Interview With Award-Winning Entrepreneur Hannah Helmke Of Climate Accounting Innovator right.

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Hannah, you’re one of the co-founders of the climatetech “right. based on science” or “right.” for short. Could you describe right. and the main services the company offers to our CleanTechnica readers?

right. helps companies and financial actors understand the impact that their business and investment activities have on global warming. And we express this impact in a tangible degree Celsius value which we call XDC — X-Degree Compatibility. Imagine a future in which we keep our commitment to limit global warming to “well below two degrees.” To achieve that, we will need to radically reduce emissions, while also keeping the economy alive. That means we will have to decouple our value creation from our emissions. This is the base logic of our model which our customers can access through various software tools that we provide.

How does it work and what do you want to achieve with your model exactly?

In a nutshell, our XDC Model calculates the degree of global warming we could expect if the entire world operated at the same emission intensity as a particular company until 2050 — in °C. We can also apply the model to other economic entities, such as investment portfolios, countries, or real estate. How much carbon a company emits is hard to grasp — hardly anyone knows whether 200 tons of CO2e a year is good or bad. But if I tell you “if everyone acted the way this company does, the world would warm up by 4°C,” that is easy to understand.

Our aim isn’t to attack companies, but to create transparency and to provide decision-makers with science-based information on climate-related risks and opportunities. And we want to build a bridge between climate science, business and capital markets. Currently, they don’t speak a common “language” when talking about climate impact. We want to change that and use a vocabulary that everyone understands: degrees Celsius.

What were the most difficult times in the company’s history, and how were they resolved?

I think the past year, 2020, was certainly a challenging one for more than one reason: Our team more than doubled in size, but we were mostly working remotely due to Coronavirus, so finding ways to bring new team members in and to shape a new company culture which is shifting from the startup phase to the growth phase has been hard. I’m not sure this is something we have “resolved,” it’s an ongoing process. We also had applied for a large grant to develop a “big picture” business idea that we felt very passionate about. That fell through, which was a hard setback for everyone. But it forced us to refocus our activities on areas that could more immediately generate value for our customers and for us. I think that has been an incredibly valuable lesson.

What advice would you give to your younger self of 5 years ago?

My advice to my younger self would be: As your company grows, don’t get caught up in admin tasks. But make sure you have enough time to develop and pursue your purpose. This is what will draw in the right people to join you.

Have you considered coming to the US with “right. based on science?” What would you need in terms of partners and feedback for this to happen?

The US market is certainly of interest to us, and we are currently in discussions with a US-based client from the financial sector, which would be a great first step.

I think one of the key points here will be to get a solid grasp on the regulatory landscape regarding both climate-related disclosures as well as investments. We have made some excellent experiences partnering with corporates and financial institutions. This really helped us to learn how exactly the XDC Model addresses the needs of our customers.

What does this global aim mean for a modern company like yours in terms of expansion these days? Your main office is in Frankfurt Main (financial capital of Germany), but are you considering other offices? 

Climate change is, of course, a global concern. So I do think that a methodology of measuring climate impact or ‘temperature alignment’ as we prefer to call it, will be of value in other markets as well. We are certainly open to consider other offices or locations, but our team is already quite widespread from Hamburg to the outskirts of Bogotá.

Speaking globally, if you could pick one organization to work with your products, which organization would this be? And what would this organization gain from it?

If I had to pick just one company, I would probably choose Microsoft. Their scale and access to businesses across the world would make them a very powerful partner for us. But they also represent an openness to integrate and connect innovative ideas. For instance, they support the Linux foundation to promote decentralized, open source software development. This is something that resonates with our own open source approach. The urgency and complexity of climate change requires all of these things: scale, technology, innovation, openness and collaboration. For their part, I think Microsoft could benefit from the in-depth knowledge of climate impact analysis that we bring — both within their own organization and for their customers.

There are not many people who can describe economic problems we will face in a warming climate. What’s your current take on what the most important trends are which need to be solved in the next 3 years? 

We need to connect “net-zero” with Paris Alignment. Only then can companies truly understand how to take responsibility for their emissions and what exactly they need to do to achieve net zero and stay below two degrees. Combining these two goals allows us to understand the scale of the challenge and the changes that are coming. Depending on which path we choose, these will be different — either we decide not to act and stand still, or we evolve and move forward. Changes for our economy and us will come either way.

There are glass half empty and glass half full kind of people, so where do you see yourself and where are we with this planet in 2030?

Definitely a glass half full type of person. I founded right. because I believe that people can make changes — even the big changes we need to successfully transition to a below two degree future. But we are humans and we need to have a way to access and to grasp the complexity of climate change without being totally overwhelmed by it.

You’ve recently won the AmCham Female Founders awards. What does such an award mean to you and the company?

When I co-founded right. based on science I knew that this was the approach I wanted to build my professional career on. It’s very encouraging that other people, companies and the jury of the AmCham Female Founders Award see the importance of our work. This is why the award means a lot to me and my colleagues — it recognizes and supports our mission.

I know you’re not in this for awards, but is there an award or recognition out there you really appreciate and which does provide a certain motivation?

If you ask my co-founder Sebastian, he might say: TIME magazine Person of the Year. But, jokes aside: I don’t think there’s one award that keeps me going. I’m just happy to see that our path at right. is, well … the right one.

And, if people are interested in partnering with your company — or desperate to become investors — how can they contact you?

I’m happy to share our contact information, not just for potential investors or partners, but also if you need more information or want to analyze the climate impact of your company or portfolio: You can also contact us via our social media channels: LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Whatever works best for you.

Image courtesy of Hannah Helmke

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Benjamin Schulz

I'm investing in positive companies and am passionate about climate action and long-term human challenges. Early partner at BEAM (United People of Climate Action) and CleanTechnica (#1 cleantech-focused new & analysis website in the world), among others.

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