Skip to main content

GreenBiz Reads

John Doerr: 'A plan is only as good as its implementation'

An excerpt from the VC's latest book Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now.

John Doerr speaks at TED Countdown Summit on October 14, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

John Doerr speaks at TED Countdown Summit on Oct. 14 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Ryan Lash / TED

Adapted from "SPEED & SCALE: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now" by John Doerr, published  Nov. 9 by Portfolio, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2021 by Beringin Group, LLC. 

SPEED & SCALE book cover

As a venture capitalist, my job is to find big opportunities, target big challenges, and invest in big solutions. I was best known for backing companies like Google and Amazon early on. But the environmental crisis dwarfed any challenge I’d ever seen. Eugene Kleiner, the late cofounder of Kleiner Perkins, the Silicon Valley firm I’ve been with for forty years, left behind a set of twelve laws that have stood the test of time. The first goes as follows: No matter how groundbreaking a new technology may seem, make sure customers actually want it. But this problem led me to invoke a lesser-known Kleiner law: There is a time when panic is the appropriate response.

That time had come. We could no longer afford to underestimate our climate emergency. To avert irreversible, catastrophic consequences, we needed to act urgently and decisively. For me, that evening changed everything.

My partners and I made climate a top priority. We got serious about investing in clean and sustainable technologies — or "cleantech," as they’re known in Silicon Valley. We even brought in Al Gore as the firm’s newest partner. But despite Al’s excellent company, my journey into the world of zero-emissions investing was pretty lonely at first. After the iPhone debuted in 2007, Steve Jobs invited us to launch our iFund for mobile apps from Apple’s headquarters. We were hearing great pitches from mobile app startups; I could see opportunities left and right.

So why commit a chunk of capital to the uncharted territory of solar panels, electric car batteries and meatless proteins? Because it seemed like the right thing to do, for the firm and for the planet. I thought the cleantech market was a monster in the making. I believed we could do well by doing good.

We pursued mobile apps and climate ventures at the same time, despite doubters on both fronts. Our mobile app investments gave us a burst of quick wins. Our climate investments were slower out of the gate, and many of them failed. It’s hard to build a durable company under any circumstances, and doubly hard to build one to take on the climate crisis.

Kleiner Perkins got beaten up in the press. But with patience and persistence, we stood by our founders. By 2019, our surviving cleantech investments began to hit one home run after the next. Our $1 billion in green venture investments is now worth $3 billion. But we have no time for a victory lap. As the years roll by, the climate clock keeps ticking. Atmospheric carbon already exceeds the upper limit for climate stability. At our current pace, we will blow past 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the Earth’s preindustrial mean temperatures — the threshold, scientists say, for severe planetary damage. The effects of runaway global warming are already plain to see: devastating hurricanes, biblical flooding, uncontrollable wildfires, killer heat waves, and extreme droughts.

I must warn you up front: we’re not cutting our emissions fast enough to outrun the damage on our doorstep. I said this in 2007, and I say it today: what we’re doing is not nearly enough. Unless we course correct with urgent speed and at massive scale, we’ll be staring at a doomsday scenario. The melting polar ice caps will drown coastal cities. Failed crops will lead to widespread famine. By midcentury, a billion souls worldwide could be climate refugees.

The data is clear. The moment is now. I am committed to using my time, my resources, and whatever knowledge I have to work with you to build a net-zero future.

Fortunately, we have a powerful ally in this fight: innovation. Over the past 15 years, prices for solar and wind power have plunged 90 percent. Clean energy sources are growing faster than anyone expected. Batteries are expanding the range of electrified vehicles at an ever lower cost. Greater energy efficiency has sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

While a good many solutions are in hand, however their deployment is nowhere near where it needs to be. We’ll need massive investment and robust policy to make these innovations more affordable. We need to scale the ones we have — immediately — and invent the ones we still need. In short, we need both the now and the new.

So where’s the plan for getting the job done? Frankly, that’s what’s been missing: an actionable plan. Sure, there are lots of ways on paper to get to net-zero carbon emissions, the point where we add no more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than we can remove. But lists of goals are not plans. A long menu of options, however excellent they might be, is not a plan. Anger and despair aren’t plans; neither are hopes and dreams.

More than anything, we need a clear course of action. That’s why I’ve written this book. With help from some of the world’s foremost experts in climate and cleantech, I created Speed & Scale to show precisely how we can drive greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2050. My hope is to build on the hard-earned triumphs and lessons of our climate pioneers and heroes, many of them hailed in these pages. They’re the ones who blaze new trails by executing better and smarter.

A plan is only as good as its implementation. To achieve this monumental mission, we’ll need to hold ourselves accountable every step of the way. That’s the great lesson I learned from my mentor, Andy Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel. It’s a mantra I’ve seen proven over and again: Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.

To execute a plan, we need the right tools. In my previous book, "Measure What Matters," I outlined a simple but powerful goalsetting protocol that Andy Grove invented at Intel. Known as OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, they guide organizations to focus on a few essential targets, to align at every level, to stretch for ambitious results, and to track their progress as they go — to measure what matters.

Now I’m proposing we apply OKRs to solve the climate crisis, the greatest challenge of our lifetimes. But before going all in (and this is an all-or-nothing proposition), we must answer three basic questions.

Do we have enough time? We hope so, but we’re fast running out of it.

Do we have much margin for error? No, we don’t. Not anymore.

Do we have enough money? Not yet. Investors and governments are stepping up. But we’ll need a lot more funding, from both public and private sectors, to develop and scale technologies for a clean economy. Most of all, we’ll need to divert the trillions spent on dirty energy over to clean energy options, and use that energy more efficiently.

The data is clear. The moment is now. I am committed to using my time, my resources, and whatever knowledge I have to work with you to build a net-zero future. I invite you to join our effort at To put our plan into action, we need all hands on deck. Above all, we’ll need to execute our plan with unprecedented speed and unprecedented scale. That’s what matters most.

More on this topic

More by This Author