CleanCapital’s Zoe Berkery has no time to waste

The COO talks to Canary about leadership, teamwork, and knowing your worth. Plus, big job moves and an invitation.
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Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity and notable career moves in the climatetech sector. Got a person or event you’d like to see us cover or a hot job tip? Let us know!

Zoe Berkery: On staking a claim

Zoe Berkery is chief operating officer at CleanCapital. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

From a young age, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in sustainability and the environment. I majored in environmental policy and international studies, thinking I would go into law or policy. I started my career at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) under Obama, focusing on the federal government’s carbon footprint. It was a dream come true.

Later, I worked for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, doing advocacy for clean energy companies. However, I began to feel jaded by policy. My former boss at CEQ, Jon Powers, offered me a side job at his new company, CleanCapital, which I accepted instead of doing an MBA program.

CleanCapital was cutting-edge in the distributed renewables space, and I knew I had to jump in. Despite my family’s concerns about joining a small startup, I felt it was an exciting opportunity. My journey has been unique, starting in policy and now focusing on asset management at CleanCapital.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When I was interviewing for one of my first jobs, at the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the executive director, Lisa Jacobson, asked about my salary expectations. I went to answer — it was only the second time I had to address this question — and she stopped me and said, Don’t tiptoe around telling me what you actually need. Tell me what you think is fair and what you’re worth.” I was taken aback, but I answered, and she honored it.

It was such a powerful experience because she was so forthright. Many times, women don’t get that advice; we’re often taught to be people pleasers and not make others uncomfortable. But that really helped me stake my claim and make the ask throughout my career. The worst that can happen is a no” or a negotiation, but you should never shortchange yourself from the outset.

What is a barrier you faced and how did you overcome it? 

Imposter syndrome is something I think many people deal with, and given my nontraditional path into my role, it’s an area I think I will always be working on. I try to make sure my work, my contributions, and the quality of my team speak for themselves and can stand on their own. While our industry is improving and I’m lucky to be surrounded by amazing women and a diverse team at CleanCapital, that is not always the case in external meetings, conferences, or panels. When you feel slightly othered, or you are younger or the only woman, imposter syndrome feelings can creep in. It’s important to push those feelings out, own your decisions, and have conviction in your opinions.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

The recycling industry for renewables is starting to boom. Responsibly disposing of decommissioned equipment used to be tough and expensive, but now various companies are getting into the space with creative solutions. There is going to be an enormous amount of waste from solar by 2030, so this is a pressing issue. I believe it could be transformative to close the lifecycle loop on solar, especially considering the fragility of the solar supply chain. If we can make recycling efficient, with 95 percent of a panel being recyclable, it could make a significant difference.

What is your superpower? 

A complete lack of patience for inefficiency. It’s made me a very good problem solver, but I’m also acutely aware that I can’t do it on my own. I have been successful because I know the right people to pull in on a problem. I fearlessly dive in, take the lead on brainstorming, get to the heart of the issue, and, simply put, just get things done.

Career moves

Swati Daji, previously with Duke Energy, is now executive VP at EPRI, a nonprofit energy research and development organization.

Leslie Mejia has been promoted to project manager at Terabase Energy, a maker of utility-scale solar design software and construction automation.

Brianna Rivera, previously with Wells Fargo, is now an investor at Powerhouse Ventures.

Amy Jo Miller has been promoted to senior director of policy and market strategy at solar module manufacturer Qcells USA.

Courtney Welch, previously with SunPower, is now director of policy at clean technology financier GoodLeap.

Tori Denial is the new senior manager of marketing at Forum Mobility, after several years at EVgo.

Check it out

Join Canary Media on May 6 for a free online discussion, sponsored by the What’s Possible project, on building climate resilience in frontline communities. Hear from community development experts and local voices on the challenges they face, the role of financial institutions, and real-world solutions for an equitable green transition. Grab your spot now! 

Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.