OBSERVATIONS FROM VERGE 22 – Climate-tech and finance excitement
A good chunk of the climate-tech world descended on the San Jose, CA Convention Center from October 25 to 27 to collaborate, share, and learn.
It was my first time there. I have to say I was very impressed. As a go-to-market guy who has carried sales bag for most of the last 20 years, I’ve been to a lot of conferences and trade shows. VERGE 22 was one of the most collaborative, content driven and inspiring conferences I can remember. It was a great example of what can happen when you combine entrepreneurial zeal with purpose. It was an inclusive, collaborative, energized environment. Here are my observations of the big themes.
The Needs of Corporations and Localities are Driving Change
Almost every conversation I was in, every panel I listened to was in some way responding to the needs of corporations or local governments – municipalities and counties – that had a need they were trying to address. The conference was heavily populated with corporate sustainability professionals from CSO’s to matrixed professionals from nearly every function you can imagine, trying to learn more about sustainability and address a specific challenge they had. Municipalities are like corporations in many respects. Many have made commitments to clean up their air and water and create more sustainable neighborhoods, especially in the most vulnerable parts of town. How do they deliver more sustainable services? They all have data challenges. How do they measure, report, and verify their progress? What are the best investments to make? How do they navigate the path to sustainability without driving their company, their community into the gutter? How do they communicate and build support for what they are doing? How do they become more resilient, reducing risk in the process?
EV Fleets are Taking Off
Perhaps it was just me, I could only attend as many sessions as one coffee-charged human could, but I felt like Fleet Vehicle Electrification was all the rage. I was impressed with the excitement in this sector, the growth prospects and business models. There seems to be incredible excitement around the prospect of transitioning everything from delivery vehicles to school busses to airport shuttles from cranky, old, mostly diesel-powered vehicles, to clean, smooth, quiet electric vehicles. The business models are novel too, with a variety of vehicle as a service and charging as a service in addition to the more typical lease and ownership models. There is significant investment in this segment and it showed. Vehicle OEM’s like Volvo, old fossil companies like BP (bp Pulse) and well financed startups like Inspiration are all working on different pieces of the puzzle.
Carbon Accounting is Getting Real Big Fast
The carbon accounting world is starting to feel almost mature. There are more than a dozen companies in this market ranging from established bulge bracket companies like Salesforce to newer more specialized entrants like Watershed. The range of services and use cases is broad. Products are robust. Deal flow is substantial and growing. It’s clear that many companies have made public sustainability commitments, companies are grappling with the reporting requirements of the public markets, regulators and other stakeholders, and they are frustrated with the limitations of their traditional processes to identify, measure, track, report and verify their emissions and other environmental impacts. This market is established and expanding.
Nature-based Solutions – Lots of Interest and Concern.
I think everyone, and certainly myself, is cheering for NBS. What could be better than for the world to create a financial model where we price and pay nature for the services it provides – the clean air, fertile soil, abundant fisheries, potable water, etc. Well, we are trying and boy is it hard. The promise and the challenge was on full display. There are many companies building business models dependent, at least in part, on carbon credit revenue – droneseed, Pachama, Lithos Carbon, South Pole and Earthshot Labs are just a few that were present. The measurement, reporting, verification, commoditization and tracking of all these offsets is still a work in progress. Verra, Gold Standard and others have work to do. Many of the carbon credit project originators and managers don’t work with these verification and registry providers. There were many lingering questions about durability, additionality, double counting, accuracy, etc. Much work to be done. I'm cheering for this team.
These are just the highest-level samplings of what I experienced. I’m sure they suffer from sampling bias. I will say I thought the GreenBiz put on a heck of a show. I came away feeling inspired.