Elemental Excelerator Announces 2023 Cohort of Policy Lab Fellows

April 21, 2023

· 7 min read
The Elemental Team

Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit investor in climate tech for social change, welcomes five new climate fellows to its Policy Lab. Created in 2021, the Policy Lab was founded to accelerate and implement solutions at the seam of technology, policy, equity and justice. Elemental’s Policy Fellows are thought leaders pioneering equity-centered policies and solutions.

This new policy cohort joins a community of Elemental Fellows that includes policy leaders like former Mayor and current Fellow Heather McTeer Toney, heads of local and state agencies like former Executive Director of California’s Strategic Growth Council and now Los Angeles Deputy Mayor of Public Works Randall Winston, and Louise Bedsworth, who spent a decade in leadership roles in California government and is now Executive Director of the Center for Law, Energy and Environment at Berkeley Law. Former Policy Lab projects include support for the expansion of the Transformative Climate Communities program beyond California and the Toolkit for Local Climate Action, a guide for mayors implementing climate solutions published together with the African American Mayors Association (AAMA).

“Following a historic year of policy that was 20 years in the making, now is the moment to deliver on the promise of climate solutions for communities with equity and justice as our north star. We are excited to welcome these brilliant fellows into our community and partner with them to drive a deeper impact on equitable climate deployment strategies across our country and beyond,” Elemental Excelerator Policy Lab Managing Director Christina Angelides said.

Policy Lab Fellows will focus on designing and implementing strategic year-long projects to achieve climate deployment, policy and equity outcomes related to historic federal climate investments and the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative. New projects for the 2023 Cohort include advancing policies and tech innovation that provide sustainable wastewater treatment solutions, supporting energy savings for low-income Hawaiʻi residents, partnering with electric co-ops in rural communities to accelerate federal funding implementation, promoting local climate action with the African American Mayors Association (AAMA) and exploring equitable carbon dioxide removal solutions in Canada.

“I’m elated to welcome the new cohort of extraordinary fellows to the Elemental Policy Lab and look forward to expanding policy at the local level as a critical component of enacting change. The actions happening at the federal level are monumental, but there is a dire need to connect directly with local leaders in making and sustaining climate solutions in their communities. I’m excited to continue this partnership with Elemental to drive this impact,” Heather McTeer Toney said.

“America’s dirty secret is the burden placed on rural communities with improper waste and water management. This fellowship will be instrumental as a connector of policy leaders, community activists and key stakeholders to bring justice and create needed change in the communities that have been most burdened by climate change,” Incoming Elemental Policy Fellow Catherine Coleman Flowers said.

The new fellows addition follows Elemental’s commitment to accelerate $43 million into the climate sector. Elemental is dedicated to bringing more funding, more projects, more solutions and more impact into the climate sector to scale technologies to more communities in an equitable way.

Meet the Policy Lab Fellows

Catherine Coleman Flowers
Catherine is an environmental and climate justice activist who has been drawing attention to the often-overlooked issue of inadequate waste and water sanitation infrastructure in rural communities across the United States for decades. She is currently the Co-Vice-Chair of the  White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, the Founding Director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and was recently named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. Catherine will focus her work on bringing together Earth and Space Scientists at NASA with elected officials and community leaders from vulnerable communities to develop policy recommendations on sustainable rural wastewater treatment. At least 20% of American households, both rural and urban, use septic systems and those systems are increasingly failing due to extreme weather.

Evan Weber
Evan is co-founder and Chair of the Board of Sunrise Movement, the largest youth climate justice organization in the country where he helped to write and advance the Green New Deal. He also is the co-founder and managing director of Our Hawaiʻi, which is building a multi-generational, multiracial, indigenous-led political movement for Hawaiʻi that puts local working families first. At Elemental, Evan will help to advance energy savings for low- and moderate-income families in Hawaiʻi by developing models, tools and campaigns to decarbonize and electrify homes across the state. Monthly electric costs in Hawaiʻi are the fifth highest in the nation, contributing to rapidly accelerating cost of living.

Frances Sawyer
Frances leads Pleiades Strategy, advising mission-oriented organizations on strategy, policy and campaigns. She formerly served as policy advisor to climate investor and philanthropist Tom Steyer and Deputy Director of External Affairs to California Governor Jerry Brown. Frances also serves as a senior advisor to Climate Cabinet Action, which helps local leaders run, win and legislate on the climate crisis. At Elemental she will build on her work supporting rural leadership in the clean energy transformation by developing and implementing customized deployment tools for rural electric cooperatives seeking to lead in an equitable clean energy transition. Rural electric co-ops provide electricity to 42 million people living on more than half of the U.S. landmass including 92% of persistent poverty counties.

Jameka Hodnett
Jameka brings over a decade of experience as a campaigner and legal advocate at the forefront of climate justice. Currently, she leads Green for All’s National Campaigns at Previously, she wore many hats in the climate movement at numerous national environmental organizations including the ACLU, League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club. Her work with Elemental will focus on supporting member mayors of the African American Mayors Association in advancing climate projects related to energy efficiency, renewable energy and transportation. With billions of dollars in Infrastructure and Inflation Reduction Act funding becoming available, many smaller and underserved communities need support to benefit from this historic climate investment.

Na’im Merchant
Na’im is the Executive Director of Carbon Removal Canada, a policy initiative to scale carbon removal in Canada with a focus on innovation and inclusion. Prior to working in climate, Na’im worked with Last Mile Health and the Clinton Health Access Initiative to expand access to healthcare products and innovations to underserved communities in Liberia and Malawi. At Elemental he will bring together diverse perspectives from multiple stakeholder groups to develop and advance a shared policy framework for scaling equitable carbon dioxide removal in Canada and beyond. In addition to decarbonizing our economy, carbon removal is critical to drawing down the more than two trillion tons of carbon already released into the atmosphere over the past two centuries.

Heather McTeer Toney
Heather is the Executive Director of Beyond Petrochemicals, a new campaign that aims to halt the rapid expansion of petrochemical and plastic pollution in the U.S. At the age of 27, Heather was the first African American, first female and youngest mayor of Greenville, Mississippi and has since served in senior leadership positions in government and climate and justice-focused organizations, including as the Southeast Regional Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency and Vice President of Engagement at the Environmental Defense Fund. Heather was an inaugural Elemental Policy Fellow and extends her fellowship to partner with the nonprofit, the African American Mayors Association and Environmental Defense Fund to support the implementation of the Local Climate Action Toolkit – a resource to assist mayors in identifying policy actions, funding opportunities and technology solutions to bring to their communities.

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About the Policy Lab

Elemental’s Policy Lab, launched in 2021 ahead of the largest public investment in climate tech in history, was created to strengthen the bridge between climate innovators and policymakers. In addition to funding and supporting senior Policy Fellows, Elemental’s Policy Lab coaches entrepreneurs on effective policy practices, engages in advocacy and relationship building and creates frameworks and building blocks for project implementation.

About Elemental Excelerator

Elemental Excelerator is a nonprofit investor focused on advancing climate solutions and social impact for communities. Elemental fills two gaps fundamental to addressing climate change: funding scale-up initiatives focused on climate technologies in communities and embedding equity and access into climate solutions.


Rena Ramirez