How Green Are Boston’s Green VCs?

(Updated listings — see below) Back in his Navy days as a Top Gun pilot, Jim Matheson of Flagship Ventures—call sign Fuzzy—burned his share of jet fuel. But now that he’s a cleantech investor, he’s more careful about his carbon footprint, tooling around in his red Toyota Prius and buying carbon offsets for his Cirrus SR22-G2.

When Matheson happened to park in front of me on Memorial Drive a little while back, I joked that driving hybrids must be part of the job description for cleantech VCs these days. “You might be surprised,” Matheson replied (or words to that effect). Which, especially as we chatted about it a bit more, made me curious to find out just which cleantech VCs are walking the walk when it comes to energy efficiency and alternative energy.

To that end, I began e-mailing and calling everyone I could identify in the Boston area who’s investing in energy, asking what car they drive and what other evidence they could provide of their personal greenness. Most folks responded to my e-mails or calls, though seven, roughly a third of the list, did not. Some answers were far more complete than others, as you might imagine, and some VCs were far greener than others, as you might also expect. But I have to credit even those who fall toward the brown end of the spectrum for responding, and having a sense of humor about it. Take Chuck McDermott of RockPort Capital Partners, who offered, perhaps a bit sheepishly, “I don’t let the water run while I brush.”

So, with the caveat that this is a work in progress, and with the suggestion that folks whose answers were absent or incomplete might want to submit more details to green up their names, below is my color-coded list of the cleantech VCs in the New England area.

All told, seven out of the 20 people on my list reported owning hybrid cars—only one eschews car ownership entirely—and two have high-gas-mileage conventional vehicles. Several have done energy audits and installed energy-efficient light bulbs and home appliances, though no one is living off the grid (one tried, kind of, read on).

Greenest of all are Dave Danielson, founder of the MIT Energy Club and now a senior associate at General Catalyst Partners, and Rob Day of @Ventures. Danielson not only doesn’t own a car, he also buys 100 percent wind power from NStar for his home and is on the hunt for environmentally low-impact beer! Day, meanwhile, is a veteran of environmental causes—and in his pre-venture days led the World Resources Institute to carbon neutrality. I colored them forest green. Just a shade lighter (jade) are Jay Fiske, formerly of the Mass Green Energy Fund, and Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners, who wins points for his handyman skills (installed his own insulation), as well as his prose: “I turn out more lights every night than Churchill during the blitz.” And Andrew Friendly would have scored a greener tint if only he could have talked his wife, Kelly (who’s marketing director for Flagship Ventures), into living off the grid. But then he wouldn’t be a VC in Cambridge if he had.

A methodological note: I also asked for any clean-energy anecdotes people cared to share, many of which made their way to the bonus section of each entry below. If the stories were especially interesting, such as Mark Modzelewski’s tale making of environmentally friendly surfboards, well, I probably bumped them up a hue or two.

New England Energy VCs, Across the Spectrum

FOREST GREEN

Dave Danielson, senior associate, General Catalyst Partners
Car: None. Takes Zipcar when he feels the need for speed.
Home life: Buys 100 percent wind power from NStar through its NStar Green program, which adds 1.4 cents/kWh to monthly bill. Used only about 150kWh last month in his two-bedroom apartment. “I only spent an extra $2.10 last month for 100% wind power. What a bargain! Everyone should do it.” Of course, not everybody is as frugal with energy as Danielson is to begin with—the U.S. residential average monthly electricity usage in 2007 was 936kWh/month, he says.
Bonus thought: “As soon as there is a cellulosic ethanol based beer, that will be my beverage of choice.”

Rob Day, principal, @Ventures
Car: Used Honda Civic hybrid
Home life: Day and his wife are veterans of an environmental non-profit, the World Resources Institute, so he reports that they have long instituted energy efficiency improvements in their home. Last year, they switched from oil to gas heat.
Work life: In the 1990s, initiated World Resources Institute’s effort to go carbon-neutral. “My argument was that we needed to walk the talk, and it became a full organizational commitment, with a lot of great team effort.”
Bonus thought: “I’d love to retrofit my house with geothermal HVAC and controllable RBG LEDs, but that’ll have to wait a while.”

JADE

Jay Fiske, formerly general partner, Mass Green Energy Fund (now at Wakonda Technologies)
Car: Mini Cooper. “I’m also waiting for the electric Mini to be rolled-out in volume. And if we’re really successful, I’ll get on the waiting list for a Tesla. Or perhaps a Fisker would be more appropriate for me.”
Home life: Picked house a walkable distance to schools, restaurants, and shops. Keeps home thermostat at 63 during day and 55 at night. (“My family complains a bit during the beginning of the cold season, but once everyone figures out how many layers they need to keep warm, everyone’s happy again,” he reports.) Minimizes red meat consumption, tries to buy local organic produce and purchase in season fruits and vegetables. Installed dual-pane windows, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
Work life: Bikes to work most days (about 7 miles each way). Wife takes train or carpools. Wakonda, where Fiske is VP of operations, is developing low-cost high-efficiency solar modules easily for easy integration into building products.
Bonus thought: “Once my company does what we say we can do, however, it will be cheap enough for me to install our building-integrated solar roofing shingles, so that should bring me to a net-0 monthly electric bill.”

Paul Maeder, general partner, Highland Capital Partners
Car: Toyota Highlander hybrid
Home life: Installed CFLs throughout house. “I keep the house at 62 at night and 65 during the day, despite our babysitter’s blue lips. I insulated the basement myself, and was itching from the fiberglass for a week. I turn out more lights every night than Churchill during the blitz—and I lecture my kids about the blitz (and about how my mother’s family of 9 had one stick of butter per month in Switzerland during the war).”
Work life: Highland started an energy-saving program in June. Most changes kicked into effect in the fourth quarter, so far resulting in $4100 savings on electric bill. Highland also got rid of bottled water in favor of tap.

EMERALD

Jim Matheson, general partner, Flagship Ventures
Car: Toyota Prius
Home life: Buys carbon offsets for his plane, just did extra insulation at home and rental properties, always uses canvas bags when shopping, mostly buys organic, uses biodegradable pet clean up bags, and only employs environmentally appropriate cleansers. Has also replaced most lights with CFL and put timers on some lights and computers.
Bonus detail: Active in raising community awareness about energy matters.

Chuck McDermott, general partner, RockPort Capital
Car: Toyota Highlander hybrid
Home life: Uses programmable thermostats in his home, which also has high-efficiency heating and air conditioning. House also boasts some solid-state lighting from a portfolio company.
Work life: “We have not done things like offset our air travel with carbon credits,” but McDermott and some partners try to rent hybrids when traveling.
Bonus (and not entirely serious) thought: “I don’t let the water run while I brush.”

David Prend, managing general partner, RockPort Capital
Car: Not one, but two hybrids—a Prius and a Ford Escape
Home life: “Standard things.” Keeps the heat way down, efficient boiler, CFLs on half his lights, recycles.
Work life: Rents hybrids when visiting California office (spends about half his time in CA). RockPort is thinking about leasing a Prius for the firm.
Bonus thought: Thinking about a wind turbine for his place in Vermont

Andrew Friendly, principal, Advanced Technology Ventures
Car: Audi A3
Home life: Had full energy audit done of house, changed out light bulbs, sprayed new insulation in attic, installed flow restrictors on showerhead and toilets, upgraded to more energy-efficient, front-loading washer and dryer, changed watering patterns/usage for lawn. Currently evaluating solar PV and other clean technologies.
Bonus anecdote: In 2002, he was offered a job with Enron Wind (now GE Wind) near Bakersfield, CA. Tried to get his wife, Kelly, to move with him from San Francisco and live in a cabin off the grid, using wind and solar power. She declined and he didn’t take job.

Eric Emmons, investment partner, Siemens Venture Capital
Car: Toyota Prius, backed up by Zip Car
Home life: Revamped house with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) back in 2005. Used gDiapers (flushable/compostable diapers) until his kids got too big, now they are in Seventh Generation unbleached diapers. Recycles, uses canvas shopping bags and biodegradable garbage bags, doesn’t buy PET plastics.
Work life: Both he and wife commute via the T.
Bonus detail: Carries the Brighter Planet Visa card issued by Bank of America, which earns points used to purchase carbon offsets.

OLIVE DRAB

Bob Metcalfe, general partner, Polaris Venture Partners
Car: Traded in a 12-cylinder S600 Mercedes for a 3-cylinder Smart Car, license plate: SMATKA. “My big car is a Mini. Robyn [his wife] has a Mini too. SMATKA and my Mini are parked nose to nose in one parking space in our garage.”
Bonus thoughts: “But SMATKA gets only 38 mpg, so I’m already shopping for my next car > 50 mpg, and then > 100 mpg. On the other hand, I do not think, after we solve energy, that we will be using less of it, oh no. Onward to squanderably abundant cheap and clean energy.”

Mark Modzelewski, advisor, Forge Partners
Car: Didn’t answer
Home life: Buys local produce and recycles
Work life: Takes T to work almost exclusively, rides bicycle on nice days
Bonus detail: As a hobby, builds environmentally friendly wooden surfboards.

Jon Karlen, general partner, Flybridge Capital Partners
Car: Toyota Prius—but Karlen sees that as temporary. “The interesting one is going to be the Chevy Volt, and I’m going to be all over that one.”
Bonus anecdote: Went to a cleantech conference two years ago in Silicon Valley. When got to airport, the only rental car available was a Hummer H2. “Driving my H2 down to San Jose for the cleantech conference…I said, this is not happening again.”

David Berry, partner, Flagship Ventures
Car: Audi A4
Bonus analysis: “Personally, I have looked at a lot of things that I could do to make my life more ‘green,’ but do not want to do things for the sake of doing them without looking at the true impact—ie the lifecycle cost/impact. One example that made sense to me was going to a half compact fluorescent system at home, so you can still get light on quickly, but you significantly increase your total efficiency. Similarly, while I considered giving up driving to work for biking, when I compared the fuel consumption for the 4mi drive under standard conditions to the caloric intake needed to ride a bike the same distance, plus the life cycle impacts of that food, though surprising, driving ended up a better option. (Of course this is not a perfect analysis since gas is not the only think involved). There are a couple others, but these are the first two that come to mind.”

(Upgraded) Dennis Costello, managing director, Braemar Energy Ventures
Car: Car: Considering hybrid but hasn’t yet committed.
Personal life: Rebuilt beach house with Icyene foam insulation throughout, high efficiency boiler, and new windows. Uses EPA-certified wood stove to heat shop. Cooks in a lot, using local seasonal ingredients and a minimum of red meat.
Work life: Conscious about leaving lights at work and in hotels, but the big focus is investing in energy efficiency and alternative energy production technologies. “That is the real impact I am personally trying to have on our environment.”   Bonus Anecdote: “This Christmas, I changed out our Christmas tree to use just LED lights. It was great… bright, less energy, and cooler blubs so the tree lasted longer – our first solid state Christmas.”

BROWN (until proven otherwise)
Note to folks in this section: Planting a seed of information and watering it with an anecdote or two could green you up in no time.

Bill Wiberg, general partner, Advanced Technology Ventures
Colleague said he was traveling and would answer me when he returned.

Will Osborn, managing director, Mass Green Energy Fund
Didn’t answer e-mail

David Pelly, Matrix Partners
Didn’t answer e-mail

Hemant Taneja, managing director, General Catalyst Partners
Deferred to Dave Danielson

(Updated) Mike Zak, Charles River Ventures
Was out of the country and unable to answer initial e-mail. Called later to say he thought he could hold his own but that he didn’t want to participate in this article because he thought the focus “should be about ventures, not about venture capitalists.”

Bob Geiman, general partner, Polaris Venture Partners
Didn’t answer e-mail

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3 responses to “How Green Are Boston’s Green VCs?”

  1. fmmodzelewski says:

    For the record, except for 2 Saturday trips to Maine a month and occasional drives to CT for family, I put on maybe 5 miles of driving a month on my Dodge Magnum. Which I have solely to cart 3 pit bulls, longboards and art supplies.

    F Mark Modzelewski

  2. Brad Anderson says:

    Driving a hybrid may not be the best measure of green-ness. It takes about 100,000 miles of energy savings in driving a brand-new hybrid to “pay for” the environmental cost of building and shipping it to the new “green” owner. (compared to a moderate mileage used car that you already own)

    Making lifestyle changes like using less and living close to where you work/shop/recreate all have immediate environmental benefits. As does insulating a home – compared to compact fluorescents that are loaded with mercury and probably made in china.

    More: http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/16-06/ff_heresies_intro