Al Gore joins Kleiner Perkins as a partner — to push green investments

Kleiner Perkins, the well-known venture capital firm that backed Google, Netscape, Sun, Amazon and many others, has always had a soft spot for politics.

Now the firm has added former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore as a partner — in an continued effort to ramp up its investments in the area of green technology. It’s the firm’s latest big name addition. It hired former Secretary of State Colin Powell two years go, and has an arrangement with former eBay executive and California politician Steve Westly, who works out of the firm’s back office. However, since it hired Powell, we’ve heard nothing about Powell’s activities with the firm, so its not clear how much these accomplished people really help with investments.

There’s an exclusive story in Fortune about Gore’s move, which contains a detailed description of the collaboration between Gore and Kleiner’s leading partner John Doerr. It’s a great piece, written in the classic, engaging style of author Adam Lashinsky. Here’s just the starting snippet:

After “a conversation that’s gone on for a year and a half,” according to Gore, he has decided to join his old pal [Kleiner Partner] John Doerr as an active, hands-on partner at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley’s preeminent venture firm.

The move is more than another Colin Powell moment (the former Secretary of State signed on as a Kleiner “strategic limited partner” two years ago and has hardly been heard from since). Gore is joining the firm as Kleiner makes a risky move beyond information technology and health-care investing into the fast-growing and increasingly competitive arena of “clean technology.”

According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner’s latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner’s 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.

Doerr, in turn will join the advisory board of Generation Investment Management, the $1 billion investment company Gore started three years ago in London with David Blood — to invest in publicly traded “sustainable” companies, and Lashinsky’s piece has more.

Kleiner’s efforts to save the planet are noble, and Lashinky’s portrayal of Doerr and Gore’s plans are inspiring. We can’t deny that. However, there’s a question that lurks unanswered here, and that’s just how much these investments will really yield in profits.

Gore won’t be visiting Kleiner’s offices regularly, so he’s installed a high-definition videoconferencing system to dial into Kleiner’s weekly partner meetings. He’s also contributing his KP salary to charity, but no word on whether he’ll also be donating his “carry,” or profits from investments.

[in photo above, courtesy of Fortune, is from left, Blood, Gore and Doerr]

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