Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Photo via Getty Images

Amid remarkable fund allocation towards tackling environmental, social, and corporate governance issues, investors deeply concerned about climate change exert substantial leverage on firms and regulators to make reforms.

Furthermore, the Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed new rules requiring all publicly listed corporations to disclose climate change risks in their regular filings with clear reporting obligations, such as information on direct greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1), indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2), as well as GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in the value chain (Scope 3).

Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Many companies are still dealing with questions like:

  • What problems and possibilities should they prioritize?
  • Where should they devote time, effort, and money to have the most long term effect via business processes?
  • What principles, policies, and internal standards should be implemented to initiate the process and get good ESG ratings?
  • When do corporate sustainability challenges necessitate collaborations with other businesses to meet commitments and achieve goals?
  • What organizational behavior and change management measures should be incorporated to induce sustainability into the corporate culture?

One-fifth of businesses still need a sustainability plan in place, and fewer than 30 percent feel the effect of that strategy is evident to all employees.

Introducing climate-related practices across businesses and corporations takes time and effort. Since sustainability transformation initiatives span multiple business functions and units, whether they are helping or hurting the bottom line is often a fuzzy picture. It is not easy to quantify near-term profitable impacts directly emanating from sustainable strategies, disincentivizing many businesses from setting ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Businesses often struggle with what they intend to assess and what "good enough" performance looks like for the firm. Furthermore, sustainability performance reporting is infested with the inherent stakes of the legitimacy of data collection, defining the metrics and materiality, accountability to the stakeholders, the dynamism of the business environment, the complexity of reporting standards, and the risk of obsolescence of the tool.

For context, there are approximately 600 sustainability reporting standards, industry efforts, frameworks, and recommendations worldwide. Additionally, the one-directional data collection method used by the carbon market trading systems for scoring analyses often leads to intentional or unintentional greenwashing.

So then, what is the path forward?

An effective strategy would involve adopting a synergistic approach, just like the yin and the yang elements that embody balance and harmony on two distinct yet interconnected levels. The yin aspect, prevailing at the government level, would require a robust standardization of reporting frameworks via policymaking and regulations that can effectively implement suitable transformation engines for businesses. It will entail developing adaptable market mechanisms to successfully guide businesses and consumers to identify, plan, navigate, strategize, and execute greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. It will require answers to foundational questions like:

  • What tools and resources can help businesses improve their financial performance by reducing energy waste and energy costs?
  • How do manufacturers engage their suppliers in low-cost technical reviews to improve process lines, use materials more efficiently, and reduce waste?
  • How can waste management and recycling help a business by saving money, energy, and natural resources?

There is a dire need to standardize and consolidate the industry benchmarks and reporting frameworks against which businesses can assess their performance for climate action and potentially improve their bottom line by investing in appropriate carbon mitigation activities. This will create a fundamental shift in the mindset of corporates and raise the level of conversation from "Should we implement sustainable business frameworks?" to "How we could best implement sustainable frameworks for better ROI and an impactful bottom line?"

On the other hand, the yang element operates at the business or corporation level. Successful execution of sustainability strategies entails interweaving the sustainability thread into the business core across strategies and processes, operations and personnel, and products and services.

What is the business case for sustainability efforts? From operational cost savings to expansion in new markets, from enhanced brand equity to investor interest and share expansion, companies that incorporate robust and scalable sustainable practices have opportunities to unlock new sources of value capture and new markets that can deliver immediate financial rewards. Such measures will demonstrate the overall sustainability transformation's power and potentially provide money or cost savings to fund other components.

One way to do it is by introducing circular business models to reshape the whole product usage cycle: re-engineering product designs with more sustainable materials, redesigning the manufacturing lifecycle, recycling products, packaging, and waste, and reducing emissions in transportation, water, and energy consumption activities. By leveraging technology and AI in the extended system of interactions within and outside the business, companies can monitor, predict, and reduce the carbon emissions in their supply chains and yield immediate financial results.

Designing, implementing, and managing the foundational governance of sustainable business practices, strategies, structure, and tactics will require robust governance of sustainability efforts in all key business areas, including marketing, sales, product development, and finance. Additionally, organizational values, leadership initiative from the CEO and board level to the employees, and stakeholder interest are necessary to drive value for business policy. Involving employees in decision-making will help induce better commitment and accountability to implementing economic, social, environmental, and technologically sustainable interventions and initiatives.

Finally, businesses need to understand that they could truly develop long-term business success and shareholder value when they stop viewing sustainability from a compliance or ESG reporting lens. Long-term business success cannot be achieved solely by maximizing short-term profits but through market-oriented yet responsible behavior that automatically drives enhanced business bottom lines. This demands a collaborative partnership between policymakers, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, academia, and civic society to usher in economic growth, competitiveness, and consumer interest. This partnership is essential for environmental protection and social responsibility to ensure a sustainable future.

———

Ruchi Gupta is a certified mentor and vice chair at SCORE Houston. This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston for July. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for July

where to be

From networking meetups to educational symposiums, July is chock-full of happenings for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


July 6 — City of Houston Panel Discussion: Sales

Join the City of Houston’s Office of Business Opportunity and SCORE Houston for a panel discussion designed for City of Houston vendors. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about doing business with the City of Houston and how SCORE Houston can support you while running your business. During each monthly meeting get your business questions answered by industry and Office of Business Opportunity experts and SCORE Mentors. Gain the information and support you need to provide your products and services as a City of Houston vendor.

This event is Thursday, July 6, from 1 to 2 pm at Houston Community College. Click here to register.

July 7 — UH-DGH Center for Hydrocarbon Exploration Symposium

This informative open house event showcasing the new UH Seismic Data Center will focus heavily on presentations centered around hydrocarbon basin analysis as well as relevant policy shifts within India and the opportunities that have emerged as a result. The UH Seismic Data Center arose from a collaboration between the University of Houston and the DGH, the technical arm of the Indian Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

The event is Friday, July 7, from 9 am to 12 pm at the University of Houston Technology Bridge (Building 9, Room 135). Click here to register.

July 10 — Ion Open Accelerator: Monopolizing Your Industry Channel

In this workshop, Jared Nielsen who has participated in several startups that now dominate their respective industries, will provide insight into how small startups have grown to become global monopolies in a very short period of time. Seeing a global domination market strategy executed from the inside may give your own startup insights and techniques that you can use within your own supply chain for a truly dominant market position.

The event is Monday, July 10, from 10 am to 12 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.


July 11 — Leaders Who Lunch

Connect with influential community organizers, leaders, change makers, and likeminded C-suite executives during a 3-course family style lunch. Admission and cost of the meal is $75.

The event is Tuesday, July 11, from 11 am to 12 pm at Weights and Measures. Click here to register.

July 13 — Texas Medical Center Veterans Committee Hiring Event

TMC is hosting a career workshop for veterans interested in breaking into the healthcare field. Attendees will have the chance to network with recruiters, learn about job openings, and potentially even secure an interview on the spot so be sure to bring copies of your resume and dress to impress.

The agenda:

10:00 - 11:00 am - Registration/ Networking

11:00 - 11:30 am - Career Readiness: Resume & Interview Preparation

11:30 am - 12:00 pm - Career Branding: Social Media & Networking

12:00 pm - 12:20 pm - Lunch (provided)

12:20 pm - 1:00 pm - ERG Panel Discussion: Connecting with our Veteran Communities

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm - Networking/ Closing Hour

This event is Thursday, July 13, from 10 am to 2 pm at TMC Innovation Factory (2450 Holcombe Blvd Suite X). Click here to register.

July 13 — GROW Community Meeting

Discuss green economy resources & opportunities for disadvantaged groups to engage in the energy transition and climate action.

The agenda:

11 - 11:15 am - Welcome and Introductions

11:15 - 11:30 am - GROW Overview

11: 30 - 11:45 am - GROW Updates

11:45 am - 12 pm - Funding & Contract Opportunities

12 - 12:30 pm - Lunch

12:30 - 12:45 pm - Next steps: Community Benefits Survey, Cooperative Agreement, Letters of Support

12:45 - 1 pm - Attendee Announcements

1 PM - Closing

The event is Thursday, July 13, from 11 am to 1 pm at Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center. Click here to register.

July 17 — Mingle Mondays Med & Health Tech

Head to this monthly mixer and get to know fellow members of Houston’s Med & Health Tech community. All who are interested in Med & Health Tech, including Med & HealthTech entrepreneurs, thought leaders, investors, healthcare professionals, and community members wanting to share their Med & Health Tech knowledge are welcome.

This event is Monday, July 17, from 6 to 7 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

July 17 — The State of Latino Entrepreneurship Reception/Networking

The Latino Business Action Network presents “The State of Latino Entrepreneurship Reception.” Network with Latino professionals, business owners, and supporters. This is a welcoming environment for connecting with your peers, LBAN, local chambers, and other organizations. At the same time, you will learn the latest on Latino entrepreneurship from LBAN, a nationally recognized expert in the field. LBAN is a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that partners with Stanford to research and empower Latino entrepreneurship across the U.S.

This event is Monday, July 17, from 4 to 7 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

July 18 — Heated Dialogues Unleashed: Navigating Difficult Conversations

In this discussion, leadership veterans Debbie Danon and Michele Price will unravel the secrets of mastering difficult conversations for start-ups. For new founders looking to gain practical insights to navigate these challenges this conference will provide you with communication tools to approach these obstacles.

This event is Tuesday, July 18, from 11:30 am to 12:15 pm, virtually . Click here to register.

July 19 — Industrial Security Roadshow: Learn, Empower, & Connect

At the Industrial Security Roadshow attendees will gain insights into emerging threats, learn innovative defense techniques, and discover cutting-edge technologies to bolster your security procedures. A curated lineup of speakers will share their expertise, providing practical guidance and actionable steps to fortify your systems against cyber threats.

This event is Wednesday, July 19, from 10:30 am to 1 pm at 24285 Katy Fwy suite 300. Click here to register.

July 20 — Female Founders and Funders Meetup

Sponsored by Softeq Venture Studio and Sesh Coworking, this monthly meetup occurs every third Thursday and is ideal for female founders and funders in the Houston area who are looking to network and empower each other.

This event is Thursday, July 20, from 9 to 10 am at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

July 24 — Ion Open Accelerator: Getting the Highest ROI from Conferences and Events

In this workshop speaker Staccey Wright-Turner, a Houston based ROI strategist, will discuss how to maximize your time at and investment in conferences and events for a well-rounded marketing campaign.

These are the topics you can expect to be covered:

  • Whether you should do events, and which ones you should do
  • How best to invest your marketing dollars
  • Setting your objectives for events and conferences - yes, there is more than just "getting leads" - don't miss out on important revenue
  • Preparing in advance to get the most out of your event
  • Knowing how to approach attendees and get meetings booked
  • Follow through and evaluate the ROI on the events
  • Training sales staff for event-and-conference best practices
This event is Monday, July 24, from 10 am to 12 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

July 27 —  Summer Sizzle Happy Hour with Dell for Startups

Kick off the end of a warm summer in The Cannon West Houston Kitchen with a Happy Hour, sponsored by Dell for Startups and take advantage of an opportunity to learn more about the upcoming Houston Innovation Summit in October.

This event is Thursday, July 27, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

July 28 - July 30 — Melanin Minds Mental Health Conference

Melanin Minds is taking over Big Brothers Big Sisters for a three day weekend of workshops, panels, & family-friendly wellness. All workshops will be centering BIPOC communities & featuring therapists, counselors, and practitioners of color. Admission prices vary depending on the level of access you want to the conference and when you register, discounted tickets for students are available up to year six of grad school ($20).

The agenda:

Friday 7/28 — Healthy Eating On The Go • Thriving Through Stigmas & Adversity • Perfectionism • Boundaries • Finances • Work-Life Harmony • 7 Types of Rest • Mindful Leadership

Saturday 7/29 — Building Mental Wealth • Finding Your Way to YOU • Nutrition As A Foundation for Healing • Yoga & Meditation • Community Talk Circle • Humor & Laughter • Reading the Cues • Relationships & Social Media • Wellness Practices & Routines

Sunday 7/30 — Advocating For Your Child • Goals Through Resilience & Stress • The Art of Self Expression • Financial Mental Health • Yoga For Youth • Big Brother Big Sister Matches Panel • Complimentary Self Care Services

This event starts Friday, July 28, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Big Brothers Big Sisters. Click here to register.

Anu Pansare has joined the local gBETA team. Photo via gbetastartups.com

Early-stage accelerator names new Houston leader, opens applications for next cohort

now open

Houston's gBETA accelerator announced new leadership in conjunction with opening enrollment for its latest cohort this week.

The early-stage program, which is a part of Wisconsin-based gener8tor, has named Anu Pansare as its new director.

Pansare has spent the last 20 years at Sugar Land-based consulting firm Volyx and has also worked with big names like Chevron, Schlumberger, and Accenture, as well as smaller startups. She's also been involved with the Houston Angel Network. She will be replacing the accelerator's inaugural director Eléonore Cluzel in the position.

As the main liaison between Houston and gener8tor's national network, Pansare will lead gBETA's third cohort of early stage startups through its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment.

"Downtown Launchpad is an inclusive ecosystem of tools, resources, and opportunities that help founders accelerate and scale their businesses to solve humankind's boldest challenges," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston, in a press release. "The addition of Anu Pansare as gener8tor's new Houston director will strengthen our commitment to entrepreneurs in Houston and will help us evolve our strategy to better serve our founders, startups, partners, and our community."

Applications for the new cohort are open online until March 13.The zero-equity, no-fee program looks for locally based startups still in the early stage of business. Five companies will be selected.

The program is hosting a virtual webinar in partnership with SCORE Houston on March 1 to discuss the program and opportunities for interested startups. Event registration is free.

Houston's gBETA presence was launched thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority in 2019 with support from Central Houston, the City of Houston, and Amegy Bank. The local team has an office at the Downtown Launchpad coworking space in the Amegy Bank Building on Main.

About a year into operations, gBETA has worked with 10 local startups in two cohorts across industries — from food tourism to sports technology, artificial intelligence for home buying to skincare and prescription solutions.

Pansare will be

holding virtual office hours for local entrepreneurs to provide insight and information about gBETA's Houston Spring 2021 program. More information on the program can be found at gBETA Houston's website or email Pansare directly at anu@gener8tor.com.
Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.