In 2021, the Energy & Environment Club, Food, Agriculture & Water Club, and Sustainability Club collaborated to host a single, two-day conference focused on climate change. The 2021 Climate Symposium facilitated discussion, debate, and idea-sharing on all things climate and included leaders across finance, tech, entrepreneurship, and policy. We spoke with Angela Son (MBA 2023), a member of the Sustainability Club, about the 2021 conference.

In previous years, the three clubs (Energy & Environment; Food, Agriculture, and Water; and Sustainability) hosted separate conferences. What was the impetus behind having a combined student club conference on climate change?

Though our three different clubs formed separately and organically over the years, the interconnectedness of the various pillars of climate change has become increasingly apparent in recent years. The topics across sessions and panels had numerous parallels, led by the many student leaders who are involved in all three clubs. For this year, the three clubs wanted to create a conference that can provide a comprehensive overview of topical and important issues in climate change for the audience and also to start off the year strong by providing them direct exposure to cutting-edge ideas and companies. The ultimate goal is to encourage dialogue and idea-sharing among students and practitioners in the field, so the clubs will keep experimenting with the format that works best to achieve that goal in the future.

What were the goals of the conference for both students and alumni?

For students, we wanted the conference to be both an educational experience but also a professional one, which is why we brought in the speakers and panelists in-person where we could. We wanted to help make the climate impact space feel less obscure and more approachable by creating the opportunity for students to interact with professionals – including many alumni that used to sit in our seats in Aldrich Hall – and hopefully be inspired about the type of impact they could make after HBS.

Similarly, for alumni, we wanted to provide them with an opportunity to reconnect with the HBS community and aspiring students, but also other alumni! In the panel on "Emerging Climate Technologies" that my co-lead Maxime and I organized, it turned out that most of the panelists knew each other (it’s quite an intimate industry), and the conference was a fun opportunity for them to also reconnect with and get an update on their peers.

Tell me about some of the major takeaways or key points that you learned from attending the conference.

There were so many!! If I had to pick the top three, they would be:

1. Opportunity in the climate impact space is endless right now. When I was graduating from college, I don’t think I would have had the same conclusion but at this conference, this message was loud and clear. Our speakers were hiring across the board and making strides in their respective areas of impact, and many echoed the sentiment that there is no better (and necessary) time to join the climate impact space than now with the amount of funding being provided by public and private markets.

2. There is no silver bullet solution and we need to be all-in on all solutions. Throughout the conference, we discussed numerous solutions to fight climate change, ranging from fusion energy to carbon mineralization, to plant-based foods, to green finance. What stood out to me was the message that all of our panelists drove home: while they believed that their solution was a critical piece of the puzzle, the only way we can accomplish our climate goals is to invest in all solutions that can bring short- to long-term benefits, small and large. It felt like there was a unique sense of camaraderie among the companies that stems from a unified purpose.

3. More than ever, business has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change. Of course, a large focus of the conference was on the role of business (we are a business school, after all). Beyond the expected bias towards business, however, what really struck me was the important role all businesses and their leaders have to play in the climate change space right now. While most climate solutions at scale will require a public-private partnership in the end, there is so much innovation and progress that businesses are uniquely positioned to bring, from spearheading voluntary corporate carbon removal programs to reimagining sustainable agriculture.

You had over 300 people register for the conference. What do you hope the attendees took away from the conference?

I hope that attendees learned something new and met some awesome people, but most importantly walked away with some inspiration (or courage!) to either pursue a career in climate or to think about ways they can make an impact on climate in their own paths.

What other events is your club working on this year?

The Sustainability Club is planning on doing more social events to foster a sense of community, help students get connected to the right industry players, and even go on a Trek to explore sustainability in different contexts! Stay tuned!

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