Building a Bigger Pie - Tomorrow's positive-sum approach to our industry

April 30, 2020 · 5 min read

Late last year, prominent tech journalist Kara Swisher dramatically predicted “I think the world’s first trillionaire will be a green-tech entrepreneur.” While many of us aren’t in this business to make our first trillion, this prediction is indicative of the massive increase of ambition and interest we’ve seen in the climate startup scene over the past year. Every day, it seems like another company has made a climate action commitment, an exciting new startup tackling climate change emerges, or a prominent investor has pledged to devote significant capital to the climate crisis.

Yet this world is still nascent. Startups tackling climate change have fewer examples of success to look to these days as those starting out in the fintech or direct-to-consumer worlds, for example. Yet this dearth of success stories is also representative of a significant opportunity to be standard-bearers in the industry and chart a new path forward.

The world of business is often framed as zero-sum, with combative language such as “crushing the competition” and “taking market share”. Implicitly, being the “market leader” often is a relative term; one is defined as the a leader as long as they are better than the competition.

At Tomorrow, we see our industry of climate tech differently. In building products in this industry, we see an opportunity to not just take a piece of the pie, but build a bigger pie, together with our peers. Climate change is a positive-sum business; and we believe that by simultaneously building our products and building the market, everyone (including the planet) will win.

We’re making efforts to “build a bigger pie” in three main areas:

1. Empowering ordinary people

As Greta Thunberg said, “The hope lies in the fact that people don’t know what is going on”. There are billions of ordinary people who either lack awareness of the climate crisis or lack the tools to do something about it.

That’s why we built North, an app that automatically tracks your carbon footprint and the electricityMap App, the world’s most comprehensive visualization of the carbon footprint of electricity. And that’s why we wrote our Pragmatic Guide to Climate Change. Millions of people use our products every year, and in doing so we hope they get inspired to take further action.

By empowering ordinary people to take climate action, we see ourselves expanding the market of consumers that demand the services of companies tackling climate change.

2. Capacity-building and pushing science forward

We believe that much of our success at Tomorrow has come from our team’s deep knowledge of climate change along with our experience building digital products - in order to tackle climate change, one needs to understand the fundamentals of the problem and leverage points in the system.

As more and more motivated actors without significant climate knowledge join the climate startup ecosystem, we believe we have a responsibility to share our knowledge so that founders can build more impactful products, investors can make smarter investments, and new insights in research can expose new opportunities for innovation.

In addition to building and promoting electricityMap, we’ve also spoken and written extensively on our experiences and on technical topics such as marginal emissions from electricity usage.

Finally, we’ve collaborated extensively with non-profits and academia to develop methodologies, publish peer-reviewed research, and develop new insights into understanding and reducing the carbon footprint of individuals and organizations.

We hope our efforts will play a small part in more entrepreneurs and investors having the tools to build impactful businesses saving the climate.

3. Building tools for change

Not only are we empowering individuals and sharing our knowledge, but we’re also building tools that can be used by the next generation of climate entrepreneurs.

Our electricityMap API, which makes the world’s largest database of electricity and carbon footprint data accessible on-demand, is being used by startups like Lancey and Barry to improve their products, as well as global organizations like Google to innovate from within.

Furthermore, we’ve open-sourced the data parsers on electricityMap, the integrations in the North app, and the carbon footprint models that power both products. Finally, we manage a 1500+ person Slack community where we work together on our open-source projects and discuss developments in the industry. By sharing what we’ve built and building a community around it, we hope to help build global consensus around how to compute emissions, as well as help future climate entrepreneurs build their own products.

A rising tide lifts all ships

It’s an exciting time to be working at a climate tech startup for many reasons, but what I love most about my job is that business doesn’t feel like a contact sport; I’m genuinely excited when I hear about other companies building similar products!

At Tomorrow, our hope is that by sharing our knowledge and our products with the world, we will push the market forward, and as more companies join the movement, we will push each other to build better, more impactful solutions to climate change.

Written by Trevor Hinkle
Former Head of electricityMap @ Tomorrow
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