By Shannon Farley, originally posted on Forbes.com on 10/18/21
Shannon: So, Climate Cabinet Education is Moneyball for climate action. Tell me more.
Caroline: Let’s follow the baseball metaphor for a second. Policymakers at the federal level get all the attention – and all the resources – they are treated like All-Stars. But in reality, local action is just as important.
Emma: Exactly. We’re not paying enough attention to state and local governments, which actually have huge potential to move the needle on climate change. There are lots of best practices that can be shared. We want to proactively find and equip these local policymakers with the resources they need to start taking climate action now.
“We’re not paying enough attention to state and local governments, which actually have huge potential to move the needle on climate change.”
Emma Fisher, Deputy Director, Climate Cabinet Education
Shannon: What brought you to the issue of climate change?
Caroline: I remember the first time we evacuated from a hurricane. Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans just a few weeks before. So when Hurricane Rita started heading for my hometown of Houston, we packed up the car and left. Few people around me believed that climate change was real – yet I saw it happening right in front of me. These experiences cemented my commitment to stopping climate change. I spent time in solar energy, and today, I lead Climate Cabinet Education with Emma.
Emma: I grew up in Chicago. Like Caroline, most people around me weren’t talking about climate change. I read a picture book version of Al Gore’s movie and immediately felt a sense of doom. The situation was bad, yet it seemed like no one was doing anything about it. Ever since, I’ve been committed to fighting climate change – first by studying the issue in college with Caroline, then, through climate advocacy, and now, by leading Climate Cabinet Education.
Shannon: What experiences led you to the specific problem Climate Cabinet Education is trying to solve?
Emma: When I was an organizer in Pennsylvania, we were advocating for a statewide 100% renewable energy bill. This is where we needed to go, but the political reality was that it was impossible to pass this bill in the short term. Many legislators and activists were asking me what they could try to pass to cut emissions NOW. I had no idea where to point them for resources.
Caroline: Emma’s experience captures the core problem we’re trying to solve. Every day, policymakers across the U.S. make 300 decisions that could help or hurt us as we tackle climate change. State and local governments are well positioned to take climate action, but here’s the catch: they don’t know it, or they’re not sure how to get started.
Shannon: This sounds like a huge opportunity. How is Climate Cabinet Education stepping in?
Emma: At Climate Cabinet Education, we’re building tools that help decision-makers understand their leverage points, and map out exactly how they can take climate action on day one in office. Think: the most comprehensive dataset on local climate action in the country. A “climate heatmap” that identifies opportunities for outsized impact on clean energy and environmental justice. And, toolkits that help decision-makers take action.
Shannon: Can you share an example of your tools in action?
Caroline: Definitely. Every year, elected utility boards – there are 2,000 of them in America – can choose to sign coal contracts or opt to power their communities with cheap, clean energy. We aggregate data to identify when and where key decisions like coal contracts are happening. Additionally, we build tools to help green policies win – like providing contact information for all decision-makers involved and toolkits that equip lawmakers with what they need to make their communities green.
Shannon: We need new approaches like yours to solve this enormous problem. As first-time entrepreneurs, what’s been your favorite moment in your founder journey so far?
Emma: This one’s easy! Last winter, we hosted a virtual “State Climate Action Summit” with 80 state legislators from 12 states. There, we shared our State Climate Policy toolkit and facilitated discussions across state lines. I was nervous about how the event would go. But afterwards, we received an outpouring of gratitude from attendees. There is a big need for this work.
Shannon: By now, you probably know that being a founder comes with its fair share of challenges. What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
Emma: I’m so grateful to Caroline for reminding me that if anyone had all the answers, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. We have to trust ourselves to lead with empathy and do the best we can with the knowledge we have.
Caroline: It’s true. What we’re doing is hard because nobody’s done it before. A big challenge for me is answering the question: “what are three things I could do this month to make our work better?” Whether it’s bringing in a software expert or asking our team what they like – and find frustrating – about their work, I’m committed to improving by constantly iterating on how we work. I’d love to paint “We improve every day” in massive letters on my wall. Unfortunately, my landlord won’t allow it!
Shannon: Any advice for first-time tech nonprofit entrepreneurs?
Caroline: Constantly seek advice – from issue-area experts, funders, fellow startup founders, and most importantly, from your own team. Listening honestly to each person will help propel you to making the impact you want.
Emma: Prioritize people! Investing in relationships with everyone from volunteers and interns to core team members, partners, and donors will have ripple effects. And, it will make the work fun.