Sunil Paul is an investor and entrepreneur who created the Gigaton Awards and Gigaton Throwdown in response to a friend's comment, "You could make a lot of money and make no difference in climate." He is Founding Director of Spring Ventures, which invests in cleantech companies. He is a successful entrepreneur, having founded several firms including Brightmail, the leading anti-spam software now part of Symantec after a $370M acquisition. He is also co-founder and chair of Clean Economy Network, the largest cleantech and green business organization the U.S. We spoke with him about the origins of the awards and the importance of launching them now.
Q: What are the Gigaton Awards?
A: The awards are an effort to understand who in the world of industry - what business - is truly doing the most to stabilize the climate and recognize them for their accomplishments. Nominees are selected from those companies that have accomplished most in the prior year to reduce carbon emissions and reduce carbon intensity. Then a "Gigaton Academy" of business leaders makes the final decision weighing factors like leadership in the community.
Q: What is so special about them? Does the world really need another prize?
A: It's the only climate prize that rewards real results. If we are to truly tackle the climate crisis, we need results, in addition to the existing prizes that reward promises and innovation.
The prize is also unique because it is awarded by peers. It's like the Oscars. To get the respect of your peers in Hollywood, you can't just make money or promise to be the best actor. To get the respect of the world-wide business and climate community, its no longer enough to promise to take action.
Q: Where did the idea come from?
A: About three years ago a friend said to me, "You cleantech investors could all make a bunch of money and not make a bit of difference." He challenged me to understand what it takes to effect real change. The result was a project I dubbed "Gigaton Throwdown" that aims to educate and inspire massive scale up of climate stability solutions. We imagined a prize at the very beginning of the project, but first we issued a report outlining a framework and pathways to achieving real impact within the next ten years.
Q: Given the impasse of international climate talks and dimming prospects in the United States for national climate policy, is the climate role of industry different now?
A: The burden on businesses to achieve social impact is greater than ever in light of the lack of urgency around national and international climate policy. Businesses have more flexibility than governments to act, to achieve results. The good news is that there is often a compelling business case for corporations to take strong climate action. This trend will only continue to strengthen.
Q: Can business really make a gigaton difference?
A: We believe they can. Some companies have the economic might of small countries and certainly industries as a whole can have gigaton impact. For example, the output of the top 10 wind companies resulted in reductions of 53 million tons in one year. That is encouraging and points to the potential for others to do the same, and more.
Q: Are there are enough companies out there to actually merit an annual prize?
A: We hope that the award will catalyze more CEOs and company boards to vie for gigaton scale. Creating a new way of thinking in the corporate boardroom – this idea that businesses can have gigaton scale – is our goal. We're confident companies will see the logic as well, since ultimately the more successful a business is in achieving gigaton scale, the more successful it will be financially.
Q: Why did you pick just six categories? Are they the six with the biggest potential impact?
A: Yes, these are areas for major impact. We used the Gigaton Throwdown study as a baseline and then looked at sectors that report the largest emissions.