March 17, 2022
Illustration: SpiffyJ/DigitalVision Vectors/ Getty Images
Hello, and welcome to the second edition of Protocol’s climate newsletter! Whether you’re coming back for seconds or here for the first time, we’re happy to have you. Today, we’re going to make you a climate plan-writing expert. Also: a look at clean tech investments, as well as tech workers’ views on the climate crisis and the industry’s role in addressing it. Let’s dive in, shall we?
To paraphrase the late, great scientist Stephen Schneider, climate change is a contact sport. You’ve got to get involved in the rough and tumble, and the best way to get started is by writing a climate plan that actually, you know, does something.
Whether you’re sitting in a C-suite corner office or are a rank-and-file tech worker, you can and should get involved in the climate plan game. And to fully torture this metaphor, it’s the bottom of the 9th, the two-minute warning or whatever sports analogy you prefer. In other words, you don’t have time to waste. So anyway, here’s how to get started on a climate plan that could actually make a difference.
First, some real talk. Sure, more and more tech companies have climate plans. But they can be better. A lot better. On Tuesday, we told you how to read a tech company’s climate plan, and you may have picked up on the fact that many are severely lacking. But that’s OK; you can learn from the mistakes!
Address Scope 3 emissions. The majority of nearly every company’s emissions come from the manufacturers it works with and the customers who buy its products — what are known as Scope 3 emissions. A number of tech companies have included Scope 3 emissions in their climate plans, though getting a handle on those plans has proven to be a big challenge. A credible climate plan will include how to get emissions under control. Jamie Beck Alexander, the director of Drawdown Labs, a group that works closely with tech companies to speed up their climate ambitions, told Protocol that Salesforce does a good job of this by “requiring their suppliers to have science-based targets in place in order to work with them.”
Set interim targets. Net zero by 2050 has become a rallying cry for a growing number of tech companies. But that’s a long way away. I’m a procrastinator on major projects, and I’m willing to bet some big tech companies are the same way. (Multibillion-dollar tech companies, they’re just like us!) Except it’s a much bigger deal if a company waits until 2049 to cut emissions than if I decide to put off writing a newsletter until 11:59 p.m. the night before. Having a long-term goal coupled to a series of interim targets every year this decade, coupled with five-year check-ins thereafter, will keep companies accountable.
Tie executive pay to climate targets. Money talks. Linking bonus packages for CEOs, chief sustainability officers or other roles at a tech company to goals — such as those interim targets, decarbonizing the supply chain or buying a certain amount of clean energy — is a powerful form of accountability. We’re calling it the “make it rain on the CEO, not the planet” principle. (It’s a work in progress, OK?) Salesforce, for example, announced just last month that a portion of pay for the executive vice president level and above would be partly tied to meeting goals around flying less and spending more with suppliers that are working to reduce carbon emissions.
Let employees collaborate on the plan. Or if you’re an employee, ask to be involved! The C-suite can help set an agenda and champion it, but tech workers should have a role to play in crafting climate plans. It’s also another form of accountability for tech companies, which is a common thread here, and being closer to the ground can let workers spot places for gains in efficiency that can reduce emissions. Asim Hussain, a tech worker and executive director at the Green Software Foundation, told Protocol, for example, that he and other workers are putting together principles for making software greener. It’s a bleeding edge of addressing tech’s carbon footprint that could be rolled into a climate plan, and something much more likely to come from those immersed in the field rather than those on high.
Use carbon offsets sparingly. It’s a lot easier to buy offsets than it is to cut emissions, but they are not a panacea to the climate crisis; ultimately, the only way to actually slow the climate crisis is to reduce emissions. Any tech climate plan worth its salt will only rely on offsets as a last resort. Simon Fischweicher, the head of Corporations and Supply Chains at corporate accountability nonprofit CDP, told Protocol they should be used for “the last [5%] to 10% of emissions that cannot be directly mitigated.”
Back policies that meaningfully benefit the climate. For companies to meet their climate goals — particularly reducing Scope 3 emissions — they’re going to need a little help from a higher power: the government. “If a company is sincere about achieving zero emissions, they should be lobbying for climate policy to be in place to help society,” Beck Alexander said. “Are they using their influence and clout to advocate for climate policy at the state and federal level? This is not something that I've really seen any company do, but looking at aligning their political contributions and their lobbying dollars are all a gold standard for me.”
So, to sum it all up: You basically have a few key takeaways to consider here as you fight for the tech climate plan of your dreams.
Sounds easy, right? Now go get ‘em before it’s game over!— Brian Kahn (email | twitter)
Well, speak of the accountability devil. A poll commissioned exclusively by Protocol found that tech workers are even more adamant than the average American that the tech industry needs to address climate change. The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, shows 96% of tech workers want companies to set goals and invest in climate solutions. That’s 15% higher than all respondents. A similarly high percentage also said companies have a “high obligation” to act on climate.
Look, I’m not a tech CEO or anything. But that’s a lot of employees fired up about an issue. Harnessing that energy and channeling it into helping set ambitious goals — and meeting them — seems like a great way to retain employees and build a strong foundation for continued success.
— Brian Kahn
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Big money is flowing into climate tech. Corporate venture capital investments into the sector more than doubled in 2021, setting a new record of $23.2 billion.
Companies are looking to make a profit, of course, and also to show off their climate bona fides. But corporate venture capital is also a way for them to invest in technologies that they’ll need to reach their own climate goals. (Those goals aren’t going to meet themselves.) In fact, some are extremely transparent about it. United Airlines’ venture firm, for example, has invested in both a low-carbon aviation fuel endeavor and a hydrogen-electric jet engine developer. Those technologies could help the company meet its net-zero emissions by 2050 goal.
But — there’s always a but! — it remains to be seen whether these investments will actually be a boon for the climate. Carbon emissions hit their highest level in history in 2021, even as clean tech funding ramped up to a new high as well.
Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency warned that investment in the clean energy sector “remains far short of what will be required to avoid severe impacts from climate change.” So, uh, those corporate venture capital arms may want to step up those investments even more in 2022.
Get the full story here.— Lisa Martine Jenkins (email | twitter)
Menlo Microsystems developed a new type of electronic switch that aims for efficiency, power and speed (which engineers report is an unlikely combo in existing switches), and has raked in $150 million in series C funding for its efforts.
Potentially good news for Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and her dream of a 15-minute city: The French shared e-bike startup Fifteen raised $44.5 million in funding from a number of high-profile banks and other investors.
Microsoft is investing $34 million in Nautilus Labs, which uses artificial intelligence to help make the shipping industry more efficient. Now if only it could get that AI to fix the supply chain.
The cell-cultured seafood startup Finless Foods has raised $34 million in series B funding. If “fish are friends, not food” isn’t their motto, I don’t know what to tell you.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
The Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly set to require all publicly traded companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Let the countdown to the day we compare pledges to reality begin.
Bitcoiners promised to help Texas’ grid. The results have been decidedly mixed, though, and ratepayers could end up footing bigger bills.
Starbucks is going to offer you more than a caffeine jolt. The company announced that Volvo will add up to 60 EV chargers in Starbucks parking lots from Denver to Seattle.
Feeling like carbon offsets are a mixed bag, and occasionally even useless? You’re not alone.
This headline reads like a Mad Lib, but it’s real. I won’t spoil it for you, but I promise it and the story that follows are worth your time.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
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