The theme of the 2022 Annual Climate Symposium was Tackling Climate Togetherwith a focus on the intersectionality of climate change and the critical need for businesses, individuals, policy makers, and consumers to come together to develop innovative solutions that address the climate challenge. With over 500 tickets sold, the Symposium, held on HBS campus on November 6, 2022, facilitated conversation and reflection between leaders and experts from all areas and industries about the challenges and opportunities of climate change. Conference Co-Chair Angela Son explains the inspiration behind the 2022 theme: "When the co-chairs and I met earlier in the summer to decide on the direction of this year's Climate Symposium, we continued to come back to the themes of intersectionality of climate change across sectors and functions, and how only a combined effort from all angles can help us achieve our goals. This year's theme 'Tackling Climate Together' is a nod to COP27 but also to our hopes for open collaboration and communication amid a further polarizing world.”

The opening keynote address featured Irina Gerry, CMO of Change Foods, who started off the day by establishing that food production is incredibly resource intensive and that even a small shift in consumption and production can have a massive impact on greenhouse gas emissions. From there, Karen Skelton, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy at the Department of Energy, expressed her optimism that the IRA and recent tax credits, loans, and grants passed in Washington will drive innovation, accelerate the transition, and demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a managed transition to a low/no carbon economy.

Following the morning keynotes, attendees were given the opportunity to join a wide range of panel discussions featuring industry experts in the following areas: Energy Transition; Ag-Tech Innovations; Consumer Driven Sustainability; Living with Climate Change; Early Stage Climate Investing; Scaling Carbon Markets; Climate Mitigation & Adaptation in the Built Environment; Financing a Net Zero Future; Commercializing Climate Tech; The Future of Food.

When asked about the experience the co-chairs hoped to cultivate during the Symposium, Angela Son explained: “I hope that our attendees not only learned something new about their field of interest during the Climate Symposium, but also had a chance to engage with unfamiliar topics and start conversations on how to learn from even those who they may disagree with."

The day provided many different chances for the attendees to network, including coffee breaks in between panels and lunch to connect and mingle with fellow students, alumni, practitioners, faculty, and guests. “I was so inspired not only by the ideas shared in the panels and keynotes, but also by the number of students from HBS and beyond interested in pursuing a career focused on climate,” explained Conference Co-Chair Nina Dewees. “As our theme indicated, all sectors and industries must make tackling climate a priority, and we are all going to be the leaders that help make this change."

The Start-up Competition featured pitches from six finalist teams (of 36 total applicants - more than three times the number of applicants in 2021!) to a curated panel of judges. Finalist ventures included:

  • Active Surfaces: Flexible, lightweight solar (photovoltaic) cell innovation for any surface.
  • StepWise: Retail electric panel add-on that significantly reduces the fixed costs required to installing self-generation or energy storage.
  • WereWool: Designs and develops fibers for textiles that could bypass the toxic chemical dying and unsustainable materials sourcing of todays textiles industry.
  • SpaceSense: A platform designed to help geospatial data scientists and developers build AI solutions faster, easier and at scale.
  • SimonCycle: Plastics upcycling through a monomer chemical recycling technology that is able to remove contamination and reproduce virgin plastic qualities.
  • Earthbond: Digital platform that combines traditional group guarantees with carbon accounting and innovative financing to make solar affordable for urban Africans.

This year the grand prize winner was awarded to Active Surfaces and second place went to WereWool.

Rounding out the day was an interview of Tom Steyer, Co-Executive Chair of Galvanize Climate Solutions, by Jim Matheson, Special Advisor at BEV and The Engine, & Senior Lecturer at HBS, on the theme of Tackling Climate Together. The final key note underscored the notion that slowing climate change is ultimately about preventing human suffering and all institutions and individuals have a role to play in the solution. To achieve net-zero, every company must become a climate company and we need to do this together to succeed.

Conference Co-Chair Laura Romine reflected on the experience: “Chairing the Climate Symposium with Angela and Nina was one of the most important experiences of my time at Harvard Business School. The (green) energy was palpable as we brought together creative, passionate students and business leaders for a day of thoughtful conversations on the challenges and opportunities in climate. I continue to be inspired by the entrepreneurial solutions to climate change evolving within each sector and across them, from energy to food to the built environment and so much more.”

The Climate Symposium is a 100% student run conference and we’d like to extend a huge congratulations to the student Climate Symposium Co-Chairs, Co-Directors, and clubs for organizing such an incredible event, which demonstrates strong student leadership at HBS around this important topic.

This article was originally published on the HBS Business & Environment blog.