Google Launches Climate Startup Accelerator Program, Critics Remain Skeptical

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Google is on the hunt for “social impact” startups that are focused on sustainability and working on solving climate-related issues. Announced on Tuesday, this scheme hopes to target those companies that are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those who have struggled to find investors or partnerships with other startups with a similar vision. Despite this promising initiative, Google’s broader commitments to sustainability are far from enshrined, with some critics suggesting that the move is a marketing ploy on the part of the tech giant to present themselves as passionate about climate-related issues. 

On Tuesday, Google’s sustainability officer Kate Brandt announced a new accelerator program to encourage startups working on sustainability-oriented products and services. Typically, companies working on sustainability tend to face unique issues when trying to raise funds or finding partnerships. For example, startups within the “clean tech” sector have found venture fundraising challenging. While Google isn’t committing their own funds to directly invest in these startups, the program promises to introduce these young companies to investors. The first group of handpicked 8-10 startups will be selected from Europe, Middle East and Africa for a half-year program in 2020, with a second cohort to follow in the next half of the year. 

At the Lisbon Web Summit tech conference, Brandt explained that Google will be judging the applicants based on their adherence to the values outlined in the United Nations SDGs, especially regarding poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity and peace and justice. This is particularly relevant for Asian startups, who might be especially motivated to tackle the lack of progress, or even regression in some instances, when it comes to achieving any of the SDG targets in Asia-Pacific by 2030.

Graduates of the accelerator program will also gain access to Google’s engineering resources, thus providing them practical business strategies and profit modelling. 

While this isn’t Google’s first accelerator or mentoring program, this is the company’s first sustainability focused one. Prior to this, Google has engaged in a range of tech-forward sustainability moves. Project Sunroof, for example, helps users deem whether a roof is suitable for solar panels, and the Environmental Insights Explorer can be used to measure greenhouse gas emissions. 

But when it comes to the tech giant’s other activities, some activists have cast doubt on the authenticity of its eco-forward campaigns. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has recently been embroiled in a scandal, with implications that the company allegedly sourced conflict materials from suppliers in Tanzania. Another sign of divergence from sustainability commitments is the search engine’s continued featuring of climate-denying articles. The lack of more comprehensive climate action from the corporation has sparked a letter signed by more than 1,000 Google employees calling for the cancelling of fossil fuel industry contracts and the stopping of donations to organisations that deny climate change


Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.

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