In this episode of Capital for Good we speak with Donnel Baird ’13, one of the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs leading our transition to a low carbon and more inclusive economy. Baird is the founder and CEO of BlocPower, a clean tech startup based in New York City that develops portfolios of clean energy retrofit opportunities in underserved communities and connects those opportunities to investors seeking social, environmental, and financial returns.
In this conversation, we discuss the early days of BlocPower and Baird’s decision to seek financial backing from mainstream investors who believe squarely in the commercial model of greening urban real estate, rather than from so-called impact investors. Baird notes that although his investors, who now include Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, Goldman Sachs, Prosperity Capital, Apple, Andressen Horowitz, Kapor Capital, and others, appreciate the social and environmental benefits that BlocPower creates — decarbonizing buildings in low-income communities reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improve health, and creates jobs — it’s the commercial power of the model that will bring it to scale. Baird says “There are 125 million buildings in the United States; they account for 30 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. If you can figure out how to decarbonize a building and move a building entirely off fossil fuels, then you can do all of the buildings on a city block, and if you can decarbonize all of the buildings on one city block, then you can decarbonize all the buildings in a city.” BlocPower is partnering with Ithaca, New York, the first city in the world to commit to green all its buildings by 2030, to decarbonize its full real estate stock. BlocPower has several other cities in the pipeline and ultimately intends to open source its approach; to become a “decarbonization platform” to supply the data, workforce, project finance, and model for others to follow suit.
Mentioned in this episode:
- “Making Buildings Green May Take a Chunk Out of Climate Change,” Soujourner Elleby (Bloomberg, 2022)
- BlocPower Is Turning Every Home Into the Equivalent of a Tesla, Ainsley Harris (Fast Company, 2022)
- Green Banks Target the Funding Gap for New York Energy Startups, Lee Harris (Financial Times, 2021)
- This US City Just Voted to Decarbonize Every Single Building, Tik Rook (Washington Post, 2021)
- Brooklyn-based Clean Tech Startup Bringing Rooftop WiFi to 100,000 Bronx Residents, Sharon Udasin (The Hill, 2021)
- Block by Block, He Aims to Fight Injustice and Save the Planet, Sarah Kaplan (Washington Post, 2021)
About the Capital for Good Podcast
Presented by the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, and hosted by Georgia Levenson Keohane, seasoned executive, award winning author, and an adjunct professor of social enterprise at Columbia Business School, the Capital for Good podcast provides a chance to hear from corporate and civic leaders about their visions, plans, commitments, and on the ground efforts to build a more just, inclusive, and sustainable society. Each episode features in depth and candid conversations with leaders across the private, nonprofit, and public sectors on unpacking solutions to some of our most urgent challenges. Learn more at bit.ly/KforGood.