We are pleased to welcome Aimee Barnes as our new Senior Policy Advisor as we launch a new policy innovation lab. Most recently, Aimee served as senior advisor on climate change to former California Gov. Jerry Brown, where she helped launch the US Climate Alliance, led the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit, and was responsible for Executive Order B-55-18, committing California to carbon neutrality by 2045.
Now is the time to close the gap between technology and policy. Here, Elemental’s CEO Dawn and Aimee lay out our first steps for doing just that.
This week the Biden Administration hosted the Climate Leaders’ Summit — a critical milestone during this decisive decade for climate action — and announced a new national goal for reducing carbon pollution by 50–52% by 2030. This new goal is a critical first step towards reestablishing US credibility internationally, which was deeply tarnished by the Trump Administration. But perhaps even more importantly, this new goal has the potential to serve as the greatest engine of economic growth and innovation that America has seen in over a generation. Let us explain.
$60 billion of early stage capital was invested globally between 2013-2019 into startups contributing to tackling the climate crisis. New policies, goals and commitments, like the one being announced by the President this week, are critical to driving such investment and innovation, in turn incubating new solutions and industries that will be critical to achieving the target.
However, to turn aspiration into action, we need to broaden how we think about innovation, beyond a narrow view focused on cleantech, and towards an expanded understanding of the policy, social, political and community innovation and entrepreneurship that is needed in the coming decade. Here are three broad lessons we’ve learned about climate innovation at Elemental Excelerator, from investing in over 100 growth-stage companies, funding more than 70 technology projects at the intersection of climate and community:
One, the market for new technology is changing every day. We need a laboratory for policy and technology entrepreneurs to innovate together. In 2020, over $17 billion was invested into climate technology. This figure is more than double what it was in 2016, and 2020 numbers are expected to surpass those of the prior year even with the impacts of COVID-19. More capital invested means more technology innovation.
Two, entrepreneurs are at the center of a flywheel for new economic growth. The growth rate of climate tech from 2013 has been sizable, with more than 3750% increase from 2013-2019. As climate startups grow, they create good jobs for technicians installing solar and energy efficient equipment, transit operators working on electrification, and attorneys, accountants, and a host of other jobs for the local economy. Prior to the pandemic, the clean energy sector was one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, expected to add 175,000 jobs in 2020. Despite a decline in those figures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, clean energy remains the biggest job creator across America’s energy sector, employing nearly three times as many workers as work in fossil energy. Most of these jobs are geographically specific, and centered in rural and suburban areas rather than just the major tech hubs.
Three, the best climate solutions are also the most equitable. This is easier said than done. There is a real tension between a desire to grow with speed and urgency and truly partnering with communities and centering equity. When productive partnerships are built with intention, we have seen technology advance social equity rather than exacerbate inequalities. At Elemental, we have developed an equity framework in partnership with the Greenlining Institute to provide startups with needed tools and incentives to truly partner with communities and center equity. This model can be applied at the national level in support of the Biden Administration’s climate and justice objectives.
With these learnings in hand, Elemental is announcing this week the launch of a new policy innovation lab for results-focused policy.
We are creating this to better connect entrepreneurs with policymakers who are hungry to know what’s happening on the ground. We see entrepreneurs as the engine for our country’s economic growth in the coming decades. To kick off the policy innovation lab, we are building out a team of extraordinary individuals — policymakers, community activists, and entrepreneurs — who are close to technology as well as politics and power mapping. We will lift up these policy entrepreneurs with a platform and resources to translate the lessons above into meaningful change that advances climate action, jobs and justice in the US.
As Laurene Powell Jobs, Elemental Excelerator Board Chair, said in a live conversation to kick off Earth Week, there is reason to be optimistic about America’s ability to rise to the challenge this new national goal represents, because entrepreneurs and communities are already proving that a clean economy is both possible and profitable. President Biden’s climate goal will frame a decisive decade of climate action and economic opportunity ahead. Let’s get to work.
— By Dawn Lippert, CEO, and Aimee Barnes, Senior Policy Advisor