And the entrepreneurs working to make them a reality
So the United States has pulled out of the Paris Agreement.
We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Many of the most vocal and disappointed critics of leaving the Paris accord are not doing much about tangiblyreversing climate change. Angry tweets will only get us so far, and pouring millions into political campaigns has brought us to where we are today, for better or worse.
Let’s look at what we can actually do, on a practical level, to address climate change. Project Drawdown is a climate change mitigation project started by Paul Hawken in 2013, with the input of more than 200 scholars, scientists, policymakers, business leaders and activists.
Its central conceit is simple: do the math. Drawdown identifies the top 100 technologically viable, existing solutions that will reduce carbon the most by 2050. The top ten solutions are:
- Refrigerant Management
- Wind Turbines (Onshore)
- Food Waste
- Plant-Rich Diet
- Tropical Forests
- Educating Girls
- Family Planning
- Solar Farms
- Rooftop Solar
There it is. Educating girls is just as important as installing solar panels. Together, evolving our diet and eliminating food waste is more impactful than building more wind turbines.
So how do we scale these solutions to reach their potential?
What we’ll need is a combination of capital and commitment toward one of the most tried and true ways of scaling bold solutions — entrepreneurship.
Here are some entrepreneurs that are working directly toward solutions on the Project Drawdown list. You might not read about these startups on mainstream tech websites, and none of them are based in Silicon Valley. But they’re all advancing the fields of clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and other carbon reduction goals, Paris accord or not.
Donald Williams, Houston, Texas. Williams has a vision for his company, M-TriGen: “This is how the electric grid is going to evolve.” His company creates boxed units, the size of a large refrigerator, that burn natural gas or propane to power things like central air conditioners, hot water heaters or clothes dryers. The “tri-generation system” produces less than one third the carbon emissions of standard electric power generators, and it’s compatible with rooftop solar panels. (Drawdown Solutions #27 and #77 — District Heating, Distributed Energy Storage)
Johnny Park, West Lafayette, Indiana. Park is a former Purdue professor and computer engineer who was inspired to apply his technical skills to the problems of modern farming. Spensa Technologies uses robotics and big data to help farmers monitor insect populations on their farms (the old method? hanging flypaper from a tree). Spensa Technologies helps drastically reduce pesticide use, and enables better plant crop productivity (Drawdown Solutions #3 and #4 — Food Waste, Plant-Rich Diet)
Piyush Mathur, Bangalore, India. Simpa Networks sells rooftop solar energy systems to underserved consumers in India. Customers make a small initial payment to have a solar PV system installed, then work under a pay-as-you-go model (like pre-paid cell phones). Once a customer has fully paid off the purchase price, the system unlocks and produces energy on an ongoing basis, for free (Drawdown Solution #10 — Rooftop Solar).
Jeff Lynch, Kansas City, Kansas. Lynch founded Idle Smart, which offers truck companies a smart thermostat that cuts down on idling — it’s been called a “Nest for the long-haul trucker in your life.” It helps regulate temperatures without the truck engine being on all the time — and for fleets of trucks that can comprise hundreds of humming vehicles, that can translate into thousands of pounds of avoided greenhouse gas emissions. (Drawdown Solution #40 — Trucks)
Sarah Bellos, Goodlettsville, Tennessee. With the fashion industry mostly dependent on synthetic dyes that are manufactured abroad, Bellos’ Stony Creek Colors is producing environmentally-friendly dyes from natural indigo plants grown in Middle Tennessee. Chances are you’ve seen someone wearing jeans that were dyed with their product, which helps cut down on pollutants like formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. (Related to Drawdown Solutions #11 and #16 — Regenerative Agriculture, Conservation Agriculture)
Lucienne Ide, Atlanta, Georgia. For people in rural communities, getting to the nearest doctor might take over an hour. Rimidi makes it easier for healthcare providers to connect with far-flung patients — providing a valuable service for rural communities, and reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. (Drawdown Solution #63 — Telepresence)
This list doesn’t even include the education entrepreneurs that are working to educate girls (Drawdown Solution #6), like Lekki Peninsula Affordable Schools, a low-cost private school chain in Nigeria with an all-inclusive fee structure and flexible payment system, or Sudiksha, which has pioneered a train-the-trainer model for training new preschool teachers in India.
It also doesn’t include the foundations and organizations that have supported these entrepreneurs through accelerators, investor connections and other programs — because it can be harder to solve a complex problem like smart grid management than it is to build a new food delivery phone app. The Lemelson Foundation sponsored a venture program to train and fund clean energy startups in Africa; the Blackstone Foundation, Blue Sky Foundation and Kauffman Foundation supported programs for energy, sustainable agriculture and water entrepreneurs, respectively.
But we can always do more. Whether it’s a debt fund used to support large-scale solar and wind installations, or an equity fund to support the latest startup eliminating food waste, there’s no better time than the present to support entrepreneurs mitigating climate change — now that we know what we have to do and what we can (and cannot) rely on.
Marilyn Waite leads energy and cleantech investments at Village Capital.
If you want to learn more about any of these companies, and how to help, reach out to Victoria Fram at [email protected].