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– Swarnav S Pujari
In Your Inbox: How LevelTen Energy plans to accelerate us towards 100% Renewable Energy; Board Games as a solution to climate change; How climate tech startups fit into Doughnut Economics model.
“We’re not building fast enough”
When it comes to hitting our ambitious renewable energy goals, be it by 2030 or 2050, the rate at which we are building isn’t fast enough. A lot of the reason for that is because of the number of parties involved in building and energizing a single solar or wind project.
Ranging from securing the land, to filling for interconnection or even partnering with a bank or tax equity lender to help finance the project.
This process has traditionally been slow mainly because it takes time to put together a deck on the project and circulate it manually to your network to find a buyer who can continue the next phase of development. A renewable energy asset can change ownership 3-4 times.
I’m hopeful for the outcome of what LevelTen has launched. Beyond their great work with VPPAs and opening the access up to multiple enterprises looking to decarbonize their energy supply – I still would like to see what the real demands within the market are. It seems a lot of renewables development tends to still be held up by the utilities and their ISOs.
For example, in Missouri the ISO is pushing back on Ameren from developing more solar capacity for community solar (which is highly profitable for Ameren) due to excess capacity being available. Which means if Ameren really wants more solar farms they may have to wind down existing power plants – which results in an even higher basis for developing solar.
I do however believe in the team at LevelTen…their unprecedented access to the customers and customer pain points is going to be their biggest competitive advantage in helping accelerate the processes in developing solar that are possible to be automated.
That’s what gives me hope.
If you found this interesting, the full interview with the head of the energy asset marketplace – Patrick Worrall is on YouTube right now. Go check it out by clicking here.
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From talking to hundreds of founders over the last couple years, I’ve learned that one of the biggest challenges to technology adoption is educating consumers. Education is key for changing consumer behavior.
Startups are getting creative about how to do this for their particular solutions, but we ultimately need as many people as possible to be educated on the climate crisis and the many solutions that exist.
Solutions is a game inspired by Project Drawdown, which is a framework of climate solutions, developed by a collaboration of over 200 experts. Project Drawdown shows a path forward to how we can beat climate change by the year 2050. They have ranked 76 climate solutions based on how much impact they can realistically have between 2020-2050, based on technology trends, adoption trends, economics, carbon lifecycle analysis, and more.
Now people can have fun playing a board game, while learning about the climate crisis. Players are going against time – as in-game time progresses, the global temperature increases. Each turn players need to discuss the solutions with the highest carbon reduction impact to keep the temperature from rising too much.
The game is also a fun tool for parents and teachers. Sam Levac-Levey, the creator of the game, says that “When teachers introduce and play this game with students, the students are shocked to learn about the diversity of solutions that exist, most of which they’ve never heard of before.” He has talked to dozens of teachers who want to teach about climate change, but they have no idea how. Solutions a good starting point for approaching the subject in a positive way that encourages action rather than climate anxiety.
Sam has taken this one step further by also building out material for project-based learning. “The ultimate goal of the game is to make it more than just a learning tool. This can be a starting point for real world climate action,” says Sam. As such, when people are done playing, they can pick their favorite solution and turn it into a real-world project. “Today, there’s a big focus on the small personal actions you can take, and then there’s the giant actions that governments and corporations can take. I think there’s a huge sphere of actions in the middle where a single individual or group of individuals can have a huge impact outside of just themselves,” Sam states.
This can manifest itself into larger, community-based initiatives. For instance, one school in Palm Beach, Florida has started a project to reduce cafeteria food waste, inspired by the game. Their teacher, Cassie Klein, says “The game inspired the students, who then inspired the administration to make a bigger impact right here at school”. These initiatives can then be uploaded as ‘action templates’ to be replicated and improved upon across communities and organizations.
Making climate education available and digestible is the right step for a greener future. The approach Solutions is taking will encourage grassroots movements within communities. With a shift in consumer demand, governments and corporations will need to revisit their policies and operations.
Solutions will be launching on Kickstarter in June. To be notified of their launch, sign up here!
This is an in-depth analysis by Terra.do alumn Bruno Girin on how the Doughnut Economics development model could be applied to climate tech companies, covering funding models, employees, tech as an enabler, online privacy, and more.
The Doughnut Economics model–a framework represented by an area between two rings (hence the name “doughnut”) in which an economy is considered prosperous if all 12 of its designated social foundations are met without overshooting its nine major ecological capital ceilings.
The focus of this piece surrounds the following two topics:
What aspects of this particular model seem especially relevant for the context you’ve chosen to focus on? And what might you tweak to make it locally relevant?
The model is focused on companies, so is relevant to my startup, and I can recognize a lot of what Kate Raworth says in my experience running tech startups in the United Kingdom:
If you were to try and move your context (workplace, country, etc.) toward adopting this model, what would be the steps you would need to undertake to make this happen? Try and think as concretely as you can about this. Who would you recruit to be your allies? What would be your first step?
Startups typically need an injection of capital during the early stages of operation in order to fund the research & development work that will result in a product or service that they can sell. A successful startup will eventually break even and be able to operate from their revenue. There are several funding models available to startups today, including:
The Venture Capital model to fund startups relies on the “exit”: a VC fund will give money to a startup on the understanding that a few years down the line, the company will exit, either by being sold to a larger company or, if they are really good, by going through an IPO. It’s through the exit that VC funds will earn money. This is problematic because:
Private investors tend to have a more long term view but similarly, they will only benefit when the company is sold or go through an IPO.
Public funding is usually money that is provided to companies with no strings attached. However, what a public body will fund is often contingent on complex criteria that don’t always align with the direction the company wants to take. In particular, they may have some conditions attached in regards to commercialization. Innovation funding from the UK government for instance is typically partial (up to 70%) and can only cover 100% of the costs if the innovation is not commercialized during the project itself.
Crowdfunding is one of the models with the least amount of constraints in terms of how the money is used. However, running a successful crowdfunding campaign can be hard and typically requires the company to already have a partial solution, which makes it inappropriate for early stage funding.
The current capitalist model puts a significant pressure on early stage companies to make a profit by hook or by crook. This is generally not compatible with the doughnut model. In order to create an environment that favours the creation of innovative companies that can address issues such as climate change, we need funding models that are less dependent on profitability. Public funding and crowdfunding seems like the most adapted models. In order to make this happen, the first step could be to lobby governments and other public funding bodies to allocate a larger proportion of their budget to issues like climate change.
Companies of all sizes operate thanks to their employees. They are uniquely positioned to help those employees address shortfalls:
Points to look into:
The first step as an employer is to offer employment contracts that:
Tech as an enabler
Tech is often an enabler for other industries: when delivered with the end users in mind, tech enables other businesses to operate more efficiently, which in turn can enable them to do things they couldn’t do before. A typical example is a company like Zoom that enables other companies to operate remotely with less travel between offices. However, this can also sometimes enable businesses that are contributing to the overshoot or shortfall to contribute to it even more. A recent example is the controversy around Github’s contracts with ICE.
Should tech companies adopt policies to not work with companies that contribute to the problem?
Doughnut model shortfalls: social equity, political voice, peace & justice
Technology runs on servers, whether they are on premise or in the cloud. There is a growing concern that this is contributing significantly to climate change.
The consumption of servers is directly related to the complexity of the algorithms they run. In some cases, such as running climate models, it feels justified. In other cases, such as bitcoin mining, less so.
As a technologist, I feel that optimizing the algorithms we run so that they use less resources, is something that we should do by default. This implies that IT projects should include a period of optimization in their budgets, which is not always the case.
Doughnut model overshoots: climate change
Diversity in tech
Technology has a diversity problem. As explained by Anne-Marie Imafidon in the linked video, if we are to build technology for everyone, we need to have diverse tech teams so that those teams are aware of the bias in what they build and can correct it.
One way to address this is to contribute to organizations that aim to address the diversity problem, such as codebar.
As a CTO, I have also found that sometimes all it takes is a simple question. Asking recruitment agencies to provide a copy of their diversity policy before they can send candidates has proved to be a good way to signal to agencies that they have a role to play in resolving the problem, and a good way to wean out the agencies that don’t want to be part of the solution.
Doughnut model shortfalls: social equity, gender equality, networks
As mentioned by Kate Raworth in her video, open source is a very interesting model to deliver software that is in theory shielded from a number of issues from existing markets because it enables users to copy, share and modify software with limited constraints, which makes collaboration a lot easier.
However, open source itself is a market with its own externalities:
Open source is a great model for developing software but it has externalities that need to be addressed, particularly in terms of funding and resources. This is in part due to the fact that open source software has an even more acute diversity problem than technology in general, partially because the financial constraints of working on open source software exclude already marginalised developers.
Doughnut model shortfalls: social equity, gender equality, networks, income & work
A number of free online services have a similar funding problem to open source and a lot of them rely on some form of the “selling users” open source business models in order to operate. Because those businesses depend on adverts, the ad industry has evolved to track users across the web in an attempt to serve very targeted ads. This in turn has led some people to develop ad blockers, which some sites are now trying to block, leading to queries such as whether it is ethical to block ads online.
One aspect of the debate that is often overlooked is the fact that people who use ad blockers don’t generally object to the ads themselves but rather to the tracking. This prompted Dutch publisher NPO to remove third-party tracking entirely and build their own contextual ad service, which counterintuitively resulted in revenue increase.
Online services could take a leaf out of the NPO book and move to contextual ads.
Doughnut model shortfalls: political voice
Editors: Swarnav S Pujari, Daniel Kriozere Writers: Bruno Girin
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