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How does Miami become a place where great climate tech companies are built?
… and 32 organizations
Why it matters
Why we need to make Miami a place where great climate tech companies are built
By Matt Haggman with additional reporting by Riley Kaminer for Opportunity Miami
As the reality of climate change becomes widely accepted, new industries are emerging around the world with business models centered on reducing or reversing the greenhouse gas emissions warming our planet — and doing it profitably. No single hub has emerged for these businesses, which will create the jobs of the future. It’s in Miami’s interests to embrace efforts to cut carbon emissions – it’s a coastal city threatened by sea-level rise. But there is another reason to become a place that pioneers climate solutions: it’s one of the biggest business opportunities in decades. Some call it the biggest business opportunity in our lifetime.
Climate tech is a term for any new business model or technology that reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This includes how we manufacture things, how we get around, how cool or heat our homes and offices, how we produce our food and where we get our energy.
The category is growing because of consumer demand, government policies, and new technologies that make green products and processes more competitive than they were during the “cleantech” boom 20 years ago. Indeed, climate-friendly tech and operations play a major role in some of the largest American companies, including Tesla, Apple, and Microsoft.
World leaders have pledged to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, which scientists identify as a tipping point for climate change. While environmentalists say those pledges are long on talk and short on action, billions of public and private dollars are nonetheless flowing to transition the global economy to one that is net-zero, meaning one that is putting no more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than are being removed.
In his book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” Bill Gates wrote that the “countries that build great zero-carbon companies and industries will be the ones that lead the global economy in the coming decades.” The same can be said for cities.
Miami can be one of these places. It’s on the frontlines of climate change and widely associated with the challenges a warming planet presents. As a result, it can be a proving ground where new ideas, innovations, and cutting-edge ideas are tried first, making it attractive to companies in the broad category known as climate tech.
New climate tech companies, combined with government efforts to reduce energy consumption and shrink Miami’s carbon footprint, will create tens of thousands of so-called green jobs, many of which require skilled workers but not college degrees, opening new paths for social mobility.
Two decades ago, lots of money flowed into cleantech but then turned away during the 2008-12 recession. Now the investment is back at a greater scale — and with a greater focus on profitability.
In 2021, climate tech startups attracted $39 billion in funding – up 86% from 2020 figures. Investment in climate tech startups grew almost 6x from 2016 to 2021.
Zooming out to the broader investment landscape, climate tech companies overall raised $87.5 billion between July 2020 and June 2021, according to PwC Global. These figures are impressive if you consider that VC-backed American companies raised $329.9 billion in 2021.
From 2020 to 2021, venture capital investment aimed at decarbonizing the world nearly doubled. Automakers continue to make bigger financial bets on an electric vehicle future; General Motors declared it will sell only EVs by 2035. Wall Street saw a 96 percent year-over-year investment increase in mutual funds focused on sustainability.
BlackRock’s Larry Fink — leader of one of the world’s biggest money management firms — recently wrote that a tectonic shift is underway as investors move toward sustainability-focused companies. It’s likely just the start. Fink declared in a letter to CEOs that the “climate transition presents a historic investment opportunity.”
Chris Sacca, who oversees the $800 million VC fund Lowercarbon Capital, writes that transformation of massive industries such as aviation, building or steelmaking will happen through the invention of processes that are not only cleaner, but also “cheaper, better, faster, stronger, simpler, and just plain cooler than what’s available today.”
Lowercarbon Capital invests in companies that are slashing carbon emissions, pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, or buying time. Its portfolio includes a company producing industrial chemicals with enzymes, not petrochemicals; others producing beef without cows, bacon without pigs, and cheese without milk, consuming less energy than traditional agriculture; and a startup using artificial intelligence to transform the way flood insurance is sold and paid.
Green jobs as a path to the middle class
As climate tech transforms more and more sectors of the economy, the definition of a green job will expand dramatically, encompassing marketers of electric vehicles to accountants at sustainable manufacturers to bankers creating instruments to mitigate flood risk. In fact, Lowercarbon Capital’s Clay Dumas told the Opportunity Miami podcast that eventually, all jobs will be green jobs.
For now, however, the term generally describes roles such as solar installers, EV mechanics, and construction workers retrofitting buildings. Because many of these jobs tend to be higher paying with lower barriers to entry, such as a college degree, there’s a unique opportunity to achieve meaningful upward mobility.
Occupations related to the green energy transition, a Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program study concluded, offer a “potent antidote to the inclusion challenges of the modern American economy.”
The growth of green jobs is not theoretical — it’s underway. LinkedIn reports that in 2015, the ratio of oil and gas to renewable and environmental jobs was 5:1. But by 2020 it was closer to 2:1. “At this rate, we expect that renewables and environment could actually outnumber oil and gas in total jobs on our platform by 2023, a major pendulum shift towards green jobs in a relatively short period,” Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s Chief Economist, wrote in September.
The City of Miami recently published a report on the city's green economy and found that, from 2015 to 2019, green jobs grew at a 3.8 percent annualized growth rate compared to 1 percent growth for Miami’s non-green industries. On top of that, green jobs proved more durable during COVID, as green jobs showed little to no job loss while non-green sectors shed more than 6,000 jobs, the report found.
“This underlines the City of Miami’s strong potential to become a hub for green jobs in the future,” the draft report concluded. “By spurring demand for renewable energy, energy, and resource efficiency, electrification, and climate adaptation infrastructure now, these growing industries can continue adding green, middle-skill jobs that provide liveable wages.”
You’ve heard green jobs are the future. Ian Wogan and his crew have them now, working as landscapers in Miami. They use trees and native plants to filter carbon emissions, reduce the urban heat-island effect, and mitigate flooding. Read our profile of Ian Wogan story.
Atena Sherry/Opportunity Miami
We explore solutions to make Miami a place where great climate tech companies are built and green jobs are created. Watch or listen to the Opportunity Miami podcast here.
Do you have thoughts about how to move forward faster? Send us your ideas.
Where we are now
Though we’re early in the process, the seeds of a climate tech ecosystem are starting to be planted in Miami, leading to the potential creation of green jobs and businesses.
Miami-Dade’s Climate Action Strategy commits the county government to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. An initial step was ordering 75 electric buses for its 700+ bus fleet, underlining that government procurement can be a powerful driver for climate tech firms. The county appointed the nation’s first “Chief Heat Officer,” Jane Gilbert, in 2021.
Miami Dade Public Schools has resolved to get to 100% clean energy by 2030 — the most ambitious goal of any school system in the country. Gilbert heads the task force shaping implementation of this aggressive timeline. And the City of Miami on Nov. 18 committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 while investing in growing the green economy.
The private sector is showing leadership as well. In September, American Airlines announced it was investing $100 million in Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy initiative, which will include a focus on sustainable aviation fuel and long-duration energy storage.
Companies focused on sustainability are expanding to Miami. Norway-based Atlantic Sapphire opened in Homestead, starting what’s expected to be the largest land-based salmon farm in the world, with a lower carbon footprint than current industry practices. Seaworthy Collective’s new venture studio will help incubate promising blue tech startups, and climate-focused startups are emerging across South Florida, including Carbon Limit in Boca Raton, SustainaBase in West Palm Beach, and Blue Frontier in Parkland. Plus investors, such as Starlight Ventures and Mission One Capital, both based in Miami, are focused on companies building the net-zero economy.
More avenues for green economy upskilling are starting to emerge. Miami Dade College and Tesla are partnering on a 16-week program focused on training electric vehicle service technicians. MDC has similarly launched a program focused on training the next generation of solar energy specialists. The University of Miami’s Herbert Business School has also launched a Master of Science in Sustainable Business.
The Aspen Ideas Festival held a climate conference on Miami Beach in early March. Tracks included “Climate-Smart Money” and “Clean Power, Bright Future.” During the conference, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced a handful of new climate tech initiatives. This includes the county’s implementation of energy-saving shore power technology, plus partnerships with a blue tech accelerator and a climate-focused venture studio.
Miami’s growth as a tech hub not only offers the chance to look forward to the future we can build but also an opportunity to look inward at the problems we need to solve for the community that we, as Miami innovators and entrepreneurs, serve. For this momentum to last far beyond this decade, Miami must LEAD the fight against climate change and ocean degradation. Otherwise, we quite literally will watch it get washed away. Read Daniel Kleinman’s essay for Opportunity Miami: Miami’s blue economy leads sea change for South Florida climate tech.)
South Florida is on the front lines of climate change. Miami-Dade County estimates that by 2040, sea levels will be 10 to 17 inches higher than they were in 2000. Anya Freeman is on a mission to 3D print seawalls that both protect shorelines and improve water quality. The main advantages of this approach are speed, cost, and flexibility: a wide range of designs can be quickly constructed at a relatively low cost. The startup has already begun working on two pilot projects in Miami.
“The rest of the world is waiting to see how Miami will respond to climate change,” Freeman said. “It’s either going to be a lesson for the rest of the world if we fail or an example.”
Not only is agriculture a big business – a $1.8 billion industry in South Florida alone – but it has a tangible effect on our lives and our environment on a daily basis. Lior Barhai is the co-founder and CEO of Envonics, a local startup that is building technology to make agricultural production more efficient and sustainable. The startup is developing hardware and software products to digitize the farming process. Their flagship product monitors the nutrients provided to controlled-environment agriculture to more efficiently grow produce.
“We are giving farmers information about their plants’ growth that they’ve never seen before: data that they can actually act upon,” said Barhai.
The scientists at Miami-based iQBiotech are developing products to help plants grow and stay healthy. Their main focus is currently on alternatives to the harmful chemicals widely used in agriculture. There is a major opportunity for crop protection products that are safe and effective. iQBiotech partners with universities, including the University of Florida, to find innovative solutions to some of agriculture’s thorniest problems. Having Miami as their hub has been a critical contributor to the company’s success, explained de Cote Mesa, considering the city’s close ties to the Latin American market and our state’s major agricultural production.
“Climate change is making farmers less productive,” said de Cote Mesa. “So you have to find ways to make farms more productive and produce higher-quality goods in the smallest amount of space possible.”
Solving for the future
When the pledges by national leaders at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference in November fell short of what scientists say is needed to get to net-zero by 2050, venture capitalist Chris Sacca tweeted, “It’s up to the rest of us to [save] the planet. Scientists, entrepreneurs, state and local leaders, non-profits, companies, consumers, and investors. All of us.”
While the impact of national policy can’t be underestimated, Miamians have the ability to shape our own future. On Episodes 1 and 2 of the Opportunity Miami Podcast, we heard from Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Chief Heat Officer Jane Gilbert, Public Schools board member Luisa Santos, as well as venture capitalists Clay Dumas, Christian Hernandez, Patricia Wexler, and Kiel Berry. Some takeaways from those conversations and our research:
Local governments can push businesses toward net-zero through regulation, creating demand for climate tech services and green jobs. An example: In 2019 New York City passed Local Law 97 which requires most buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024. In cities like Miami, the three big sources of carbon emissions are transportation and mobility, residential building, and commercial buildings.
If regulation is the stick, procurement is the carrot. Simply through how it chooses to spend public dollars and what it chooses to buy, local governments can drive dramatic change. Miami-Dade’s decision to order 75 electric buses is one example; other policy decisions involving the county’s more than $9 billion budget could transform countless others. An example – if municipal authorities decided to require cool pavement, it could stir significant business activity.
The county, public school, and city action plans will encourage climate tech and green jobs, including by building infrastructure for electric vehicles. In addition, integrating the Miami-Dade Public Schools’ transition to clean energy into the curriculum will help produce 2030 graduates who are prepared for the new economy.
Higher education also has a vital role in developing the talent that will power the climate tech economy. A recent report on growing green jobs in Los Angeles suggests aligning worker training programs with green jobs; developing a regional consortium to advance green jobs including a focus on curriculum alignment and job placement, and building more programs focused on upskilling and reskilling for green jobs. Colleges and universities will be also critical in building out the green economy workforce.
Miami’s startup ecosystem can do more to embrace climate tech. Seaworthy Collective, which is nurturing companies focused on innovations in the ocean, is highlighting the opportunity. But we could focus on startups across climate tech. Organizations in other cities incubating the next generation of green startups include NewLab and Urban Future Lab in New York City and Greentown Labs in Boston. Organizations such as these could be brought to Miami.
Tech ecosystems are built on a foundation of research. Florida International University is a leader in computer science, and the University of Miami in data science, but there is no such thing as too much talent. New York City’s effort to launch a global competition to establish climate-focused research and educational campus on Governors Island could be replicated in Miami.
What you can do today?
In his book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” Bill Gates outlines what we can do as individuals.
Engage your elected leaders — and even consider running for office: Putting this new energy system in place requires political action. Engaging in the political process “is the most important single step that people from every walk of life can take to help avoid a climate disaster,” Gates says.
Align your purchases with what’s important: Gates says we can send signals to the market about what’s important. Buying an electric vehicle, eating a plant-based burger, reducing home emissions, and using clean energy are all good ideas, he says — though we need to remember that only the broad systemic change will get us to net zero.
There are a host of reports that dig deeper into transitioning to net zero and the green jobs that will come with it. Miami-Dade County published its Miami-Dade Climate Action Strategy in April. That same month, the City of Miami published its Miami Forever Carbon Neutral Plan. That plan was subsequently augmented by the Miami Forever Carbon Neutral: Growing the New Green Economy report. For a perspective from another city, there is the Green Jobs in Los Angeles report. And for a broader look at the possibilities of green jobs increasing equity and inclusion, see “Advancing including through Clean Energy Jobs” by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. For a global view of investment, see PwC Global’s State of Climate Tech 2021. For more insights into the enabling role policymakers can play in promoting tech-powered solutions to climate change, see States Regenerate.
Organizations on the ground: Miami-based organizations tackling climate with business tools include Starlight Ventures, Mission One Capital, and the Seaworthy Collective. It’s also home to nonprofits such as Solar United Neighbors, which advocates for rooftop and community solar power, and the CLEO Institute, a leader in nonprofit climate education. Who is missing from this list? Let us know.
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