Harvard University and Pique Action recently released their "Climate Creators to Watch 2023" list. Each individual earned their spot for their creative use of the app TikTok to tackle the subjects of environmental racism, activism and education in a nuanced manner. And while I scrolled through the creators’ hilarious songs about Greta Thunberg and informational videos outlining how to convert a plot of land into a food forest, I kept thinking to myself: There is no way Walter Cronkite anticipated this as the future coverage of Earth’s rising temperature.
Because behind the humor and green screens, many TikToks are really just a performative form of journalism and education (see The Washington Post’s humorous TikTok sketches as a shining example). And because of the levity infused in the content (and countless beauty influencers’ tone-deaf flaunting of their sponsored trips to Dubai), it can be easy to write off TikTok as an enjoyable waste of time, filled with funny but ultimately shallow videos.
But, per usual, nothing is that black and white (except the three giant black and white cookies currently in my freezer, obviously). A diverse group of people are providing information and educating audiences about the climate crisis in a hopeful and engaging manner. Instead of dryly regurgitating the numbers from the latest IPCC report into a camera without offering any guidance to solving the problem, companies and creators alike are releasing videos about making the solutions to climate change sexy. Or you have videos that detail France’s new law requiring solar panels in car parks garnering over 22,000 likes.
To better understand this new frontier of information sharing, I spoke with Pique Action founder and CEO Kip Pastor, who told me that "91 percent of millennials and Gen Z consume news and information from social media weekly." Using that trend as a guiding light, Pique Action helps companies and creators cater their innovative tech to the chronically online generations. Pastor explained, "We profile a lot of climate tech companies that are B2B [business-to-business], and no matter how much money they’ve raised or how far along they are, they haven’t put together a plan to reach a broader audience to create awareness generally about their sector level, or about their technology."
So Pique Action bridges the divide between climate solution providers and their stakeholders because they believe that change is inevitable. "[The climate crisis] is the most significant issue of our time, and we know that it’s going to revolutionize industries and [lead] to companies being built," Pastor said. The company releases clips introducing carbon sequestration ventures such as CarbonCure or recycling startup AMP, which uses software to identify valuable materials from single stream recycling.
And that’s really the root of it. TikTok, at its most cynical core, provides 15-, 30- and 60- second commercials from which we watch and learn. But because of the actionable content and timely nature, these commercials aren’t viewed as the boring bit of capitalism interrupting an episode of "NCIS." Instead, TikTok creators use the platform and algorithms to create commercials and PSAs that are simultaneously advertisements for different startups and innovations and calls to action and are timely and informational (yes, that many "ands" were necessary).
Take the above TikTok about hydrosolar tech company Source, created by VC firm Fifth Wall. Fifth Wall invested in Source’s Series D round back in July. Then, in December, it released a 53-second TikTok breaking down the company’s tech. This isn’t a video you’d expect to see at an annual shareholder meeting, but rather produced in a way that feels intimate and accessible to a broader audience. In just under a minute, the narrator addresses the company’s ability to impact global water scarcity, plastic use and grid reliability, all while promoting Source’s hydropanel as "cool tech you didn’t know about." Fifth Wall’s relationship and investment in Source is publicly available, although not promoted on TikTok.
This trend of companies and investors promoting cool tech on TikTok isn’t likely to slow down. "Every single company has to be a media company," advised Pastor. Because if your business is climate solutions, why wouldn’t you forgo mediums traditionally associated with the "doom and gloom" narrative and provide solutions-oriented content directly to your audience? Makes sense to me.