GreenBiz’s Heather Clancy on the Business of Climate Tech
Jun 15, 2023 Natalie DiDomenico
There isn’t one piece of technology that can address climate change in its entirety. From carbon capture to ocean tech, each facet of the climate crisis needs dedicated entrepreneurs that bring innovative solutions to market.
Business practices play a huge part in combating climate change, and GreenBiz’s Heather Clancy is eager to share the latest climate tech business solutions with her readership. The two of us talked about her solutions-driven reporting interests, predictions for the climate tech space, and the top things she wants PR pros to know when pitching. You can follow Heather on Twitter and LinkedIn.
This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Natalie: You cover climate tech startups for the GreenBiz Practical Magic section. What kind of stories do you get most excited about?
Heather: I get most excited about climate tech that's focused on the practical industrial side of things. Examples include tech that helps a company reduce their water consumption at a factory, allows them to reuse water, or that could take carbon out of a current production process – whether that's by electrifying the equipment or capturing the carbon. I'm not that high on carbon offsets and carbon markets. I realize they have a place, but I would like to see much more attention paid to practical tech and inventions related to that.
I’m also really interested in water technology. This could be things that are factory related, like efficiency of water usage, water capture, or things like drip irrigation systems in the ag tech world.
Water is an underappreciated issue related to climate change. People don't think of water as a climate issue, but it's huge. That's an area that gets me really excited. The ocean is another area that has me really interested, specifically things like aquaculture or carbon removal technologies. There are also interesting things coming into play that use the ocean's ability to capture carbon.
My problem always is I have way too many ideas, so it's hard to narrow it down!
Natalie: So you also co-host the GreenBiz 350 Podcast. How is that storytelling medium different from your writing?
Heather: We are in the process of figuring out what we want this podcast to be. But I see it as my opportunity to have a conversation with someone about an interesting topic that's related to what we're doing at GreenBiz.
I very rarely have a direct link between who I interview on the podcast and who I write about. Usually I'm just interviewing someone really interesting. I do a lot of interviews about environmental justice issues on the podcast that I don't always write about. I feel like it's a chance to be a little bit more personal and have more of a conversation. And usually when I interview someone, I'm thinking through how we could cover it in the future.
Natalie: How do climate change conferences and reports impact your coverage?
Heather: They inform our coverage, but we don't cover them as news. I usually use reports as background or catalysts for other stories, but I don’t really report on them. We know that there's a climate crisis, and so for us that's not really news. But I would cover solutions that are possible and currently usable to address report findings. I would have to say I got completely flooded with pitches offering comments on the IPCC report. In those cases I’m like “that’s cool, but I’m not covering it.” Data from those reports is not news. The news is what we do about it.
Natalie: What area do you think needs more attention?
Heather: One would be industrial water usage. And when I say industrial, I'm mainly referring to manufacturing, but this could also apply to data centers. Water reuse is an interesting thing, and I’m curious about how companies can reuse their water and decrease their draw on watersheds. I’m also interested in anything that’s focused on reuse efficiency.
The second would be data related, and risks that a company faces when expanding or undergoing development. This could be a service that allows a company to see where they might have a facility that could be flooded in the future, and whether they should even build there. The insurance industry is really interested in water data, and how they need to be pricing policies moving forward.
And then the third topic I would say doesn’t receive enough attention is agriculture. For example, how can agriculture reduce its own footprint on water, and how can farmers use less water in general.
We’re a business to business publication, so I look at water specifically as it applies to the business world. I don’t cover city municipal water strategies. That kind of news or thought leadership isn’t really applicable for GreenBiz.
Natalie: So what changes have you seen in the climate tech space during your time at Green Biz and did any and did any particularly surprise you?
Heather: I've been writing for Green Biz since 2012. Honestly, I would say now we have more focus on a broader range of topics. GreenBiz used to be a publication that only focused on energy related things like grid optimization, decentralizing the grid generation, and efficient energy efficiency. Now, there are more investors focused on what I call the industrial climate tech space, where there's actual physical real work happening in a company's infrastructure. The climate tech community is becoming much more aware that they need to spend time talking to frontline communities.
The thing that surprises me is the fight over carbon capture technology. To me, it seems like a no-brainer that we need this and other things that decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. But it seems to have become a controversial topic, in that many activists, if you will, believe that carbon capture is a cop out. They believe it enables fossil fuels and fossil fuel industries to remain status quo. The fact that so many people are questioning whether we should be investing in that is surprising to me because we need all of the solutions.
One other change, which hasn't happened nearly to the extent that it should, is that more entrepreneurs of color are becoming recognized as part of the community.
Natalie: What do you think companies often get wrong about their corporate climate commitments?
Heather: They're too nebulous and too far in the future. There aren’t enough specifics for the short term.
Natalie: What are your future predictions for the climate tech space?
Heather: I think that the ocean will become a center of more climate tech very quickly. We don't know much about the ocean, but we're starting to see technologies that help us enable more understanding. Secondly, more people are looking at the ocean because it suddenly has become a hotly contested potential source of the metals that we need for a lot of the climate tech inventions we’re seeing.
Humanity needs to really look at the ocean as a potential source of the climate crisis solution. The other thing is from a food standpoint, the ocean is a great potential source of nutrients and protein, in all forms. Not just animal based, like in fish and so forth, but also plant based seaweeds and other other organisms that come from the ocean. I think there will be much more activity centered on the ocean in the future.
Natalie: Climate change can be a heavy topic, how do you stay hopeful?
Heather: Any climate solution, even if it's not to scale, makes me feel more optimistic. I love hearing about a really cool new idea. I also love listening to young people that have this crisis at the center of their psyche. The generation before me, plus my own generation, really messed things up and solutions haven't been moving quickly enough. I hear the resolve of younger folks, and it makes me more determined.
Natalie: You're the point of contact for contributed content at GreenBiz. What would you like a PR professional to know when they're pitching a contributed article?
Heather: There are a couple things. One is that the best place to pitch to is firstname.lastname@example.org. Number two is that we don't take that much content, so don't feel disheartened. Most of what we receive doesn't reflect an understanding of our audience. We're business to business, and we have an expert audience.
Many of the things that we receive are far too basic for our audience and don't reflect the knowledge base of a corporate sustainability professional. You don't have to convince our audience that we need climate solutions. Instead, our readers are looking for very practical ideas. We want stories about a sustainability problem, and how the company got around it. And they want details, not a vague “invest in this” sort of thing.
And then the other thing is if you are a thought leader at an AI software company that's pitching a story about why AI is the most important thing in the clean energy realm, that's marketing content. It's not appropriate as an editorial submission and it's going to get bounced over to our sales team.
The first thing I do when I get a pitch is I look at who the pitch is from. Then, I'll look at the source before I even read it. If it's the CEO of an AI company that's pitching an AI story, I might completely agree with the point of view, but if it seems like a piece of marketing content, it's not considered to be editorial.
Natalie: What do PR professionals do that's most helpful to you? What is the most annoying?
Heather: The most helpful is when I get a pitch that reflects who my audience is, and that has some ideas beyond the interview that you're pitching. This could be some of the company’s clients that could also talk, or offering an analyst or outside expert that could also talk about this topic. Having some additional sources of independent opinion is important.
Secondly, we're not staffed to be a news organization. If you're pitching an embargoed funding announcement on Monday afternoon, and it’s a Tuesday announcement, it's not going to get covered. It could, however, be covered down the road as an analysis. We tend to do more news analysis than breaking news. We cannot respond to embargoes that don't give us enough of a lead time. I would say we need at least a week.
Annoying things are contacting me about a pitch and expecting a response in 24 hours. I get upwards of 100 to 120 emails a day, most of which I delete if they're not appropriate because they have nothing to do with my beat. As GreenBiz, we don't cover consumer issues or consumer products. We don't usually cover products at all, unless it's a business to business product. I do stash some pitches. I keep a folder of things that could be the background for a future story. If I can’t handle it right now, it may be something I revisit down the line.
PR people that try to have a little bit of a relationship and aren't so transactional I find are very helpful. I can tell when you're bothering me because you need to get that interview and you've got some kind of number of interviews that you're supposed to nail for a client. That's one thing that PR people have trouble understanding – you're thinking it's just an interview, but reporters are writing on deadline.