So you want a career in climate?

Bryan J. Rollins
7 min readApr 15, 2022

Since I’m getting this question a lot more often I thought I’d write down a few thoughts when people ask about how to transition to a career helping to minimise the impact of climate change. This is off the cuff and there are probably a lot of logical errors. Please send corrections to rubbish at bryanjrollins.com.

You might think that with my background and my current role at Grok Ventures, I would say “go start a climate company” but you’d be mostly wrong.

Note the resources here are largely focused on Australia, but their equivalents exist in almost every developed country.

Option 1: Stay at your current job, and make a difference from within

I helped start WorkForClimate for just this reason. We need great leaders and change makers inside of every company — everyone thinks that starting a climate company is higher leverage, but I’ll be honest that I don’t think starting yet-another-enterprise-carbon tracker is really going to have the impact that you think. Lucy, the Director at WorkForClimate, just wrote a great piece on the recent IPCC report calling for employees to fight greenwash in their own organisation.

Climate Voice is another example of a group helping employees drive change in employers, focused more on the leaders, holding companies like Google and Microsoft accountable when they pledge net zero but then still employ dedicated teams to build AI for oil exploration.

The impact you would have by shifting your existing company to 100% renewable energy or becoming more aggressive on climate targets is likely much bigger in the critical next 5 years than starting your own company (that will take 5 years to have a significant impact).

Maybe it won’t work. Maybe you will stir up a lot of trouble as they escort you out the door. Maybe that’s the best possible thing — that they start to realise that employees aren’t going to sit by while their company practices greenwashing and only agrees to minimal effort. It’s better than just sitting there and feeling like you’re not making a difference.

The most important thing you could do right at this moment:

Making sure we have a government that is actively working towards preventing climate change instead of actively contributing to it.

It’s not related to finding a new career, but the biggest impact you could have right now is to get involved in the coming Australian election! I’m still running my matching campaign for Climate200, to get more independent candidates into parliament so that climate policy cannot be swept under the rug anymore.

Option 2: Start by volunteering for a climate non-profit or NGO

You don’t have to quit your job to make a big difference. Especially if you’re in tech.

There are heaps of great initiatives making a difference in different ways. No matter your skill set, your help is needed.

In Australia, WWF has been helping organisations set science-based-targets for emissions, and Market Forces is one of my favourites — just sign up to their newsletter and you’ll get notified when you can lean in to help one of their campaigns — to reach out to companies to let them know you want them to stop supporting fossil fuel development. If you’re a fan of shareholder action, ACCR can you a share you buy in a fossil fuel companies to launch shareholder actions to push publicly listed companies to shift their policies on climate action.

The Climate Council used to be part of the Australian government, but Tony Abbott disliked the bright light it would shine on his complete lack of a climate policy, so he shut it down. So now they are supported by donations from individuals and time from great volunteers.

Through all of these organisations you can get to know other like minded people and that can lead to a broader understanding of where you can have impact.

Option 3: Join a community

I love being wrong. I exchange a few emails with Jason Jacobs back in 2018. Jason described a podcast and community he was going to create — as usual I was highly skeptical, but MyClimateJourney has become a force of nature, and in my opinion the highest quality climate podcast out there, and a highly active community of professionals finding ways to have impact.

Here in Australia, we have the hysterically named Climate Salad, which is creating a similar community here in Australia. Kudos to Mick and team for what they’ve created.

In these communities you’ll meet a lot of other people who have the same question that you do, and you’ll meet a lot of people who have found an answer.

Option 4: Join an existing climate tech company

The same fallacy occurs in non-profits/NGOs. So many people start their own non-profit, and the overhead just to pay their salary means the net impact they deliver is minimal. In many cases this is true in the climate world — we have 10 (or 100 global) companies all trying to do the same thing, and starting #11 (or #101) may not be the best way to make an impact.

#1: Portfolios of the venture funds who make climate investments:

Of course you should check out the Grok portfolio: Zoomo, SunCable, Brighte, Vow, SunDrive, Fable Foods, and Loam here in Australia, and Antora, WeaveGrid, and others in the US.

For other Aussie climate portfolios, Giant Leap, Main Sequence, Tenacious, and Kilara Capital are a good place to start in Australia, while in the US, Lower Carbon is a good place to start — but just one of many climate oriented VCs in the my former home of ‘Merica.

Climatebase!

I had my own Trello board of clean tech companies just in Oz, but it’s now woefully out of date. Luckily, Climatescape has a great list of organisations, and Climatebase has an actual database of jobs inside climate companies. EthicalJobs focuses more on the non-profit sector, but check it out — any job search is about inspiration and finding what’s going to extract your passion and apply it at work. Okay, that sounds like it’s encouraging an obscene act if you take it metaphorically (or literally). Please don’t.

Despite having a career in software, I don’t recommend looking for a pure software company in climate, there are very few. The Head of Technology at Vow Foods, Soroush Pour, came from a software background but found a high impact way for a software savvy leader to make a massive impact in a physical goods company. In order to solve the climate problem, 90%+ of the solutions require companies to build real, physical things.

Option 5: Go back to school

Photo courtesy of Columbia’s “climate school”

This is certainly the “playing for the long game” option. This is certainly not my expertise because once I left uni I haven’t gone back — I didn’t even want to spend two years in business school because there was work to be done! But for serious shifts, of course sometimes we need to go back to school to become deep experts in something to then take that something and apply it somewhere so we can change something.

Last resort: Start a company

If you have an incredible passion, the talent, and the experience to build something new and unique, start a company and scale it to having global (or at least national) impact, and you have the ability to pull it off, then you’re probably doing that and not reading this blog post.

We need more and more entrepreneurs attacking the climate problem — but so many people think starting yet another is the only option for some strange reason! If it’s not your life’s work, and if you’re not the person who will make the best founder for this company, then one of the other options is for you. Or maybe your time will just come later when your experience, expertise, and journey line up.

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