Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions, plus data points on workplace trends and diversity. Please send feedback and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cynthia Adams: Tenacious about sustainable living
Cynthia Adams is co-founder and chief executive officer at Pearl Certification. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
Back in my college days, there wasn’t a specific degree program related to climate, so even though I was interested in sustainability, my education was in English and biology. I took an interesting and circuitous path to end up where I am today. I’ve worked as a green builder, managed a design-build showroom focused on sustainability, and led energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. In each role, the common thread has been sustainability. It started with renovating my own house, then doing it for others, and later working in a program involving various contractors helping numerous homeowners. Now, with Pearl Certification, I am aiming for a national impact where we accelerate the energy transition, create wealth for homeowners and contractors, and significantly reduce climate emissions.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
As a leader of a company and as an entrepreneur, it’s crucial to embody a mindset of success, envisioning where you want to be before you’ve actually arrived. It’s not exactly the “fake it till you make it” cliché we often hear, but it’s similar; it propels you forward. This mindset can create space and vision for others in the company to aspire to as well.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Being a woman in this field can be a barrier. It’s tough for anyone to raise seed or series funding, but the success rate for women is even lower. This is particularly true in the energy sector. As a woman, you might often find yourself the only one in a boardroom, and the dynamics of conversations and how people connect can differ based on gender. While I don’t want to focus solely on gender, being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field does mean having to work harder. It’s about balancing leadership in a way that feels authentic to you without being perceived as threatening, which can sometimes be the case for strong women.
Another barrier is the current climate of science disparagement in our society and media. Today, a tweet from an influencer can hold as much weight as data from a peer-reviewed journal, which is absurd. We shouldn’t have to struggle so much to draw attention to issues that are crucial for our long-term well-being. While I wouldn’t call this a personal hurdle, in the context of Pearl’s business and our objectives, the notion that all data is equal — that curated, reliable data isn’t valued more — is both alarming and frustrating.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
My perspective is that many in the climatetech world are subject-matter experts. They aren’t necessarily engineers inventing new products but might be individuals with experience in government who understand policy nuances. In the sustainability space, there are many software professionals, but not as many excel in marketing and language. These businesses need diverse talent, just like any other company, to be successful. They require people skilled in various roles — for example, someone proficient in finance can make a significant contribution. So if you possess a strong skill set that any business could benefit from, consider applying it to a company in the climate sector because your expertise will be highly valued.
What is your superpower?
Tenacity, persistence and a thorough commitment to seeing things through. Like every startup, we’ve faced challenging times at Pearl. I think my ability to persistently rise each day, take on the next meeting, and continue pushing forward without giving up might be my superpower. This is often easier said than done, especially on tough days. But I firmly believe that for running a successful startup, drawing on this strength is essential.
Faustine Delasalle has been promoted to CEO of the Mission Possible Partnership, an industrial-decarbonization initiative led by the Energy Transitions Commission, RMI, We Mean Business Coalition and the World Economic Forum. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.)
Anna Pavlova has been promoted to senior vice president of strategy, market development and sustainability at CarbonQuest, which has developed a process to capture carbon in buildings to reduce CO2 emissions.
Kate Beardsley Grant, previously with Rhode Island Energy and National Grid, is now director of regulatory affairs and policy for the Northeast at battery energy storage project developer Elevate Renewables.
Check it out
On Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, Canary Media is hosting an online discussion with journalist and climate activist Bill McKibben about how the U.S. is ramping up exports of LNG — a fossil fuel that threatens climate progress. McKibben will dig into this issue with Canary contributing reporter Nicole Pollack, and the audience will have the chance to ask questions. Registration is free, and you can sign up here. Not able to make it? Check our website for a video of the recorded conversation in the coming days.