3 Changemaking Companies That Are Doing Big Things for the Environment Through Innovative Technology
Here in the Bay Area, we are situated in a unique time and place. We are a community that is at the forefront of social and technological change in many ways, but whose physical location fosters a deep reverence for nature, for adventure and for awareness. In this Changemakers issue, we are spotlighting three local businesses that are engaged in environmental work and the ways in which they are making leaps and bounds.
Ben Parker and Toby Kraus were not co-workers at Tesla. But they both worked for the pioneering company during different generations of the vehicle and are now bringing those lessons to the forefront of their own company, Lightship RV. Parker’s work as a battery engineer led him to a side project envisioning electric food trucks. And Kraus found himself at Tesla after a career in investment banking in New York ended during the financial crisis of 2007-08. Parker’s food truck idea morphed into a new concept after he took a road trip: What if the classic American hobby of taking an RV on the road could be sustainable? In 2021, Kraus heard about the idea and was sold. The two set out on a long RV trip (towing the RV behind a Tesla) and the rest is history.
The Lightship L1 concept was launched in March 2023: a solar-powered, electric RV that goes against all of our previous concepts of heavy, road-hogging vehicles. And while the co-founders think a lot about the mission and vision of Lightship, Kraus explains that it’s more interesting to think about the why. “The why is that there is an opportunity to bring electrification to a new demographic of people. The RV market is not your super typical early adopter electrification market. And the same goes for a typical RVer,” he says. Parker adds, “We both come from Tesla and we really believe in this idea that to sell sustainable products you must sell better products. In the case of RVing, we want to make a great electric RV and address a group of people who may not have exposure to that. It is sustainability by Trojan horse, the idea that once you buy this great electric RV it unlocks many other types of electrification in your life … so this can be a first point of use.”
The company is headquartered in the Bay Area as well as Colorado, both places where people have appreciation for nature. But the Bay Area is particularly well suited to this launch, as California is the largest RV market in the country. Like the first Tesla, which was sold in Marin County, the Lightship L1 is a premium vehicle in its first iteration. The co-founders see an opportunity for an entire industry to go electric, and smart vehicle purchases are a way in which individuals can have an impact on climate. In addition, the L1 may be eligible for solar residential tax credits, and if you have a place to park it you can use it as a backup home generator (or to charge your EV from) while it charges from the sun. Kraus explains that this is “the nexus of electrification and the outdoors; there are few places more geographically relevant than the Bay Area for that.”
Leila and Neeka Mashouf are not only sisters, they are also the co-founders of a groundbreaking company that makes textiles from carbon emissions. Growing up in Northern California, surrounded by redwood forests, in an immigrant family who fled their home country of Iran during the 1979 revolution, the sisters became enamored of nature and the science of it. They also had direct experience with fashion through their family-owned brand, Bebe Stores. Neeka says that they spent summers learning from merchants, designers, production experts and manufacturers, magnetized by the beauty of fashion, but then later realized how devastating the environmental impact of this industry can be. Rubi Laboratories was born in 2021, the culmination of careers in research, technology and bioengineering, as the sisters saw the opportunity to merge these inspirations and passions to make products that are better for the planet.
The ultimate aim of Rubi is to reinvent supply chains to be symbiotic with the planet. “We’re starting with fashion, but the entire manufacturing industry needs to be reinvented if we are to meet net-zero climate goals by 2050. More than many other industries, fashion is a big culprit speeding us toward further environmental catastrophe,” Neeka explains. “It is currently the third most CO2-polluting supply chain on the planet, mainly from textile production. It urgently needs affordable and scalable solutions rooted in cutting-edge science and technology to reinvent the way it operates.”
In simple terms, Rubi is converting CO2 into carbon-negative textiles. The input is CO2, and the output is cellulose, which is turned into textiles and eventually much-needed building materials and packaging. So instead of cutting down trees to get wood pulp — how man-made cellulosic fibers like rayon/viscose are made — they skip the need for trees entirely.
Fashion is just the beginning. “Our ambition is to scale our technology to become a plug-in to supply chains worldwide, not just within the textile space, but to any CO2-producing manufacturing facility,” Neeka says. “We really see ourselves as building the future of decarbonized supply chains and moving away from the detrimental supply chains we’ve had in the past to ones that can be planet positive and symbiotic.”
The name says it all, even if the concept is hard to grasp. In laymen’s terms, WeaveGrid is a software platform that helps connect electric vehicles to the electric grid and ensure they are charging at the right time for drivers and for the grid. This saves drivers money on users’ electricity bills and helps guarantee EV charging isn’t overloading the grid in any one location.
Co-founders CEO Apoorv Bhargava and CTO John Taggart raised their Series B funding in November of 2022 and have since watched the San Francisco–based WeaveGrid grow to more than 80 employees. Bhargava explains that the power and the mobility industries have been separated until now. “We are at that moment where these two physical sectors are rapidly becoming integrated. Our mission is focusing on that integration effort, and to keep everyone paying the lowest cost possible and keeping things as green as possible,” he says. “The way that our company works is that we are able to use the batteries inside of every electric vehicle to help balance the amount of renewable energy on the grid and reduce the cost of electrification. If you think about the evolution of a zero emissions future, we have to find ways to bring down that cost, to make it an easier decision for consumers.”
It is not a coincidence that WeaveGrid is based here in the Bay Area — the co-founders are Stanford grads, Taggard with a Ph.D. and Bhargava with an MBA. In school, Taggart focused on policy before moving to clean mobility and automotives after graduation, while Bhargava was in the clean energy field. Bhargava says that the Bay Area is at the center of electric vehicle use in the state, with one in five new cars sold here being electric, and one in three in San Francisco. “We are literally seeing the S curve, the inflection, happening here first,” Taggart says. “We are also living through a more fragile electric grid here with fires, etc. It has real consequences. So, we are hoping to scale the solutions, to prove out at this ground zero that you really can do this.”