How Green Are Boston’s Green VCs?

3/23/09Follow @bbuderi

(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 … Next Page »

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • fmmodzelewski

    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

  • Brad Anderson

    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

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