Navigating the Pressures of Climate Tech

Maya Arengo, Stanford University October 12, 2022

In recent years, investments in climate tech and startups promoting sustainability have been booming. Climate tech is a very broad field encompassing startups in renewable energy, alternative protein, batteries, carbon capture, and more. What unites all of these fields is a common mission of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to curb the worst effects of climate change.

Starting a company in the climate tech space is not much different from any other; many standard tips related to funding, founder personality, finding product-market fit, and more still apply to climate entrepreneurship. But there are some key differences.

For many climate tech founders, societal impact, rather than profit, is their main motivation for starting the company. Furthermore, the company’s success has heightened importance because of the pressing issue of climate change. Here are some talks from Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders that offer insights on navigating these additional hurdles.

Follow The Mission

Finding a job where you can actually have a financial reward, but also have an environmental reward, or a different award — something that helps humanity — that’s exciting. Because you can get up, feel passionate about it, and it’s a double win.” — Lyndon Rive

Climate tech founders may struggle to balance societal impact and profit. However, Lyndon Rive, the co-founder of SolarCity, says these two factors can work hand-in-hand to increase motivation for founders and workers. Entrepreneurs who focus on the societal impact of their mission are more likely to persevere when faced with obstacles, especially those related to finances.

James Reinhart, the founder of threadUp, also speaks on how the impact of your startup can maintain motivation. He says most startups require more than 10 years of hard work before they are successful. In order to stay motivated to develop a successful company, founders need to believe the societal impact of their startup is worth devoting 10 years of their life to.

Reinhart advises working toward a goal you are willing to dedicate 10 or more years of your life to. Once you know the kind of impact that is important to you, make it the central focus of your startup: ensure that this impact is at the heart of everything you do as a founder and present in every aspect of your startup.

Tell An Impact-Centered Story

Storytelling is a crucial part of any kind of entrepreneurship. The story of why your mission is important and why you are the right founder to tackle this issue is the key to getting others to support you on your journey. For climate tech founders, storytelling is especially important due to the social impact aspect, in addition to profit.

John Felts, the founder of Cruz Foam, discusses the importance of storytelling instead of explaining the intricate details of your technology.

I think it’s really taking the viewpoint of telling your story more through the lens of the impact, the scale, the business, really how it becomes this entity of capturing high value — and not so much about your nuanced, really cool, specific technology that two people in the world understand what you’re talking about.” — John Felts

Climate tech can get very technical and scientific. But crafting your startup’s narrative around how your technology decreases greenhouse gas emissions will help investors understand the importance of your technology and the kind of impact your startup will have. How does your technology contribute to society’s larger goals of reaching net zero carbon emission targets? Does your technology solve any bottlenecks that were preventing emission reductions?

Use Positive Encouragement For Consumer Behavior Change

Climate startups that involve shifting consumer choices to more sustainable options, like sustainable fashion or food, need to market their products in ways that will best encourage this behavior change. Reinhart speaks on the importance of using positive encouragement when marketing your product as a more sustainable option.

We don’t try to preach to people. What we try to do is pat them on the back for making good choices.” — James Reinhart

People don’t like being lectured to, Reinhart explains. Consumers are unlikely to buy your product if they feel you are shaming them for their choices. The decision to purchase your product has to be made from positive emotions. Reinhart markets his online thrift store by explaining that thrifting has all of the cost benefits and uniqueness of fast fashion, but it is sustainable instead. When marketing your product, focus on all of the benefits of your product, not just sustainability. Is your product cheaper? Is it more convenient or easier to use than existing options?


Climate tech entrepreneurship is not so different from entrepreneurship in other fields. But what makes climate tech unique is its emphasis on social impact, the sense of urgency around technology development, and how it often involves shifting existing consumer behaviors. The insights from recent Entrepreneurship Thought Leaders seminars say to center the narrative of your startup around the impact your technology will have on the fight against climate change. Focusing on your mission will also motivate you to persevere when times get tough. Finally, when marketing a product that involves consumer behavior change, make sure to use positive encouragement instead of shaming consumers for their current choices.