GreenBiz’s VERGE 2023 Conference
Verge is the annual Climate Tech conference hosted by Greenbiz that focuses on the intersection of business and sustainability. Held for the past few years (and for at least the next year) in San Jose, it offers a collaborative venue for climate professionals across a wide range of industries to get together, share ideas, and learn from each other.
With a conference this large and diverse (more than 5,000 attendees hearing 400+ speakers in over 100 sessions across 3 days) it simply isn’t possible to see and hear everything on offer. Nevertheless, here are a few of our thoughts on Verge ’23.
Climate Tech success depends on good design.
Old habits die hard. But when a better experience is to be had, attitudes and behaviors will quickly follow. An oft-cited example of this is how Tesla made a stylish, sporty, thoroughly modern, and most importantly a desirable car, that just happened to be fully electric. Tesla’s focus on user experience, including charging, has made their cars some of the best on the market, undoubtedly contributing to the rapid rise of EV adoption worldwide.
What we’re really talking about here is the power of good design. Not simply styling, but the careful consideration of how people interact with an object, system, or experience can make the difference between widespread success and dismal failure.
So, given how important it is to encourage rapid and widespread behavior change, it’s surprising how underrepresented design remains in the selection of speakers, topics, and panelists at Verge. While it was encouraging to see a growing number of design professionals in attendance, it’s clear that the Climate Tech industry as a whole has yet to embrace design’s potential.
Less talk, more action.
The climate fight has had some bad publicity recently, with governments like the UK backtracking on climate pledges, rampant brand greenwashing, and scrutiny of carbon offsets. But at Verge, the focus was on the practical, real-world solutions that climate businesses are already putting into action.
Perhaps best exemplifying this was Thursday’s keynote by Tom Chi, Managing Partner of At One Ventures, in which Mr. Chi playfully derided the overused SaaS (software as a system) business model of typical startups. In contrast, At One Ventures purposefully directs funding to hardware-focused solutions, such as using drones to replant cypress groves, led by founders with more creative business models. This was a refreshing take that prioritized action and tangible results; find a problem and just go after it.
Now for the hard part.
Great strides have been made by many companies in reducing or eliminating the emissions from their own operations and power use, what’s called Scope-1 and Scope-2. Unfortunately, this accounts for only about 10% on average of a company’s total emissions. The vast majority of impacts occur in the upstream supply chain and downstream use, collectively known as Scope-3. These emissions are out of a company’s direct control and are therefore much harder to reduce.
This is why it was so inspiring to hear at Verge how businesses are tackling this tough issue. Some companies are directly challenging their suppliers; Interface, makers of modular carpeting, gave annual contracts to whichever supplier provided the highest percentage of recycled nylon, until eventually getting to 100%. For others, banding together into a buying collaborative, such as the First Movers Coalition, provides the necessary financial incentive for suppliers of raw materials like aluminum and steel to invest in expensive clean processes. And several startups are targeting traditionally “dirty” materials, like concrete, with new technologies that reduce or eliminate their carbon footprint.
Many thanks to the Greenbiz team for once again putting on a great conference. I hope to hear more examples of design-driven success in Climate Tech, real-world, tangible results, and progress on the hard stuff next year at Verge ’24!
Keep up with expos and conferences that PI attends by checking out our Journal.