The Women Leading the Climate Change Fight and How We Can Support Them
(Originally published in December 2021)
Like most moms-to-be, I felt a mixture of total joy and utter terror when I learned my husband and I were expecting. My own doubts about my fitness to bring a child into this world tempered the elation I felt that…well, that I’d be bringing a child into this world!
Amid that whirlwind of emotions, I also felt another pang, much deeper in my stomach: the fear that our child would enter a world where the clock was ticking. Where climate change would be an unstoppable, devastating and life-altering force. Where the world my child would live in could be very different, possibly catastrophically so. It was an awful feeling of powerlessness.
What’s the best way to combat that feeling? As we look ahead to 2022, it’s important that we get to work, bringing to bear all the resources we, as women investors, have on this problem. One of the best parts of these efforts for me over the past 15 years has been doing it in community with other women.
Taking Charge of Finances: Align Your Portfolio
The most obvious tool we have is our investments. You can’t watch a single five-minute news report on climate change without realizing we need massive investments to decarbonize our economy, from electrification and new transportation systems to affordable long-term energy storage and regenerative agriculture. To the layperson, it’s mind-boggling.
While it has taken far too long for financial professionals to see us women as key decision-makers, with women set to control more wealth in the coming years, at last that seems to be changing. So what to do with this newfound power when it comes to climate? Start a conversation with your money manager on how to begin aligning your investments with a safe climate for all. Investing in climate interventions that offer “market-rate” risk/reward and are ready for deployment also sends a signal to the financial sector about the demand for more climate-aligned products and services, which, in turn, should result in more financing for climate-positive companies and projects.
There is no shortage of women-led funds to consider. Through Prime Coalition, I’ve watched Dr. Johanna Wolfson and Amy Duffuor attract investors — families, companies and foundations — to Prime Impact Fund and find game-changing entrepreneurs working on big climate impact ideas. Other women I admire on this front are Dawn Lippert and Ramsay Siegal at Earthshot Ventures, which funds hardware and software companies in climate tech from seed through Series B, and helps them grow by connecting them to global customers, investors and policymakers.
Those of us with more resources should consider direct investment in women-led companies. I met Beth Zotter through work with science-based startups at Cyclotron Road/Activate (on whose board I sit)—now she leads Umaro Foods, which is developing ocean-farmed seaweed as a sustainable protein. At Via Separations, Shreya Dave uses novel chemistries to help manufacturers like paper and pulp companies produce more while consuming significantly less energy. Beth and Shreya are two of many—the number of innovative companies founded by women continues to grow.
Considering Impactful Nonprofits: Make Your Giving Climate Forward
Women should also consider ways giving can shake up climate change without needing a return on their investment.
Not sure where to start? There are some fascinating nonprofits being led by women who deserve our support. They include the Solutions Project, led by Gloria Walton, which is doing incredible work funding everything from community organizing and democratically controlled rural electric cooperatives to policy work, all with the goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy. In turn, it invests 95 percent of its resources in groups led by people of color, with 80 percent going to women-led organizations.
At Sustainable Energy for All, Damilola Ogunbiyi and her team work with businesses, governments, consumers and NGOs to speed renewable energy progress by 2030 in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7). On a different end of the spectrum is the All We Can Save Project, founded by Dr. Katharine Wilkinson and Dr. Ayana Johnson, which is working to support and empower women leading the climate movement.
And there’s also Ceres, where Mindy Lubber has been showing us what leadership is all about for decades. Mindy leads an executive leadership team of women pushing investors, money managers, and capital markets influencers to act on climate through efforts like their Net Zero Asset Managers and Climate Action 100+ initiatives.
Raising Your Voice: Engage Policymakers
When it comes to climate, we don’t have the luxury of starting funds, making gifts and just walking away. We have to engage the decision-makers. And with big climate decisions due, on everything from power-plant standards and green building codes to the reconciliation bill and state climate business, there is no lack of places to start.
For instance, you can give to a 501c3 or c4 to build a public case for climate action. There are also innovative ways to connect scientists and entrepreneurs to decision-makers and mobilize/train more professionals as effective climate advocates by supporting a group like Climate Changemakers led by Dr. Eliza Nemser. Kelly Burton at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is helping end congressional gerrymandering that often keeps the most climate-positive candidates from winning office. And Tiernan Sittenfeld at the League of Conservation Voters works to elect climate champions up and down the ballot—which, as we’ve learned from watching Congress grapple with the reconciliation bill this fall, could not be more urgent and necessary.
Ultimately, the truth is clear: Women are leading the fight against climate change—as scientists, as entrepreneurs, as venture capitalists, as advocates. The rest of us—professionals, moms and investors—owe them our support. And there’s no better time to start than now. Let’s make 2022—and our future—a brighter one for all.
Article by Nicole Systrom, founder of Sutro Energy Group, partners with philanthropists, investors, and entrepreneurs to accelerate high-impact climate and clean technology solutions.
With an extensive background in environmental science and a passion for helping entrepreneurs scale breakthrough technologies, Nicole counsels philanthropists and impact investors on how to direct mission-oriented resources toward innovative clean technologies. A valued advisor to founders and funders in clean energy, Nicole has helped channel millions of dollars into the development of technology solutions in recent years.
Nicole’s passion for motivating wealth holders to support clean energy technologies means she is frequently tapped by nonprofits, foundations and family offices for her counsel on their climate-positive programs. As a board member and former consultant to Prime Coalition, she helps philanthropists catalyze growth in technology startups that mitigate climate change. As an early advisor to Cyclotron Road, Nicole helped develop program and business strategies, positioning it to effectively support hard-science innovations and entrepreneurs.
In addition to Prime Coalition, she now serves on the boards of the Energy Foundation, one of the largest energy and climate philanthropies in the US; Energy Action Fund, which is the Energy Foundation’s 501c4 sister; and Activate, a fellowship program forging a new path for world-changing innovators and the successor to Cyclotron Road. Nicole is also a member of the President’s Council at Ceres, a nonprofit focused on sustainability challenges.
A published thought leader on climate-positive innovation, Nicole has written about identifying gaps in the clean tech ecosystem; building philanthropic tools for investing in climate solutions; and enabling better state energy policy. To build awareness of the climate change crisis, Nicole launched the investor education series “Investing in a New Climate” with the Stanford Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance in 2015.
Earlier in her career Nicole worked at TerraPass, a venture-backed startup, where she managed a project portfolio that reduced 250,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions across the U.S. Before that she was a fundraiser at the nonprofit Pacific Forest Trust, where she supported the development of methods to quantify the carbon stored in working forests.
Nicole holds a BS in Earth Systems from Stanford University and an MBA/MS in Environment and Resources from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and golden retriever.