Scott J. Sternberg
Executive Director, Boulder Economic Council
When it comes to climate research, protection, activism and solutions, Colorado has few peers, with Boulder at the epicenter. It’s not surprising that, amidst this climate aware and activated environment, we have a wealth of climate-related businesses. Yes, this is an interesting economic study, but it’s really a more important story about the role business entrepreneurs and innovators are playing in the fate of Planet Earth.
As with many of our industry clusters, business opportunities arise from our innovation ecosystem. For instance, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) generates some of the most precise long-term climate models in the world. Further, CU Boulder and Colorado State University have extensive climate research programs, both assessing human impacts and researching scientific solutions. And both universities have strong cooperative institutes with ties to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
As we have learned, research without the broader dissemination of relevant findings isn’t enough to compel a reasoned response. To that end, CU Boulder proudly hosted last year’s UN Global Climate Conference on Human Rights, “Right Here, Right Now.” It was an opportunity to highlight Boulder’s global leading climate science and its understanding of environmental justice implications. Our role in public education concerning climate change issues will take a further leap forward during next month’s sustainability-themed Conference on World Affairs.
And once there is understanding, there is action. Boulder is headquarters to multiple organizations that are fighting for policy change and motivating individual action in the fight against climate change. Here you’ll find industry groups, like the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and Naturally Boulder, advocating for stewardship of our natural lands. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), headquartered in Basalt but with a major outpost here in Boulder, is taking an economic approach to transitioning our world’s energy systems. And organizations like Eco-Cycle and Resource Central are working to give all of us the opportunity to do our part in protecting the environment.
And where there is understanding, knowledge and action, there is business opportunity. For Boulder, that opportunity takes the form of a healthy and growing climate technology industry sector. As one of the Boulder Economic Council’s specific industry partners, the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) actively tracks the cleantech economy. In 2022, CCIA reported that Colorado ranks fifth amongst the 40 top US cleantech hubs. Moreover, the industry supports over 60,000 jobs and has attracted over $1 billion in venture capital investments since 2019.
At the forefront of this statewide cleantech prominence are the area’s many climate technology companies that the Boulder Chamber’s work has helped support through their various stages of development. There are established local businesses, like Namaste, a leader in solar energy deployment, and Uplight, the provider of clean energy data systems. Then there are the range of businesses that are driving new innovative solutions, from a producer of concrete derived from a sustainable coral reef calcification process to the application of Nobel Prize winning optical techniques for monitoring methane leaks at refineries. And new businesses are emerging everyday as the demand for alternative transportation, renewable energy and other climate protection solutions grows.
Of course, all this business generation is exciting to someone like me who works in the world of economic vitality, but as I said above, there is a much more important mission at stake: The fate of Planet Earth. The Boulder Chamber’s Policy Framework states, “We support the expeditious achievement of clean energy and climate protection goals and will be a leader in that endeavor.” That means we support the understanding of, educating about and acting on our climate challenges. Where we best go to work, though, is helping local businesses turn today’s challenges into opportunities that support our economy, and more importantly, protect our global climate.