Jonathan Logan

Science & Environment Editor


The year 2020 was the first time that over 20 percent of all electricity generated in the United States could be traced back to a renewable energy source. A New York Times article promptly noted that in the two most populous states, California and Texas, renewables “produced electricity more cheaply than natural gas and coal.” A Pew Research poll found that 77 percent of Americans believe it is more important to invest in developing alternative sources of electricity than to continue to rely on unpredictable oil prices and fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will continue to be a major player in the energy sector, but 2020 indicates that environmental initiatives have nowhere to go but onward and upward.

2020 was an inflection year in many industries and for many movements. The sudden shift and high growth that renewable sectors from solar to wind experienced in 2020 are part of a larger force sweeping the world. The Fourth Wave of environmental innovation is that larger force; encompassing new digital capabilities, grassroots movements and action through legislation. Building on the First, Second and Third Waves of environmental innovation (land conservation, force of law and market-based solutions respectively), the Fourth Wave drives “innovation that gives people the power to take action.” Medium, an online publishing platform that seeks to give a voice to online writers, has gathered environmental experts and ideas from all over the planet to create a platform devoted entirely to keeping the Fourth Wave energized.

Big data and the digital revolution make a natural couple with the Fourth Wave. A major part of environmental innovation and a driver in both the Third and Fourth Waves have and will continue to be startups. Startups are high-growth tech and science-based companies. Harnessing technology like big data analytics to promote environmental stewardship can make for an unstoppable business model. Seattle-based LevelTen Energy is a prime example of theses environmental startups that the Fourth Wave has nurtured. Founded in 2016, LevelTen helps small businesses transition to clean energy. They offer energy proportional to company size and streamline the transition by providing clients with data analysis, market research and potential clean energy providers. In their most recent round of funding, LevelTen raised 28 million dollars — people are willing to pay for a green world.

Medium highlighted the convergence of grassroots movements and environmental innovation in an article detailing the growing popularity of apps that rate companies based on environmental practices. Google notoriously gives the one to five stars along with a few snarky comments from disgruntled keyboard activists. The Find Green app, developed by Conservation X Labs, allows consumers to pinpoint companies that go out of their way to promote environmental stewardship. In recent years, the demand for eco-friendly products has promoted green practices among many businesses and opened up an entirely new market that companies like LevelTen and Conservation X Labs can tap into — generating economic opportunity and fueling the innovation that drives the Fourth Wave.

Written by

Chloe Burdette

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