Meet Molly Wood - for years she was the familiar voice on Marketplace Tech on NPR - shedding light on the key issues, trends, and innovation in the tech sector. Molly, a longtime journalist turned climate tech investor is now the voice of the climate economy. She's the founder and CEO of Molly Wood Media, where she finds, introduces, and invests in solutions to the climate crisis. She is the host of the super informative podcast "Everybody in the Pool," a business-focused show about the climate economy, and writes a newsletter by the same name. Previously, she was a managing director at LAUNCH, an early-stage venture capital firm, and was a writer and broadcaster at CNET/CBS, and the New York Times.
As part of our industry executive series we asked Molly to share some of her industry knowledge, observations, and lessons learned from her extensive experience as a journalist, storyteller, investor, and consultant in the dynamic climate tech space.
So Molly…how did it all start? Your interest and background in climate tech?
I spent 20+ years as a tech and business journalist, but the climate crisis was always sort of nagging at my in the back of my head, and I wasn’t sure how to fit it into my job. But I happened to be reading some climate sci-fi (Kim Stanley Robinson, of course) that contained some technological adaptations to climate-related disasters.
photo credit: Chris Michel
And at the same time, I happen to share a hairdresser with a world-renowned climate scientist who commented that climate solutions are, in some ways, now an “engineering problem.” I realized that climate (solutions) was both a tech story AND a business story, and a reporting series called How We Survive was born.
That, in turn, led me to reporting heavily on venture capital’s role in developing climate solutions, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to pivot into VC and try to take a more direct approach to catalyzing climate solutions. And now, I have a new company that combines my professional life of storytelling with scouting for and investing in those same solutions, and helping companies tell their climate stories as a consultant.
What do you see as the biggest issues in the world of decarbonization and renewable energy?
To borrow from John Doerr and Ryan Panchadsaram, speed and scale! We have so many of the tools we need, in solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower; now we just need rapid deployment across the US and especially the world, in places where coal might be cheap and tempting as a way to provide electricity where it may not even currently exist.
Tell us about some of the new technologies you’ve come across that you feel will have a demonstrable impact in the industry?
I’m personally very excited about mushrooms. Seriously.
Fungus-based bioreactors can break down and transform everything from construction waste to food waste to toxic debris, and even micro-plastics.
People are using mushrooms for fabric, gluten-free flour alternatives, new construction and packing materials–one activist even made a mycelium canoe.
I love these kinds of unexpected solutions that can lead to lots and lots of changes that add up to major impact. Also of course I’m very hopeful about nuclear fusion, but frankly, even regular nuclear power is a must-have part of the solution mix.
Double-clicking into that…when it comes to technologies what do you see as fads and which will stand the test of time?
Well, ok, fusion might be a fad. But if it works, it’ll be a miracle. I think sometimes we might also be pushing good solutions in the wrong way.
For example, it’s great to focus on electric cars, but do we have to create cars that are bigger and heavier than what’s even on the road now, and do we have to make people think they need 300+ mile range in every car they ever buy? And do we have to focus on EVs to the exclusion of e-bikes and even more importantly, reliable and clean public transportation, which is profoundly more impactful?
The same is true for solar: we’re slowly realizing that perhaps rooftop solar should give way to community solar projects, which can give more bang for the buck and benefit everyone in a community in a much more direct and affordable way. Sometimes it’s less the solution and more how we implement the solution.
Where do you think we will be five years from now – where would the needle have moved the most and why?
I think the needle will have moved the most in other parts of the world in terms of regulation and adoption. I suspect that in five years, the US will still be a bit of a laggard. But renewables represent the cheapest electrons on earth, so I see no reason to think the adoption of solar and wind energy won’t continue apace. Also I’m just going to be pie in the sky and say we’ll be negotiating a global price on carbon, to be followed by a carbon tax. Let’s go.
Aside from Minerva CQ of course, are there any exciting startups in this space that you’ve come across, and what do they do?
There are startups that connect consumers with renewable energy projects, and I love that. Universal Hydrogen is a super cool flight solution that uses modular hydrogen storage to retrofit regional aircraft AND be a stealth hydrogen logistics operation. Super ambitious and cool. All the mushroom ones: Mycoworks, Hyfe Foods, Biohm, which is “growing” insulation. The great news is that tons of people are working on tons of amazing solutions all over the world. Not to mention Minerva CQ. :)
What advice do you have for startups in the space and to those companies that would be using their solutions?
For companies, the hardest thing about this space, in some ways, is that the markets are new, and climate solutions might not be an obvious part of a company’s workflow. I would encourage you to tell that story to investors and to think a lot about it as you design a product. We all know it’s going to do good things in the world. But if you’re a startup and you’re looking for investment, you do have to have the economics in order and understand who’s going to buy this, and why. For companies, the ROI has to be there. And also, despite all the cold-hearted capitalism in the last answer, please do adopt new climate solutions, we need adoption to push this market forward. Why not do it now, before it comes an actual compliance need!?
Huge congratulations on your launch of Mollywood.co. Tell us more, what is it all about, your mission & vision and how do you see it growing over the next year?
THANK YOU! This is the one little company that’s the culmination of all the work I’ve been doing for the last 25 years for sure, and the last 7 or 8 years in particular. The goal is really to be the voice of the climate economy!
I help enterprise clients and startups tell their climate stories as a consultant and storyteller; I tell those stories myself in my newsletter and on my podcast; and I scout for investments as a venture partner with Amasia, a climate tech venture fund that’s focused on behavior change in the climate space. It’s a busy time, but I hope to keep growing the reach of the podcast and newsletter in the next year, and of course, since I’m in the consulting business now, signing as many clients as I can!
If you had one question to ask the industry leaders in the decarbonization and renewable energy space (and they had to answer) – what would that be?
Will capitalism kill us, or save us, or both?
If you can pick an actor to portray you in a Christopher Guest movie – who would play Molly Wood?