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All Hands On Deck: Tackling The Climate Crisis Requires All Industries

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at November 1, 2021

Chris Kim is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Union Labs, a seed stage Venture Capital firm that invests in applied DeepTech. 

Climate change is making headlines lately, with wildfires, heatwaves, floods and other forms of extreme weather making regular appearances in the news. It has been reflected in my own personal experience living in California for more than two decades with the CZU Lightning complex wildfires coming within a few miles of my home.

While the press often highlights renewable energy and electric cars, these measures alone won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep us from exceeding 1.5°C of global warming, which is the level we need to stay below in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We won’t be able to achieve this by relying solely on the solutions of the past. We need to look beyond electricity and passenger cars to the next level of decarbonization — heavy transportation, industrial processes and the built environment — areas that aren’t often top of mind for the average citizen and don’t generate the kind of media buzz that the latest electric car might. We also need to broaden our scope to include other sectors such as agriculture and consumer goods, which aren’t often associated with climate solutions.

Owing to the enormity of the climate challenge, there is a perception that climate solutions necessarily involve big projects, large amounts of capital and long timelines. However, there are many solutions that can be widely deployed in much shorter amounts of time. This calls for a multi-horizon approach: long bets on very high reduction potential technologies like heavy transport electrification, green hydrogen and carbon capture, and shorter bets on solutions that can be deployed more quickly like energy efficiency, building electrification, lower carbon-intensity materials and circular economy solutions.

We also need to deal with the effects of climate change that are already baked into the system. This will require us to re-think and reconfigure our infrastructure to make it smarter and more resilient. Sensors can monitor concrete and steel infrastructure, and data models can predict which assets are at risk, enabling us to plan for and reduce the impact of current and future climate effects. There are also follow-on hazards and effects of these asset risks, including public health concerns, disrupted supply chains, broken transportation links or reduced capacity. Some companies have created platforms that can be used to standardize and accelerate this risk assessment, while others are able to retrieve high-resolution aerial imaging data that can provide the raw input data to this analysis.

Dealing with climate change isn’t just about developing new technologies. In fact, many of the technologies we need to achieve our goals already exist. An additional challenge and opportunity is in building an ecosystem to deploy and support them in the field. Technological solutions often require business models or financial innovations to accelerate adoption and need a well-trained and agile workforce to deploy, operate and service them. An example of this includes ChargerHelp, which provides on-demand repair of EV charging stations and also has a training program for technicians.

Furthermore, many climate solutions may not look like climate solutions on the surface but are solutions to business problems that indirectly result in emissions reductions. Of particular note are solutions that provide operational efficiencies or reduce waste in production or supply chains. For example, Strella Biotechnology, which is part of my company’s portfolio, is working to address the massive amount of food waste due to spoilage in the agricultural supply chain. Its specialized gas detection sensor platform monitors the freshness of produce anywhere in the supply chain, enabling shippers to guide the freshest produce to put on store shelves. Not only does it improve profitability, but it can also reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from shipping and decomposition of wasted fruit. In the construction sector, SolidSpac3 is developing a platform that continually reconciles plans and as-built conditions, thereby reducing delays and cost overruns due to rework, as well as the associated energy use and carbon emissions.

Finally, broad-based solutions to climate will also require broad-based talent. Along with many of our partners in the broader venture community, we at Union Labs have seen a surge of entrepreneurs building climate solutions far beyond the energy- and transportation-centric solutions of the past. Buoyed by the massive popular success of low-cost renewable energy and EV transportation, we are also seeing investors and operators with expertise outside the historical climate-related sectors bring their experience and talent to bear on the climate crisis. For those interested in getting started in climate tech, organizations such as OnDeck, Terra.do, Work on Climate and the recently-launched Climate Draft provide ways for those outside the space to quickly get up to speed and into the game. There is an opportunity for climate-positive innovations in all industries, and we are excited to see entrepreneurs answer the call.


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