I was watching Planet Green the other night and happened across a program based on The Environmental Defense Fund’s Fred Krupp’s book, Earth, the Sequel. Rather than focusing on the gloomy doomsday scenarios some environmentalists are warning us about, this book and the accompanying film focused on some entrepreneurial thinkers who are putting their minds to saving the planet.

Take for example, one Bernie Karl, the colorful proprietor of an ice hotel in Alaska’s Chena Hot Springs. In 2003, he decided he wanted to build a resort in Chena built of ice. He hired a professional ice carver to build a six-room Ice Hotel and embedded refrigerated tubing cooled with glycol in an insulated exoskeleton to keep the structure cool. Unfortunately, his grand plan failed, and the hotel melted within a few months.

But Bernie was not one to give up, and he started over, this time finding a way to harness geothermal power from the hot springs in Chena to keep the hotel cool enough that it wouldn’t melt. The second attempt proved the charm, and the hotel still stands.

His efforts caught the attention of United Technologies Corp. in Connecticut, which wanted to mass-produce low-temperature powerplants powered by geothermal energy, and worked with him to develop a plant in Chena. The first plant went online in 2006, to much local fanfare. 

The book’s author, Fred Krupp, president of EDF, says that was revolutionary about the plant was not the technology, but “that a giant company” was willing to work with “this country mouse”—in Bernie’s estimation—to “work out the economics on a small scale.”

Krupp’s book is full of example of pioneering individuals who are working to think about power and energy in innovative ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. And there are other numerous examples of people out in the trenches, trying to develop solutions to what seem to be intractable problems.

While the hand-wringing in Copenhagen continues, it is gratifying that there are people working to address global warming on their own. And engineering firms and contractors can play a role in this. Dan McCarthy, Black & Veatch’s president and CEO of the firm’s global water business, says that already, firms that are incorporating plans to address global warming into their operations will have an competitive edge over those that don’t.

With the Environmental Protection Agency potentially planning on developing a regulation for greenhouse gas emissions, Congress considering cap and trade legislation, and President Obama reportedly offering a 17% reduction in emissions in the United States as a starting point in Copenhagen, some kind of regulation seems inevitable. Just as green building once was considered a luxury, but has now become mainstream, designing or retrofitting buildings, industrial facilities and powerplants with CO2 emissions in mind may one day become the norm.