26 Climate Tech Unicorns | Former BlackRock Exec: ESG is a Placebo | Climate Justice Playbook

Plus, the Cool List of 75+ climate tech startups to watch and signing contracts for unhappiness

The Climate Justice Playbook for Business — Thank you, B Lab.

The subtitle of this report says it well:

  • A Global Call for Businesses to Center Climate Action in People and Justice

Despite the many environmental reasons to care about climate change — and as a former rainforest researcher, I’ve hugged my share of trees — it’s also about the millions of people being negatively affected by severe storms, rising seas, increasing temperatures, and other “future doom and gloom” scenarios that are becoming way too real…today.

And often those folks are not in our backyard, but out of sight…and sometimes, therefore, out of mind. #NotCool

To learn more, download the report from B Lab here.

26 climate tech unicorns around the world.

If you’ve ever wanted to see this batch of rare, horned, mythical creatures all in one spot, then here’s your chance.

This list from HolonIQ ranks private climate unicorns from highest to lowest [known] valuation.

  1. Rivian

  2. Northvolt

  3. Meicai

  4. CSI Solar

  5. Redwood Materials

  6. Indigo

  7. Lilium

  8. Apeel

  9. Pivot Bio

  10. Aurora Solar

  11. Bowery Farming

  12. Octopus Energy

  13. Farmers Business Network

  14. Qdama

  15. NotCo

  16. Uplight

  17. Beta Technologies

  18. OVO Energy

  19. Grove Collaborative

  20. Inari

  21. NxinP

  22. lenty

  23. Fluence

  24. Ynsect

  25. Apeel Sciences

  26. Rubicon

Interestingly, 50% of these unicorns are in the agriculture sector.

And if you’re up for more unicorn chasing, especially in the EV / AV (electric vehicle, autonomous vehicle) sectors, then you can head over to China. I’m referring to this list from Failory that covers 13 additional electrified unicorns beyond those galloping above.


The Cool List — 75+ startups to watch.

Oh yeah, it’s the pun that has to be made:

  • “[This list] is the place to find the hottest companies that are keeping the planet cool.”

From the good folks at Earth Partners, in collaboration with lots of early stage climate tech ecosystem builders like My Climate Journey and Elemental Excelerator, we have a new list of 75+ notable climate startups, ranging from seed to IPO.

You can peruse the list here — Filter by 30+ sector tags, as well as HQ location, team size, and venture stage.

The Secret Diary of a Sustainable Investor — Former BlackRock CIO

As I begin teaching my ESG Investing course again at Duke University this Fall, I’m reminded of this 40-page missive from the BlackRock's first global chief investment officer, Tariq Fancy.

And to say that he’s wearing rose-colored glasses about ESG would be very far from the truth.

Why does it matter?

As many of you know, BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with almost $10 trillion.

But if you go to their home page, you’d think they might be led by the former CEO of an environmental think tank. And God bless them for this mainstreaming of ESG and impact investing they are providing.

Consider these website headers on the BlackRock landing page:

  • How do the UN sustainable development goals impact investing?

  • Innovation on the road to net zero

  • Expert to Expert: Impact investing and the future of capitalism

  • Larry Fink on our sustainable future

And it’s not just about window dressing. Hundreds of studies point to positive correlations between ESG excellence and financial outperformance of peers and benchmarks. (Sample research from NYU Stern here.)

OK, so why is Tariq disillusioned?

Here are some of his sound bites to smack you upside the head in case you’re daydreaming about 100% of assets being managed with real ESG integration in the near future.

(Too pessimistic?)

  • After reading a few pro-ESG papers whose methods and conclusions I found rather dubious, something occurred to me: there’s always money to be made from telling people what they want to hear.

  • Warren Buffett is famously skeptical about ESG, saying last year that companies should prioritize shareholder value over social causes, and pushing back against pro-ESG shareholder resolutions at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting this year.

  • The idea of fickle public attention to preserve society’s long-term interests is a prospect that should alarm us all: will voluntarily engaging in good sportsmanship be something we can rely on players to keep doing when the spotlight moves onto other issues and the overlap with profit thus recedes? And is a depressing social media feed rife with constant controversy and boycotts the best way to ensure that companies do the right thing?

  • Relative to their peers, publicly-listed US Business Roundtable (BRT) signatories report higher rates of environmental and labor-related compliance violations, pay more penalties as a result, and spend more on lobbying policymakers. BRT signatories have been lobbying actively in recent years against a price on carbon, the elimination of tax loopholes, and a number of other initiatives designed to fight climate change and rising inequality. And a new report last September confirmed that since the global pandemic began, BRT signatories have proven no better than anyone else in protecting jobs, workplace safety, and labor rights, or doing anything to redress racial inequalities.

  • One PM at BlackRock was explicit with me: “I believe in climate change. If we had a price on carbon, I’d lower my carbon footprint overnight — and so would everyone else. But it makes no sense to do it alone and put myself at a disadvantage, and it’s not what I’m legally supposed to do or paid to do.”

  • Between now and 2030, the stakes are so high that we should grant ourselves the right to be skeptical, even downright cynical, since we have to make this work. In light of that, the lazy prevailing attitude — that ongoing discussions around “stakeholder value” are automatically steps in the right direction — seems unwise. Given what we know about how the game is played, and the rate of progress we’ve seen over the last few decades, is it wise of us to spend the next decade treating life-and-death issues as if they’re best left up to vagaries of good sportsmanship alone?

To dig in deeper, here’s the long-form PDF version, or take in three parts via his Medium.com posts, starting with Part 1.

That’s all, folks.

Make it a great week, because it’s usually a choice.

— Chris

P.S. Did you sign that term sheet for unhappiness?

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.”

  • Naval Ravikant— Founder of AngelList, “Philosopher King,” and inspiration for The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and HappinessGet your free copy of that book here.

Dr. Chris Wedding
Founder and Chief Catalyst, Entrepreneurs for Impact
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