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Identifying the Inflection Point of Impact

28. May 2024

Or as we would call it reaching the ClimatePoint

When we talk about impact investments, companies, or technologies, the definitions and methods we use can vary widely. Often, we assess impact qualitatively—a technology might be considered beneficial or impactful simply because it uses renewable energy.

But to truly understand the full impact, it's crucial to establish clear criteria. What exactly makes an investment an "impact investment"? Is it the reduction in carbon emissions, the promotion of sustainable practices, or perhaps the economic return alongside environmental benefits?

The Initial Environmental Cost of Climate Investments

Consider this: any investment in climate technology initially leads to more emissions. This holds true for both software and hardware investments, though it's often more pronounced with the latter. Imagine you're investing in a hydroelectric project that starts construction in 2026 and completes in 2029. This project initially increases emissions due to construction and manufacturing processes. However, once operational, it provides clean energy that replaces older, dirtier energy sources.

But when does such an investment truly become an impact investment?

Identifying the ClimatePoint

We need to pinpoint the exact moment—the inflection point—when the hydro project has produced enough clean energy to not only compensate for but also exceed the emissions from its construction, including everything from building the infrastructure to producing the turbines.

To illustrate, suppose from 2029, our hydro project begins powering a market that's heavily reliant on coal. By taking over from an aging coal power plant, the hydro project not only pushes renewable energy into the grid but also cuts off the emissions that the coal plant would have continued to emit. The founder of the project estimates that by 2031, the hydro plant will have generated sufficient clean energy to offset the early emissions, reaching what we like to call the ClimatePoint.

From then on, the hydro plant will continue to produce what we refer to as Avoided Emissions—or Scope 4 emissions—for the rest of its life. Scope 4 emissions extend the traditional greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting framework by evaluating the potential emissions reductions when customers choose our products or services over more polluting alternatives. This category presents unique challenges in measurement and significance, as it is less straightforward than direct emissions and requires robust methods for accurate tracking and reporting.

Economic and Environmental Balance

Furthermore, the economic implications of reaching the ClimatePoint are significant. Investors and stakeholders are increasingly weighing the balance between the initial capital outlay, the ongoing operational costs, and the environmental benefits gained. An effective impact investment must demonstrate a clear path to profitability and sustainability, ensuring that the environmental benefits do not come at an unreasonable financial cost.

It's also worth noting that while hydroelectric power provides a useful case study, the concept of the ClimatePoint is not limited to renewable energy projects alone. It is applicable to all startups, investments, and projects with an impact focus, across various sectors and technologies. Each technology has its unique characteristics and challenges in reaching this critical point of environmental net positivity.

The Necessity of Quantitative Impact Data

In conclusion, identifying the ClimatePoint is essential if we're serious about impact. Relying solely on qualitative assessments may lead us to endorse technologies that feel right but don't deliver enough avoided emissions to make a real difference. By establishing more rigorous criteria and embracing a holistic approach to both environmental and economic impacts, we can ensure that our investments truly help turn the tide on climate change.

Evaluate and Enhance Your Impact

Whether you're an investor, part of a corporate team, or leading a startup, understanding the ClimatePoint is crucial for ensuring your initiatives truly drive environmental change. Assess your current projects, investments, or business practices through the lens of the ClimatePoint criteria. Are they genuinely reaching a point where they offset and surpass their initial environmental costs?

Use this insight to enhance your strategies and make decisions that not only promise returns but also contribute positively to environmental sustainability. Take the initiative now to ensure your efforts are impactful and pave the way for a sustainable future.


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ClimatePoint Methodology
The ClimatePoint team, writing about everything impact.