutler.

According to Carmel, “Israel has had the unusual characteristic of being highly isolated and threatened for over 60 years and has no energy sources in fossil fuels.” This isolation, which was originally characterized as a disadvantage, has spurred a wave of green innovation in Israel by necessity.

“Israel has become a green technology leader at the confluence of necessity, luck, and values,” says Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland. Dobb, who will be the symposium’s closing speaker, says Israel has become an innovator in the space also in part because of the value that Judaism places on taking care of the environment. “The biblical and later Jewish traditions commend love of the land and respect for creation,” says Dobb.

The symposium will feature a variety of presentations examining different aspects of Israel’s advances in green technology, including “The Politics and Policies of the Green Economy in Israel,” which will feature panelist Eli Groner, Israel’s Minister for Economic Affairs to the United States. The event’s keynote speaker, Michael Granoff, is head of oil independence policies for Better Place, an Israeli-American company working to produce transportation infrastructure to support electric vehicles.

The date of the symposium falls appropriately on the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, which has also become Israel’s Earth Day. Many celebrate with tree planting and other agricultural celebrations.

“There are few nations in the world that are on par with Israel on green innovation and on a per capita basis, Israel may be first,” says Carmel. “Israel has a unique role for government action, in active partnership with universities and the private sector, to take the lead in developing green and alternative energy technology.”

The symposium is free and open to the public and will take place in the Abramson Family Founder’s Hall in the School of International Service building. Participants are encouraged to register for the sessions they plan to attend online.

The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Israel Studies and Environmental Science Department in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Kogod School of Business, and the School of International Service’s Global Environmental Politics Program, in addition to the Embassy of Israel and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.