This week, we went to The Drop climate tech conference in Malmö, Sweden! The Drop is a climate conference in its second iteration, bringing together 950 climate tech entrepreneurs and investors from across Europe and the world to accelerate climate solutions on the continent.
Climate tech and advocacy in Europe is at a critical moment. We spoke to the organizers, entrepreneurs and operators who are working in different sectors.
In the United States, much ado has been made about the explosion of climate investments from the IRA. But across the pond, funders and policymakers are working hard to keep European climate efforts at the cutting edge.
Building on long standing initiatives like the LIFE Programme, which will provide €5.7 billion to European climate projects through 2027, the European Union is taking a three-pronged approach to accelerating climate solutions. The European Climate Law (also known as the European Green Deal) packages three major policies into one:
These developments have helped create regulatory frameworks and funding opportunities for climate solutions in Europe, but headwinds remain. European venture capital funding to climate tech dropped 43% in the first half of this year to $5.6 billion, compared to $10.8 billion last year.
Bridging the gap between climate capital and climate entrepreneurs in Europe is part of what drove the Drop’s organizers to create the conference.
“Around 2019, we started thinking about how to create a conference that is action-based and brings together people who are eager to get things done now. There are many sides to that– activism, entrepreneurs, investors and we wanted to create a format where we blend the mentality,” said co-organizer Hampus Jakobsson of Pale Blue Dot.
“This year, we thought about the design function of this as a wedding, and we are going to invite everyone who is supposed to be at the wedding. Some people have to be there, like the cousin of the groom, and some people might be new invites, like a friend of the bride,” Jakobsson said.
“We wanted to include people who maybe don’t get invited to these conferences and defeat some of the imposter syndrome of new entrepreneurs and make impactful connections.”
We spoke to four entrepreneurs and operators at the Drop who are working in different climate solution sectors to tell us about their contributions to fight climate change in Europe.
Sunhero is a startup that manages electrification of residential consumer homes in southern Europe, helping them move to clean energy with heat pumps, EV chargers and batteries with ease.
CEO and co-founder Christopher Cederskog says that while northern Europe is doing relatively well with transitioning to renewables, southern European countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy still have room to improve.
“Over time we are going to become the largest provider of residential electrification in southern Europe,” he says. Sunhero works as a single point of contact for consumers to install solar and heat pumps while helping them understand the financial benefits as well.
“In places like Spain where public financing for home electrification is lagging and interest rates are high, consumers are particularly sensitive to the financial case, they need to see the payback. That’s the great thing about solar and electrification is that it provides a massive payback.”
To track impact, they depend less on calculating carbon saved, and instead keep tabs on the energy savings from their services to compare with other solutions. Sunhero recently did a study finding that if Rome converted all their taxis to EVs, Sunhero’s energy savings could power the fleet for a month.
Cederskog says that the demonstrable impact of their service on emissions drives his team and is attracting talent as they grow.
“At the end of the day, this is a consumer growth company that has a tangible climate impact. It is very easy to grasp– you can explain it to your grandmother. That attracts people from all sorts of backgrounds who are used to selling other products. They can find a home with us and help them help us. It’s my favorite thing about working in climate– it’s the people and the community.”
Faircado is a browser plugin that automatically refers shoppers browsing for products online to second hand options for the products they are looking to buy. They aggregate all second hand options for a variety of products to reduce consumption and save consumers time, money and CO2.
“We measure our impact by hacking consumption when it happens,” says co-founder and CEO Evoléna de Wilde d'Estmael.
“Anything you buy through Faircado is something that you didn’t buy new, so we can link the impact of what you would have bought and show that this is CO2 or resources that were not used in producing these new products.”
de Wilde d'Estmael says that their solution helps reduce consumption and emissions, but also makes sense for cost-conscious consumers who are increasingly worried about the impact of inflation and supply chain constraints on their purchasing power.
“The future as we see it is transitioning e-commerce into re-commerce growing significantly in Europe and the world. We are making second hand the first choice of every consumer because it just makes so much sense. It is significantly cheaper, significantly less CO2 and less waste– everyone wins.”
Planboo works on biochar carbon removal by enabling large farmers in the tropics to make biochar and generate carbon removal credits.
“Biochar is a pure form of carbon that is found inside biomass. We pyrolize the biomass (a process of cooking of biomass in a limited oxygen environment) and that stabilizes the carbon inside the biomass,” says co-founder and CEO Freddie Catlow.
“The peanut shells, tree trunks, waste biomass that comes out of agriculture, we cook this into biochar and apply it to the soil, which creates a water holding capacity. That puts air into the soil so that plants and roots and microorganisms can flourish in the soil.”
Planboo piloted in 2021 in Sri Lanka with a large tea company that also produced rubber and cinnamon. Since then, they expanded to bamboo biochar projects in Malawi and Thailand, in addition to managing encroaching species of trees in Namibia.
By teaching farms how to create biochar sustainably, farmers can add biochar to their soils to generate credits, which Planboo pays them to do.
Catlow says that the biggest advantage of biochar as a carbon removal technology is that it’s proven and ready to go, especially in the areas that need climate solutions most.
“The leading impact of biochar is to measurably remove CO2 and put it in the ground. You can reduce the amount of fertilizer that you use and avoid emissions there, and it’s a solution that is proven to remove carbon and is ready to scale,” Catlow says.
“The tropics are where plants grow the quickest due to the year-round sunshine, so there’s a lot of excess biomass. You can make biochar all year round, which is super important if we are going to combat climate change and global inequality together.”
ClientEarth is a unique environmental law firm that uses the power of law to restore balance between people and the planet. ClientEarth famously bought enough shares in a Polish energy company to sue them as shareholders, arguing that a planned €1.2 billion coal power plant was not in the best interest of the company.
They succeeded in that case, and ClientEarth Programme Director for Europe Adam Weiss says the Europe team continues to work to empower climate action.
“We have challenged the European Union enabling people in Europe to get better access to information about the environment. We are doing stuff like that all the time, challenging big business and companies in Europe and around the world.”
The law is not commonly seen as a climate solution, but Weiss argues it should be at the top of the list.
“The law is our best tool for making lasting change,” he says.
“What we’ve seen in climate and environmental issues generally is that voluntary commitments just aren’t enough. It’s systems change that will get the job done, and with systems change you need to hit high leverage impact points, and the law is one of them.”
For those working in the legal profession who want to switch to climate, Weiss says that all backgrounds are relevant and needed to fight climate change.
“There’s no one path to having this kind of career. I do have colleagues who worked at corporate firms, government lawyers– it’s that diversity that brings a lot of strength to ClientEarth. There’s no one way into this, just follow your determination and do it.”
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