Sep 052012

by Jacqui Cleaver (MBA ’13)

Note: Each of the participants in the Spring 2012 SVC Smith Experience was asked to blog about a session that piqued their interest at this year’s Social Enterprise Symposium.

“Climate change is one of the greatest wealth
generating opportunities of our generation.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Carbon War Room

What initially drew me to the Carbon War Room Workshop session at the Social Enterprise Symposium was the promise of a hands-on business innovation exercise.  While I greatly appreciated the short lectures and animated panel discussion provided during other sessions that I attended at the Symposium, I learned lessons from the Carbon War Room session that I will be able to apply both inside and outside of the classroom.


The Carbon War Room, founded by Sir Richard Branson, sets out to solve climate change through the use of market driven business models.  According to the Carbon War Room, 50% of emissions can be profitably reduced, without policy changes, through the use of existing technologies.  Barriers such as transaction costs and lack of information exist in each industry and prevent the uptake of relevant technologies for carbon emission reduction.

While the Carbon War Room currently operates within the context of a few industries including shipping, renewable jet fuels, green capital, and Brazilian livestock, they have identified 7 sectors and 15 sub-sectors that have potential “Gigaton-Scale” solutions, in other words the potential for large carbon emissions savings.

The Carbon War Room begins their work by analyzing an industry to determine what barriers exist that keep capital from being invested in sustainable high return solutions to climate change.  The next step involves identifying which solutions and technologies to target and how to deploy these technologies so as to overcome the barriers that exist that prevent their uptake and scale up in a particular sector.  An important aspect of this final step is business innovation mapping, a process in which the traditional business model is drawn up, re-drawn, mixed up and re-thought in order to create new ways of offering a particular technology, product or service so that market barriers are overcome and technologies that help solve climate change while generating wealth, are adopted.

This business innovation mapping was the basis for the hands-on aspect of the Symposium session.  In order to practice innovation mapping we were introduced to Momentum Dynamics, a start-up clean technology company that has developed a mechanism to wirelessly recharge electrically powered vehicles.  In order to structure our ideas and have a visual of a potential business model for Momentum Dynamics, we used the Business Model Canvas, which facilitates the design and innovation process of building a business model.  Once we understood the intuition behind the business innovation process as well as the opportunities and challenges faced by Momentum Dynamics, we broke into small groups to develop new insights and innovative ideas for Momentum Dynamics’ business model.

The lessons that I learned during this session, including the actual process of business innovation and the use of the Business Model Canvas, are directly applicable to my WRI: New Ventures India Social Venture Consulting project.  The objective of the WRI: New Venture project is to evaluate innovative technologies and business models that could be adopted by entrepreneurs in India to both create a profitable business opportunity as well as address the challenge of providing clean drinking water to communities in India.

I think the most valuable take away for me was the importance of identifying barriers to the uptake and scale up of existing, potentially profitable, sustainable technologies.  This seems intuitive but I think it is a step that many people undervalue in terms of importance.  In the WRI project we are tackling our study a bit differently and to some extent it seems as though we are working backwards in terms of the steps delineated by the Carbon Warm Room.  They find barriers first and then look at technologies and business innovation.  That being said the objective of our project is a scoping study so I’m not suggesting a change in what we are doing as our research can easily lead to implementation.  An analysis of the water industries barriers to sustainable technology uptake could be an interesting continuation of the project if New Ventures India has not already done so.

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