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Mass. business officials urge action on climate change

Emily Reichert, the chief executive of clean-tech incubator Greentown Labs.Wendy Maeda

Massachusetts business officials on Wednesday urged the state’s largest corporations, startups, investors, and consumers to continue their efforts to stem climate change, noting that a growing urgency to slow down the planet’s warming is helping spur innovation in the region.

“We have a limited amount of time,” Emily Reichert, the chief executive of clean-tech incubator Greentown Labs, said in a virtual panel discussion, part of the inaugural Globe Summit, a three-day conference running this week. “Climate change is upon us, and we’ve got to get this right.”

In some ways, Reichert said, the pandemic has not helped slow the planet’s warming. Greenhouse gas emissions remain similar to pre-pandemic levels, she said, and consumer habits have regressed towards habits harmful to the climate, such as the increased use of single-use plastic cups.

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But she said there has been a silver lining. The pandemic “helped a lot of people step back and say, ‘OK, we weren’t prepared for this pandemic, but we need to think about how we would prepare for something that frankly is already happening, and is going to continue to happen, which is climate change and extreme weather events,” Reichert added.

That has caused corporations and business investors to think more broadly about their sustainability practices, and funnel more money into companies that are trying to solve the climate crisis on a broader scale, corporate officials said.

Carmichael Roberts, founder and managing partner of venture-capital firm Material Impact, said the emphasis on slowing climate change will benefit the Boston region, which has an ecosystem of academic talent and investment capital that spurs innovation.

“There’s something really special that’s been going on for a while,” he said. “Companies are being situated here because of that ecosystem.”

To that point, Sean Grundy, the cofounder and chief executive of Bevi, a company that creates bottle-less water dispensers for offices and commercial spaces, said his startup’s mission to stem climate change is drawing talent from all over the world to his hiring desk.

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“Sometimes we get applicants where, honestly, I look at their resume and I think, like, ‘why does this person want to work here?’” he said. “The environmental motivation is an extremely important part of why great people join our company.”

Meanwhile, John Stokes, the head of global sustainability at New Balance, said that corporations making broad claims about becoming more sustainable must back them up with data. “There’s no real standard,” he said. “I think [what] would help is if there was a standardized methodology, for example, to back up claims.”

All the while, officials said that businesses are aware that consumers increasingly purchase products from firms that align with their personal values, handing citizens more power to spur corporate action.

“Dare to weigh in,” Roberts said. “That makes a difference.”