By Kirk Kardashian
Published Mar 23, 2011
About two years ago, Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, invited Shelly Meyers T’94 to join 30 scientists and entrepreneurs at a weekend retreat at the Rockefeller Estate. The topic was an organization Branson was starting called the Carbon War Room (CWR), a sort of clearinghouse to connect capital with bold ideas for reducing anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Meyers, an independent investment adviser in California, has a keen interest in environmental issues, so she decided to attend.
“What really struck me,” she says, “is that this organization was clearly not something that was going to wag its finger at people and tell them they were behaving badly. It was going to use entrepreneurial energy to bring awareness to the greatest business opportunity the economy has seen since the 1890s.”
Since then, Meyers has pledged $1 million to the organization and become a founder herself. In December, a team of four second-year Tuck students, visiting professor Anant Sundaram, and Pat Palmiotto, director of Tuck's Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship, joined Meyers and CWR in Cancun, Mexico, for COP16, the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference. Meyers brought CWR to Tuck on March 24 with a talk titled, Inside the Carbon War Room. Her talk was sponsored by the Allwin Initiative.
Why the phrase “War Room?”
That was one of the reasons I agreed to go to the event at the Rockefeller Estate. Because I thought, These guys mean business. I had no interest in being involved in something where we sit around four times a year and complain and whine. The people who work at the War Room have organized into different industrial areas, such as shipping, energy distribution, electric vehicles, the airline industry, and carbon capture. We broke out the key target areas we felt had the best chance of getting a gigaton solution—avoiding the emission of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
What is unique about the structure of CWR?
It helps to solve one of the age-old issues you have when you’re an entrepreneur—you have a brilliant idea, but not a clue how to raise money. Now there’s enough people building up funds directed toward this issue. They have the capital but need more of a structured basis to hook up with entrepreneurs. Everyone who’s involved has that entrepreneurial bug in them and understands capital, so we can serve as interpreters between the two sides.
What’s a good example of a recent idea/capital connection CWR has brokered?
I can’t say too much, because I’m under an non-disclosure agreement, but one is a group headed up by a brilliant scientist and an established entrepreneur that has developed a way of producing gasoline from a source other than crude oil. And this is not a whiteboard concept. We’ve got prototypes and a couple plants on the drawing board.
Why is the private sector—as opposed to government investment—the best vehicle for reducing carbon dioxide emissions?
Politicians are risk averse people. Not only that, but they spend a lot of time seeing which way the wind is blowing. They tend to be followers, not leaders. Whereas the profit motive is a very strong impetus. CWR can show people that this isn’t about nagging people to change their light bulbs or buy a Prius. There is a very strong profit opportunity out there, with what I think is a seminal chance for new businesses. I think that given the mix of people we have, we have a shot at getting that point across.
What has stuck with you from your Tuck experience?
I can’t say enough about Tuck. I could not have accomplished what I’ve accomplished without my Tuck education, especially as an entrepreneur. The thing I keep coming back to is the small class sizes, the team projects—that was an incredibly powerful educational experience. The other thing I come back to is the ropes course during orientation. We had to get everyone over a massive wall, and we had no tools except for our own bodies. I remember thinking, We’re not going to get anybody over that wall. And yet we managed to do it. My experience at Tuck was absolutely integral to my daily work life, there’s no question about it.