Allyship in Energy is the Key to COP26 Commitments

By Katie Mehnert, CEO, Ally Energy

As leaders gather in Glasgow for COP26, pledges to tackle climate change are center stage. Turning pledges into action will take unprecedented cooperation for the visible future. And that will mean transforming how our societies function -- in government and business.

It’s widely known that in order to meet climate goals, businesses need to revolutionize how they consume and produce energy. But to usher in a sustainable era, businesses also need to transform how they handle their most important resource of all: their workforces. To innovate at a scale humanity has never seen, organizations need ideas, contributions and involvement of people from all communities. It’s a true “all hands on deck” challenge.

This means creating ecosystems in which people from all walks of life are not only part of the team, but have the chance to speak up and be heard. In short, businesses need diversity and inclusion. True “inclusion” comes only when people act as allies for each other, ensuring their ideas and contributions are considered, and that they get opportunities to lead. This is why allyship builds much stronger organizations.

Nowhere is this more needed than in the energy sector. The pressures on energy companies are tremendous. The entire industry needs to come together to transition energy. It will take a diverse, inclusive workforce, coming together as one, to make that happen. Having created an organization to make this happen, I see first hand how powerful this can be.

How allyship boosts climate efforts

When a culture of allyship is in place, D&I flourishes and positive change follows. For years, research has shown that greater diversity and gender equality inside energy companies leads to greater advancements toward climate goals. As a Bloomberg story noted, Christiana Figueres, then secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said, “There is a clear parallel between the progress we’ve seen on gender equality and climate change. Evidence suggests that a greater presence of women in the boardroom and in senior leadership roles can help increase the corporate focus on climate change.” 

Earlier this year, Energy Monitor reported that “a diverse workforce would benefit the clean energy transition.” Ollie Folayan, co-founder of the Association For Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers - UK, said, “To achieve the energy transition, the sector needs innovative thinking and that is given rise to by teams of professionals with diverse perspectives and varied lived experiences.” 

Those lived experiences are particularly important, since women and minorities are disproportionately hurt by climate change. In fact, many experts who focus on these issues have called for COP26 to itself ensure that it has diverse leadership for these same reasons.

Boosting value and the bottom line

The good news for business leaders and investors: The same allyship that advances climate efforts also leads to financial success.

Right now, savvy investors are seeking out the climate tech startups that will be most impactful in the energy transformation. Blackrock CEO Larry Fink said recently that he believes “the next 1,000 unicorns — companies that have a market valuation over a billion dollars — won’t be a search engine, won’t be a media company, they’ll be businesses developing green hydrogen, green agriculture, green steel and green cement.”

Which startups will be the most successful? Those that build allyship not only internally, but also with other companies across the energy sector. This is what we’re seeing at Greentown Labs, the largest climate tech incubator in North America. By bringing startups together under one roof, Greentown is creating the community that will develop those future unicorns.

Ending fatalism, taking responsibility

This same allyship needs to echo in businesses and governments across the world. COP26 can set a strong example by demonstrating that it is possible to cooperate and build change together. As Chris Tomlinson wrote in The Houston Chronicle, “fatalism asks little from us. Accepting the consequences is easier than changing our behaviors.” But we’re facing a crisis, and coming together is a necessity.

Executive leadership coach Lolly Daskal has written about the story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. “There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.”

This is what happens when people point fingers and bicker, rather than working as one. It’s an apt metaphor. If you look at the arguments over climate change taking place across the United States and around the world, you see it at play. There isn’t time for this. Inside our businesses, governments and communities, we need to prioritize allyship. Now more than ever is the time to be an ally. Our climate and our children’s future depend on it.

Katie Mehnert is CEO of Ally Energy, a member of the Greentown “Climatetech” incubator. She is ambassador to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Equity in Energy Initiative, and author of Grow with the Flow.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.