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. Please send feedback and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Canary thanks FischTank PR for its support of the column.
Karla Loeb: Policy wonk and force of nature
Karla Loeb is head of government affairs at Arcadia. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
Happenstance. I thought I was going to be an attorney. I got a phone call from a friend while I was spending some time abroad, asking me to move back to Texas and start developing wind farms, and that was kind of it. I moved to Austin and started working for Invenergy as a business development consultant then transitioned into a full-time employee.
When the woman who recruited me asked me to come back, I said, “I don’t know anything about wind energy or energy at all, really.” Her response was, “That’s OK. No one does.” It was really the early days, and there weren’t a lot of people in the industry. It was a whole different world.
My boss at the time understood my outgoing personality and decided to send me out in the field, to Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and so forth. That was an amazing foundation for me, to be able to understand the nuts and bolts, operationally, of how projects come to fruition. And it’s served me exponentially well because I’m able to think about policy not just in a vacuum, but from an operational standpoint, which not many policy people do.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A land manager for a large landholder explained something so succinctly to me, and it has stayed with me to this day. He said it was his responsibility as the steward of the land to make it as operationally efficient as possible so that the land could support itself, and the revenue generated could support other business interests. So while it’s not advice, this idea of stewardship really resonates for me — helping people whether or not they realize it and finding solutions to protect one another and the Earth. “Stewardship” is now a very big buzzword, but this was 16 years ago, before anybody was even talking about it. It has been a driving force and a focus point for me.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
When we think about barriers, we think about externalities, right? But I think that most barriers come from within. I’m kind of known for being a bull in a china cabinet — larger than life, a force of nature. Recently, I turned to two of my close colleagues and asked, “When people keep telling me that I’m a force, are they saying, like, a good force or bad force?” I was thinking about hurricanes and tsunamis. My good friend said I was definitely a benevolent force, but in reality, not everyone understands it that way.
It has been a barrier for me to be that strong, that visible. It attracts a lot of attention — and oftentimes, conflict — because maybe I haven’t taken the extra time to make sure that others understand what motivates me to do what I do.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
When people think about climate careers, they often think about technology, finance, law and some of the more typical professions you would associate with the industry. Soft-skilled people often don’t think there is a place for them. But I started as a liberal-arts person myself. I think the cross-functionality of liberal arts into the energy space is a critical component. Soft skills of communication, particularly storytelling, are so important because one of our greatest challenges currently is misinformation.
As a policy person who focuses on the government affairs and relationship-building side of things, I can say that we do not have enough energy attorneys; we do not have enough people who care about the nuts and bolts of how programs work or how the energy system works. We don’t have enough people telling our stories accurately and disseminating that information to a broad audience who does not have a technical understanding. As much as we need just gobs of engineers and electricians and installers, that has to be balanced out with the storytellers and the people who are in the room, helping to drive policy outcomes, because the industry is dependent on policy.
What is your superpower?
Connecting to people no matter where they’re from, who they are, what language they speak, etc. Being open to new experiences and people helps me focus more on what binds us together than what separates us. I try really hard to make sure that I am grounded in diverse people, experiences, places and situations so that we can achieve common goals and outcomes.
Career moves in cleantech
Alyssa Dizon was promoted to director of product at BlocPower, a company that installs climate-friendly HVAC systems and appliances and provides job training. BlocPower has completed energy projects in more than 1,200 urban buildings across the U.S. and claims its customers save 20 percent to 40 percent on their energy bills each year.
Rachel Payne was promoted to director of climate initiatives at X, Google’s moonshot factory. Payne was previously a venture partner at Elevation Ventures and a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Maria Barr joined cleantech accelerator and investor Elemental Excelerator as senior director, brand creative. Barr previously served as marketing director of the Emerson Collective and senior manager of corporate citizenship and communications at Disney.
Madeline Salzman was promoted to the role of advisor on Inflation Reduction Act implementation at the U.S. Department of Energy’s new Office of State and Community Energy Programs. The office is in charge of coordinating $8.8 billion in rebates for home energy efficiency and electrification, $200 million in residential energy contractor training and $1 billion in assistance for building energy-code adoption, according to Salzman.
Pallavi Singla was promoted to global senior marketing manager at Nextracker, a leading manufacturer of solar trackers. In collaboration with BCI Steel, a Pittsburgh-based steel fabricator, Nextracker recently announced the reopening of a historic Bethlehem Steel manufacturing factory that’s been retooled to produce solar tracker equipment for large-scale solar power plants.
Jessica Super is now VP of business development and marketing at Operant Networks, which develops network services and communications for industry and other large-scale systems. Super was previously with Depcom Power and the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Anita Otubu was promoted to senior director for Sustainable Energy for All’s universal energy facility, which provides grant subsidies to the private sector for the development of minigrids in Sierra Leone, Madagascar and the Republic of Benin.
Are you looking to advance your career in climatetech? Check out Canary’s roundup of top clean energy job boards and resources for jobseekers.
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