The Brief | August 29, 2022

The Brief: Concrete steps to decarbonize cement, reforestation video game, diverse climate suppliers, India’s smallholder farmers, community solar + storage

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Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Featured: Climate Tech

New incentives spur building industry to take concrete steps to decarbonize cement. Discussions of “deep decarbonization” often turn to global production of concrete and cement, the ubiquitous building material responsible for up to one-tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions. Incentives to decarbonize buildings are sprinkled throughout the sprawling $369 billion federal climate-change bill U.S. President Joe Biden signed earlier this month. But real change in the production and use of concrete is going to come at the local level. “There’s such a variation of materials that go into concrete based on climate conditions and local resource access that it’s just inherently local,” said Chris Neidl of Open Air Collective, who is working with a coalition led by Colorado’s Boulder County and the city of Flagstaff in Arizona to find carbon removal solutions that store the captured CO2 in local concrete production. States like New York and New Jersey also are using their procurement power to promote the use of low-carbon concrete for public projects. “In most markets, the single largest buyer is going to be the city or the state or some combination,” Eric Dunford of carbon removal company CarbonCure Technologies told ImpactAlpha.

  • Cement tech. The flood of federal dollars has set off a rush to develop low- or no-carbon cement. Halifax-based CarbonCure injects captured carbon into wet cement, strengthening the material and locking away CO2 emissions. Brimstone Energy, based in Oakland, Calif., uses calcium silicate instead of limestone. ​​A byproduct, magnesium, absorbs the carbon from the air, which Brimstone says makes it cement carbon-negative. Vancouver-based Terra CO2 uses silicate rocks to partially replace limestone in the cement-making process. Biomason, a startup in Triangle Park, N.C., uses microbes to “grow” its cement substitute. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, backed by Bill Gates, has invested in many of the low-carbon cement companies. “We need to recognize that cement is a massive problem for climate and that nobody has figured out how to address it at scale without dramatically increasing costs or moving away from the regulated materials that the construction industry knows and loves,” Breakthrough’s Carmichael Roberts told CNBC.
  • Industry demand. “It’s time for concrete targets to reduce carbon emissions in years, not decades,” Jen Carson of Climate Group told ImpactAlpha. The London-based environmental services firm has helped bring together ConcreteZero, a coalition of building industry players looking to accelerate demand for low-carbon concrete among concrete users. Businesses in the collaborative, such as The Carey GroupMultiplex and Clancy Group, have committed to using only low-carbon concrete by 2050. ConcreteZero, Carson says “is signaling that the biggest buyers want the industry to innovate and act now.”
  • Keep reading, “New incentives spur building industry to take concrete steps to decarbonize cement,” by Roodgally Senatus and Amy Cortese on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Impact Gaming

Carbon Counts raises $7 million to gamify climate changeEverForest, the first game from upstart game company Carbon Counts, aims to help plant 100 million real trees on behalf of gamers by 2025. “We are harnessing the power of play to enable each person to make a small difference such that in aggregate we all can create transformative impact,” said Carbon Counts’ Michael Libenson. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company, which raised an initial $2.5 million last year, has rounded out its seed round with another $4.5 million from Borderless CapitalAlgorand, the Algorand Foundation and other investors.

  • Climate and crypto. Inside the game, players engage with trees, plants and funny animal characters to grow forests. As players progress, Carbon Counts will plant real trees on their behalf through partners including Eden Reforestation and Earth Lungs. The team says Algorand blockchain technology will enable the effort “to use the power of playing and planting to help address the climate crisis.”
  • Creative capital. Investors are increasingly interested in the potential positive impact of video games (see, “Investing in the impact of powerful new voices in film and video games”). About a quarter of the more than 100 investment funds identified by Upstart Co-Lab that invest in the creative economy have invested in “social impact media” opportunities, including film and television. E-Line Media’s Never Alone game features Alaska Native storytellers and elders and was created in partnership with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, which now holds an equity stake in E-Line (for background, see “Exploring and extending world cultures through video games).
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Apple accelerates Black-, Latinx- and Indigenous-owned suppliers to meet its climate goals. The second cohort of the tech giant’s Impact Accelerator includes Navajo Power, a majority Native-owned firm led by Brett Isaac that develops utility-scale clean energy projects; Camden-based energy efficiency company IJB Electric, led by Ibrahim Branham; and Atlanta-based water data analytics company Aquagenuity, founded and led by Doll Avant. Rather than funding, the group receives business training and tools to succeed as an Apple supplier. Apple says several companies from the earlier cohort joined Apple’s supply chain network.

  • Climate tech. Other members of the latest group include soil management company Solena Ag, led by Irving Rivera, in Foster City, Calif.; Slater Infrastructure Group, a water stewardship firm founded by Jeanne Simkins Hollis in Alpharetta, Ga.; and RENUoil of America, led by Isabell Ysassi, an on-site recycling company in Las Vegas.
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Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Amp Energy secured $155 million in tax equity and debt financing from KeyBank and U.S. Bank for community solar and energy storage in New York and Massachusetts.
  • U.K.-based Anaphite scored £4.1m ($4.8 million) to incorporate low-cost graphene into lithium-ion batteries for faster charging, in a round led by impact investor Elbow Beach Capital.
  • Harvesting Farmer Network secured $4 million from Social Capital to help smallholders in rural India access farm inputs and financial services. 
  • Friends Provident Foundation will double its £1.5m ($1.8 million) allocation to Snowball, a London-based impact fund of funds that invests in social equity and environmental sustainability.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Tim Youmans, ex-of Federated Hermes’ EOS, joins Calvert Research and Management as executive director and corporate engagement strategist… The California Endowment is hiring an investment officer for mission related investments in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno or San Diego… Big Society Capital is looking for an ESG and EDI manager in London… LeapFrog Investments seeks a profit with purpose analyst in Mumbai or Singapore… The African Green Revolution Forum is hosting its AGRF 2022 Summit Sept. 6-9 in  2022 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Thank you for your impact!

– Aug. 29, 2022