First Annual WCS Talks Provide a Beacon of Hope

 In WCS Blog

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Posted by Rosana Francescato


“The metamorphosis is now.” That’s what Lisa Ann Pinkerton, founder of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability, affirmed to a packed room at the first annual WCS Talks. What did she mean by this? We’re facing a change to business as usual, Lisa Ann believes, one that will take us from a top-down way of operating to a new way that can help us save our planet. She challenged us to ask, “What am I doing to help?”

The evening’s diverse speakers — nine women and one brave soul, a man — all had amazing answers to that question. Most of us tend to focus on our own subject area; it was enlightening to see how much else is going on to embody the metamorphosis we need.

If anything could give you hope for the future of our planet, it’s these women who are making things happen.

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Virginia Klausmeier of Sylvatex shared how her father’s death, at a time when their new company was just forming, brought her life’s purpose into focus. It led to her thinking big and coming up with a better solution for delivering biofuels: work within the existing infrastructure, to maximize your impact with minimal effort. She believes we’ve reached a tipping point in energy — with the next age being the age of renewables. “It’s here if we want it to be,” she said. “Let’s make it happen.”  Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/Virgina Klausmeier

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Also making it happen is Lindsay Wood, self-described “LED Lady.” One of the first green MBAs, she told us how her search for a new career led her to LED lighting, something she didn’t know anything about. But no one was claiming the space, so she did — in a fine example of far we can go when we’re bold and pursue a clear vision. She became an LED evangelist — and she had me converted with her reminder that every time we turn on the lights, we’re supporting fracking.

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Patricia Johnson of Game Theory Academy and Wow Farm is making things happen with inner-city Oakland youth. She put together three trends in Oakland: a proliferation of fancy new restaurants, 48% youth unemployment, and the rise of urban farming. The result? Youth working an urban garden, naturally (pun intended) — and delivering fresh, organic produce to the fanciest neighboring restaurants, all within two miles. The young people are learning about the relationship between business, the environment, and society.

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Speaking of the environment, Lina Constantinovici of Start Up Nectar reminded us that nature has already done 3.8 billion years of R&D. Taking a cue from that, how do we build an economy that creates conditions conducive to life? With a biomimicry incubator, of course. The examples she gave of incubator graduates was mind-boggling: An irrigation system based on the structure of a giraffe’s neck, a way to eliminate pharmaceuticals in water, crystal nanotubes that reduce EV charging time to a couple minutes, plastics made from methane. Apparently, the sky’s the limit.

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Lisa Dyson of Kiverdi focused in on an ingenious way her company is using natural processes to solve one big problem. The problem? Petroleum-based products have become ubiquitous. Oil is at the basis of even our workout shoes and carpets. The plastic forks we use just in the U.S. could circle the equator three times. How do we produce oil sustainably? We take a cue from nature, where there is no waste. Looking at the carbon cycle, Dyson found that carbon waste, generated locally, can be made into oils that local manufacturers can use. The secret is microorganisms that convert CO2 into oil. It’s good for the environment, and also good for business. How did Dyson come to this solution? By imagining the impossible.  Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/Lisa Dyson

What’s that one thing you would change to make the metamorphosis happen?

Whatever that one thing is for each of us, it’s clear that to make change happen, our organizations will need diversity.

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Carol Neslund of Enphase emphasized the importance of gender diversity in particular. For starters, a woman is the primary breadwinner in 4 out of 10 American households, with women controlling 72.8% of household income. When selling solar and other green items, we need to be aware of that and consider their concerns — such as saving for college for their children. When running companies, we need to be aware that those with three or more women on the board earn a 53% higher return. Another reason diversity matters? Women care deeply about what’s happening to our planet. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/Carol Neslund

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Esperanza Garcia of International Youth Council and Philippine Youth Climate Movement is no stranger to diversity, being intimately familiar with a demographic most affected by climate change. Young people in countries like the Philippines are at the forefront of the move to renewables, she said. They are the face of climate change. But we can all play a role. She reminded us that the action is “right here in this room.” Women are the secret weapon in climate change, she said, and we can all help.


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The push for diversity also came from Dale Wannen of Sustainvest Asset Management. Who makes the decisions at home, he asked, including financial ones? Primarily women, for whom the financial picture is changing. Boomer women will inherit from both their parents and spouses, 45% of American millionaires are now women, and by 2030, two-thirds of wealth will be in the hands of women. Add to this that returns for companies with women CEOs are much higher, and in a change since about 2008, socially responsible investing performs a bit better now than the S&P 500. Of course, it’s not all just about money. “What’s love got to do with it?” he asked. A lot! As a father, he noted, he cares about doing the right thing to leave the world a better place for his daughter. But now we can also point to the financial benefits of both gender diversity and socially responsible investing.

To increase gender diversity, we must challenge our assumptions — and doing so is essential to make progress in other ways, too.

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Reminding us of this was Jenni Grant of Oracle. She challenged her own belief that nonprofits are good and corporations are evil, and was able to reframe the “us versus them” mentality to ask how corporations can be powerful agents of change. That led to working on sustainability for a company with over 9 million square feet of properties in over 70 countries — where she can make a huge difference. Her projects like putting in high-efficiency lighting have reduced operational costs, a reminder that most corporations will embrace this kind of change. Her advice? “Lead with your heart, the rest will follow.”


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Kirstin Hoefer of Clean Power Finance had more advice for us, in the form of a great top 10 list:

  • 10: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try” — as JFK said.
  • 9: Love the people you work with. Pick people over strategy, and companies that respect your values.
  • 8: Drink a lot of coffee – with a friend. The important point here is to build connections.
  • 7: Keep calm, toughen up a bit, and don’t take it personally — that is, know when to not take it personally, but do bring in your beliefs and passion.
  • 6: Stay on your side of the net. What does this mean? Use language like “I feel XX when you do XX” – no one can argue with how you feel. You may also want to frame what you say in terms of someone’s effectiveness, especially if they don’t care how you feel.
  • 5. Know your audience — the people you work with, why they work.
  • 4. Know yourself, be yourself. Know what motivates you.
  • 3. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. As Madonna said, “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.” How you ask is important; keep in mind what motivates those you are asking.
  • 2. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder. Pace yourself and don’t burn out.
  • 1. You can do more than you think. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it.Watch here: https://youtube.com/Kirstin Hoefer

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This was an evening to be remembered, and so worth it. Even those of us who came to the event tired from the day were invigorated by the engaging talks. I’m already looking forward to next year’s WCS Talks.

More great photos from the WCS Talks:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/97154460@N08/ 


Rosana Francescato is Director of Communications at Sunible.com, an online marketplace that’s radically simplifying the home solar buying experience. She’s on the board of Women in Cleantech and Sustainability and the steering committee of theLocal Clean Energy Alliance. She’s been the top individual fundraiser at the GRID Alternatives Bay Area Solarthon five years in a row.
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I'm the WCS web designer. I started my freelance design firm Rosstamicah Design in 2008 after working as web principal for various companies, and have built sites for many companies in the renewable and energy industries.
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