- Cleantech startup incubator Greentown Labs officially opened its Houston facility Thursday, marking Earth Day and the one-year anniversary of the city unveiling its first Climate Action Plan.
- The 40,000-square-foot space has room for 50 startups with more than 300 employees working in clean technology. City officials said at a press conference that 30 early-stage companies are ready to move in.
- Greentown, which is headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts, already has a slew of partners for the incubator, including various energy and oil companies with significant operations in the Houston area. At the press conference, Greentown CEO Emily Reichert said she hopes the new location can be an "on-the-ground catalyst for accelerating the energy transition" by encouraging new jobs, economic opportunity and Texas' growing innovation ecosystem.
Houston's ambitious Climate Action Plan calls for the city to be carbon neutral by 2050. The city is home to one of the highest rates of per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and in the past few years it has experienced various extreme weather events, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and this February's winter storms that resulted in a failure of the power grid and other infrastructure.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said during the press conference that the city, its residents and businesses have a "moral obligation" to reduce emissions so they can have fewer extreme weather events, which have disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. He said that while he is "proud" of Houston's history and its links to the oil and gas industries, it must now take the lead on being environmentally friendly and reducing emissions to help protect the future.
Although the clean energy sector took a big hit last year during the coronavirus pandemic, it has already shown signs of recovery. With energy companies now engaged with Greentown Labs, cleantech growth can further accelerate, city leaders said. Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, said its efforts alongside Greentown will be "critical to positioning Houston as a global leader of the energy transition." And Reichert said it can help Houston be the "energy transition capital of the world."
The United States must act quickly to reduce emissions and curb the worst impacts of climate change, Reichert said, a sentiment that was echoed Wednesday on a webinar hosted by ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability. Jonathan Pershing, an adviser to U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry at the State Department, said that while 2050 may seem a long way off, leaders cannot wait until the last minute to start moving towards their climate goals.
"We have to do it quickly," he said. "It's not going to be enough to say we can proceed about our merry way and then in the year 2049 have an abrupt halt. It will not work. You have to start, essentially, now."
With local leaders fully engaged on the need to fight climate change, and the federal government having stepped back into a leadership role, Turner said the timing is perfect for Greentown Labs to open and help the movement gather even more momentum.
"It feels good today to have a partner back in the White House who shares our vision and is making the tough decisions to reestablish the U.S. as a world leader in the fight against climate change," he said.