cleantech insights

Taxonomy is a Boring Word

Tim Barham

In late August, Cleantech Group announced that it had released an “improved and expanded taxonomy” for the i3 platform. For the casual observer, it could be understandable to respond to this announcement with a gentle yawn. After all, Webster defines taxonomy as “the classification of something”, which would seem to make the announcement akin to alphabetizing a bookshelf rather than making disruptive strides in the cleantech space.

However, in order to fully appreciate the significance and success of the new taxonomy, one must take a gigantic step back and think about the contemporary connotation of cleantech as a whole. The term “cleantech” itself is incredibly vague and means different things to different people. This, in turn, can lead to confusion and oversimplification. While chatting with a friend recently, I actually asked him what cleantech was. His response: “I don’t know, like windmills and reusable tote bags and stuff?” While this may seem like a silly answer, it is somewhat illustrative of the kind of cloudiness that can surround a highly technical and diversified space.

This is really where the taxonomy comes in to play. If i3 is the boat that allows global players to navigate through cloudy waters, then the taxonomy is the savvy sailor on board with Google Maps. By taking a vast space and neatly and intuitively compartmentalizing it into identifiable sectors and subsectors, i3 is making it easier than ever to understand cleantech.

It is with this newfound understanding of the cleantech roadmap that users can begin to take deep dives into the space with confidence, rather than scratching the surface with unease. As an example, say you wanted to find a comprehensive list of companies that are generating biomass from forest residue. I would not envy you if you were given this task without the assistance of i3’s taxonomy; but with it, it would take you less time than it took to read this article.

i3 is showing us that a word as boring as “taxonomy” can actually be quite exciting. Perhaps Webster should rethink his definition.

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