As part of my work at Undaunted – Imperial College London’s climate and sustainability innovation activity – I get to see many people from various backgrounds who have innovative ideas that could genuinely change the world in which we live.
A lot needs to be done to tackle climate change, and CleanTech and innovation are one of the important tools in this battle. We’re often with these innovators from the start of their journey; we help them understand the challenges of climate change, develop their skills and support their early-stage work in our dedicated accelerator programme, The Greenhouse.
Not only do we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, but we also need to prepare and make changes that will help us adapt to the climate change impacts already baked into the climate system because of our previous emissions. Innovation – either in terms of processes and services that help us use existing technology or technology that is developed from scratch – assists on all levels.
Innovation is particularly required in sectors where it is difficult to reduce emissions, such as in heavy industry, aviation and shipping, agriculture and in materials – from those used in manufacturing to those which are used in the fashion industry.
Climate change action can come from anywhere in society. Anyone can be an innovator who comes up with new ideas to solve problems or deliver a better future. The Women in CleanTech (WiCT) network that Undaunted coordinates are a gateway into the sphere for women who might need to learn how to develop their ideas, understand their roles as entrepreneurs and attract the financial backing required to make them a success.
Innovation shouldn’t have a gender barrier. The WiCT programme helps make women, who might not otherwise feel comfortable as entrepreneurs or confident to start, step into the innovation space. Including women, innovators secure the full diversity of thought and solutions we need to tackle climate change. This programme helps emphasise that in climate innovation, everyone is welcome. The characteristics that make promising innovators – flexibility, adaptability, determination, and ambition – bring budding entrepreneurs together.
Socioeconomic diversity is just as important a factor as gender, too. We need everyone to bring their experiences and ideas to help us protect the planet and deliver relevant solutions to all parts of society.
It can be financially demanding to be an entrepreneur; there needs to be a significant investment of time without pay, which might not result in financial gain, limiting the involvement of some innovators. It’s therefore important to show everyone, including WiCT participants just starting their careers, how exciting it is to start your working life as an entrepreneur, including highlighting the existing support.
Larger companies’ job adverts spread through traditional outlets quickly and are often already on graduates’ radars. Jobs advertised by smaller companies in the innovation space are harder to find, which is why people usually fill them plucked from a much smaller pool. It takes more work to reach these roles, so WiCT equips its participants with the tools they need to enter the job market confidently.
The climate challenge will not go away any time soon, but there are people out there who can help us tackle it. And that person could be anyone.
Alyssa Gilbert is the Director of Innovation at the Grantham Institute – Climate change and the Environment at Imperial College London, where she leads Imperial’s climate change and sustainability innovation activities, linking innovative students, staff and alums to opportunities to make a difference. In addition, she is the Director of Undaunted, a collaborative activity between Imperial and the Royal Institution seeking to create a home for climate innovation in London, supporting the successful creation and scale-up of businesses that tackle climate change.