A Night on Climate Innovation, Collaboration, and Action.

December 2, 2022

People worldwide are rallying behind the idea that collective action and collaboration can fix the climate crisis. Cities, by and large, have been leading the charge enabling activism, innovation, decarbonization and adaptation. At URBAN-X, we have been working with five new startups this year that aim to make cities more livable and equitable while massively reducing greenhouse gas emissions with effective and scalable solutions.

Dr. Sweta Chakraborty, Climate Behaviorist Scientist and President at We Don’t Have Time,  and Su Sanni, CEO and Founder at Dollaride joined URBAN-X’s Managing Director, Johan Schwind at Newlab on Friday night to discuss transforming our perceptions of risk and the decarbonization of NYC’s transit system for everyone.

4 Key


It takes an incredible amount of effort to build a startup and it takes even more effort and time to build a startup on climate. I think if we pull our energy, our resources and our knowledge, as experts, as investors, as entrepreneurs, and just as people living in the city, then we have a really meaningful chance and making a difference in climate.


We’re in this complex, complicated interconnected international risk landscape. Many of the risks that we face today are invisible, they’re slow moving. And that means our brains need to evolve to understand that type of complex risk landscape. But no brain evolves that fast, we still have the same brain wiring that our ancestors did. So we’re very likely to make those same snap judgments. And even though it worked out well, for us, and in early days, it’s not necessarily what’s best for us now.


The missing piece of the puzzle is applying the behavioral science, the social science, to all of the work that we are doing to overcome the climate crisis. We have the tools, we have the technology, we’ve got so much ingenuity.


CTAP (Clean Transit Access Program) will help Dollaride van convert to EVs, by providing them low cost financing, and support for fleet electrification. As a result, we believe that we’ll be able to reduce emissions in this particular sector by at least 21%, while creating the infrastructure and playbook to expand this same model to other cities.

Johan Schwind - Managing Director or URBAN-X

Dr. Sweta Chakraborty - Climate Behavioral Scientist, President of We Don't Have Time

Su Sanni - CEO and Founder at Dollaride

Johan Schwind

Welcome, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. My name is Johan Schwind. I’m the managing director at Urban X. And I’ll be your host for tonight.

Our team at MINI started URBAN-X in 2016, with a goal to reimagine and hopefully help improve life in cities. To date, we’ve worked with almost 80 startups who have collectively raised close to half a billion dollars in venture money to turn their ideas into reality. founders that these companies are harder work to improve many different aspects of life and cities, whether it’s by making it easier to build more affordable housing, whether it’s by making bike infrastructure ubiquitous, or by making it easier to grow food where we live. But says cities are facing an existential crisis. According to António Guterres, the chief at the UN, we’re on a highway to climate hell. Cities now home to over half of the global population are especially at risk because of their proximity to water because of the heat island effect. And because of the density. At the same time, these cities account for three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. So to us, they’re the perfect place to take action against climate change. This year with our new venture partner JVP, we’ve dug deep into what this means to us as a startup platform. And we’ve, as a result, we’ve put together a new cohort of six startups, five of which are working on specific solutions that tackle the climate crisis. One of them Dollaride has just received $10 million from from the state agency NYSERDA, to electrify transportation across New York City. And you’ll hear from Su Sanni, the founder of Dollaride later tonight. We’ve also started a brand new program targeted at supporting startups from all around the world. And I’m really excited that we’re joined by founders tonight from Italy, Singapore, France, and Indonesia.

We get a lot of bad news these days. So it’s even more encouraging to me to see so many of these founders dedicate so much of their time and energy to building solutions to climate change, and for cities. As many of you know, it takes an incredible amount of effort to build a startup and it takes even more effort and time to build a startup on climate. To asset urban X collaboration is one of the keys to success. I think if we pull our energy and our resources and our knowledge, as experts, as investors, as entrepreneurs, and just as people living in the city, then we have a really meaningful chance and making a difference in climate. To shed some light on how we can innovate, collaborate and take action effectively. We’re joined tonight by climate behavioral scientist, Dr. Sweta Chakraborty. Sweta is the CEO of We Don’t Have Time, the largest social media and communications company for accelerating climate solutions. Please join me in welcoming to the stage, Dr. Sweta Chakraborty.

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Dr. Sweta Chakraborty 03:34

Thank you. Thank you, I’m thrilled to be here. So we know we’re in a climate crisis. This is not going to be shocking to anyone in this room. I’m just going to make sure I get to my title slide. Perfect. Okay. So this is not going to be surprising to anyone in this room, right? The world is on fire. And we are seeing this in real time. Now, we’re seeing this and I know I’m smiling because you have to keep a positive attitude, even when you’re talking about what is clearly these these visuals that are behind me, right? We turn on the radio, we turn on the television and we see that the planet is burning. And it’s the irresponsibility and the exploitation of nature that has resulted in us finding ourselves in this situation. Climate scientists have known this for decades. And as a behavioral scientist who works closely with climate scientists. I’ve seen their frustration in trying to communicate to the public to policymakers to act on this, to proactively prepare to get ahead of it. Because we know the data, we know the science, we know what’s coming, and we can’t just sit and wait for it to hit us. But let’s actually reduce widespread suffering as much as possible, and yet so little action has been taken. The reason for this is why my field exists behavioral science the reason for understanding why this is such a lack of action has been taken. And even though we’ve been waiting to actually see the impacts of climate change, to get people to start caring to see that it’s going to impact them, regardless of where they live on this planet, we’re still seeing such little response. And why is this right? I’m sure all of you that are working in this space, at some point or another wondered why there’s been so little action, we’re in a bubble. Ultimately, we really are. We know our friends, our colleagues or networks recognize this. And yet we can get political leaders, we can get those that we’ve elected into power to do something so clear and obvious to us, right, what’s obvious to us, we’re not actually able to get our representatives to do so my whole field. And what I do is try to understand this and explain why this is the case. And here’s why we don’t care at a more multilateral at a more federal level on climate. It’s just limp. And this is gonna make sense, I swear this is relevant. Okay, so I’m going to ask all of you to participate in this. And to just honestly participate in this, I promise you that you are not going to be responding in any way that we haven’t seen many, many times before. I’m going to give you this scenario. There’s a lamp, pick your lamp, it doesn’t have to be this lamp that you really want to buy. Right? You’re really excited about this lamp. And next door to your apartment, condo house. This lamp is $40 and then you find out that the same lamp is available across town, half off. It’s $20. And don’t be smart. I know everyone here is really smart. So don’t be like oh, how what are my carbon emissions to get across town? No, none of that. No questions, no comments like that. But you have to get across town you have to put in the effort to get across town to buy this lamp for how far how many of you show of hands will go across town and buy this lamp for have raised your hand. And everyone please participate? Be honest. And if you are not going across town like can you also invest in my series A so Okay, all right. So okay, so most of you are going across town to get this limb for half up now. There was a car pick your electric car post Sarkar. I know we’re in New York City. Nobody drives I definitely have no idea how much a pollster costs so $25,000 is that I’m not going to look at the Swedes in the room who will correct me immediately as to how much this costs but $25,000 the car dealership is next door. And then you find out and you want to get this car. You find out this $25,000 cars available across town $24,980. Okay, how many of you show vans go across town to get this Pollstar for $24,980? Let me see your hands. Were all your hands. Come on? No hands. Okay, well, you are all predictably irrational. That’s exactly what we see. And the actual takeaway from that has so many implications in marketing and in advertising. And it’d be fine if it was just marketing and advertising. But there’s really real implications for this as human behavior and how it relates to climate, how we care about climate, how we adapt to climate, and I’ll make that connection for you shortly. So how many of you, I already saw it, right. But how many of you change your decision when I switched it from the lamp to the car? How many of you decided you’d go across town for the lamp, but you won’t go across town from the car? Think about this. We’re going to be talking for 10 more minutes. And then I’ll be here for the reception. Really think about why you switch that decision. It’s the same $20 In the first scenario, I described it as half off from $40 to $20. In the second scenario, it was $20 off a $25,000 purchase. Why was it more important to you in the second scenario, or less important to you? Sorry, in the second scenario, and this is how we are predictably irrational. All we did was change some words and context. And it completely predictably changed your behavioral outcome, your decision. And this is how humans predictably behave. And this is the kind of thing that has actually worked out for us for a very long time since the dawn of our species actually, even though right now I give you an example where it that wasn’t very fun, where you’re now everybody’s scratching their heads like wait, what? I’m a rational. So yes, you are firstly, but that’s okay. Because the power is that we know you’re rational and that we can do something with that, right? That’s not a bad thing. Knowledge is good. So it’s worked out for us as well. The whole reason our brains respond and react like that has allowed us to actually to actually really set up society. It’s allowed us to be successful as humans, we were able to run away from snakes and tigers, our ancestors, we wouldn’t be related to our ancestors. Had they not done that right? They probably we probably wouldn’t exist right now. If we didn’t allow snap judgments to dictate our decision making. Our ancestors would see a snake they would see the color of the snake they would see the position of the snake they would think Are there any other animals around, and that would cue our brains to respond quickly and make decisions. And that is a good thing. But the it’s not necessarily great anymore when the risks that we’re facing are not even close to that of what our ancestors dealt with. But rather, we’re in this complex, complicated interconnected international risk landscape. Many of the risks that we face today are invisible, they’re slow moving. And that means our brains need to evolve to understand that type of complex risk landscape. But no brain evolves that fast, we still have the same brain wiring that our ancestors did. So we’re very likely to make those same snap judgments. And even though it worked out well, for us, and in early days, it’s not necessarily what’s best for us now. And so, let me give you let me ask you another question and see how you respond to this. And I’ll explain why this is relevant as well. What is more likely to kill you? Pesticides are radon gas. How many of you say pesticides, Henry’s? I’m seeing most of you raise your hand. Okay. radon gas, raise your hand? A couple hands in the back. And you must be from the West Coast.

Okay, so radon gas is significantly more likely to kill you. It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, about 20,000 At least 20,000 people die from radon gas cause lung cancer in the United States alone, you if how many of you have been heard of radon gas, or know what it is? Okay. So we’re aware of what it is. But how aware are we that it’s a risk, right? Because this is a naturally occurring risk that doesn’t get the attention from the media. So it doesn’t actually, it’s not something that our brain picks up and processes. And so something like pesticides, which gets plenty of attention, especially in the East Coast, is something that we will attribute more risk and more frequency, more probability and likelihood of negative impacts than we would something like radon gas. So radon gas will kill 20,000 Americans a year. Um, pesticides are in the single digits to double digits, max of deaths related to pesticides in the US. So there’s so many examples like this. And we do different examples based on different audiences. Right. So shark attacks is another example. People think shark attacks will kill so many Americans and globally, it’s in the single digits globally. These are, there’s like a list if you if you want to take some time before Christmas, when you all come together with your families for the holidays, right? And just kind of Google Google what is more likely to kill you, you’ll see some great examples, and just have fun with it over the holidays. Most people will fall will fall victim to these examples. Because, again, we are so predictably irrational, it’s how our brains are wired, we are more likely to perceive greater risks to those risks that are more available that the media picks up and propagates that they amplify. And we’re less likely to perceive risks around things that are really serious, like heat, like sea level rise, like radon gas. And again, this knowledge is power. Yes, we’re irrational. But it’s good we know. Right? Because what are we going to do about it? Here’s some examples of where we overreact and under react in very predictable ways. So public outrage around plane crashes, public outrage around GMOs, 5g versus the risks that really affect and kill Americans heat, radon gas, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, these are the there they don’t match up. There’s disproportionate overreaction to risks that don’t matter. And there is under reaction to risks that we really need to pay attention to. And this is unfortunately, exceptionally relevant to impacts of climate change. And so one of the major takeaways from this is we know what the different contextual cues that are going to impact our decision making will be. And we need to take the research and empirical findings and apply them to our daily or daily demands. And our daily was what we want to see the public do and change what we want to see policymakers do and change. And so for example, trust in addition to what we were talking about, so what is causing this some additional risk associated with with plane crashes versus the lack of risk associated the lack of perception of risk associated with heat, right? It’s things like how available is it? Is it going to is it something voluntary getting on a plane? The reason that we overestimate risk around that is because it’s not a voluntary, you’re not flying the plane yourself. So people overestimate the risk of getting on a plane and really think that they’re super confident in driving a car even though it’s way more risky to get into a car and drive a car. Right. And so these are the different triggers we know will impact our perceptions of risk. And we know that trust also is a huge, huge example of what will contribute to So your perception of risk up to 50% of whether or not you are going to take something seriously as being risky to you. And this is related to climate to COVID. Right, is how much you trust the person communicating about it to you. So think about what that means in terms of policy in terms of who’s communicating, like about the particular risk? Do you trust Fauci? Or do you not? And how much that played into whether or not you’re going to take the risk of COVID? Seriously, just what research has found in behavioral science is even up to your political identity, just even if you’re a moderate, if you identify as a conservative as a liberal, as a moderate, we can actually predict how much risk you perceive in various risks. Think how insane that is, for a second, why should identifying as a conservative impact how you feel about actual statistics and empirical evidence around climate change and its impacts? That’s bizarre When did these things get tangled up. So just the fact that somebody who’s conservative is less likely to believe in COVID less likely to believe in climate change, the fact that we know that, again, is powerful. And that should help us determine how we think about talk about and demand our policymakers deal with protecting the public and safeguarding our futures. So all of this is the context I wanted to give you to talk about, what does this all mean for us? How many of you here have communication in your title? In your job description? Raise your hand. Okay, well, the answer is actually, whether you actually have it in your title or not, you all actually have it, every single one of you is a communicator, you’re a communicator, as an individual, and you’re a communicator in your role, it doesn’t, we don’t have the luxury of not being communicators anymore. So communication is the crisis we’re dealing with, in addition to the climate crisis, we’re in a communications crisis. And every single person in this room has a role to play in improving communications, especially based on what we’re talking about tonight. And based on what I’ve shared, what you’ve learned, and what I hope you will take away and continue to learn about, and there’s some great books that I can share at the end of this, that’s a that’s a nice place to start if you’re fascinated, and you want to get to learn more about it. But you’re all communicators. And first and foremost, you are going to need to address yourself your existing perceptions, before you begin to take on the role of what you’re going to do with your family members, with your friends, with your colleagues with your various networks. How are you actually going to? How are you going to share this knowledge today to radically change how you think about risks, to close the perception and reality gap, right? To become better calibrated individuals to question the statistics, you see, to actually look up the data to take the time, it’s not hard, we’ve got the technology to be able to actually discover what’s accurate and what’s not no through credible sources. Okay, that’s the key. That’s critical. And that’s key. But actually take the time to find out what the data actually says about something and align your perceptions to the reality, we must all radically confront the different contextual factors, and the different what we refer to as biases and heuristics that are not allowing us to align to the reality of what we’re facing. Because we’re not our ancestors. We’re not running away from snakes and tigers, we have some serious, complex interconnected global risks that we are all stakeholders in, that we’re all communicators in. And it starts with us as individuals to become smarter, more informed and better calibrated. And from there, what can we do as communicators, step one, become better calibrated yourself internally step to have these discussions, start with the radon versus pesticides example with your family members over the holidays, and you are already a communicator, change it in your LinkedIn profile, you’re all communicators. I’m telling you, this is what we need to do. This is the missing piece of the puzzle. The missing piece of the puzzle is applying the behavioral science, the social science, to all of the work that we are doing to overcome the climate crisis. We have the tools, we have the technology, we’ve got so much freaking ingenuity. We have come so far, we put buildings in the middle of oceans, and you’re telling me we can overcome this climate crisis. We just need to collaborate and that is the key theme for tonight. That’s the key theme of urban acts. That’s what you’re all doing here. We need to make sure we bring in the psychology, the social sciences, the behavioral sciences, have it part of the Condor conversation and overcome the climate crisis with science and technology and overcome the communications crisis at the same time. If we do this, this is the this is the main takeaway before I get to my final site, and I’m done. I promise I’m done. I’ve totally have not looked at time so I’ve no idea where we are with this. I suppose Sorry. But this is my final point, my final takeaway. So we how many people are constantly hearing this, if we only have the political will, right? Or we, or others hearing this, like we have the solutions, we have so much incredible ingenuity to solve the climate crisis, if only we have the political will. This is the answer to the political will conundrum. We will get the political will if we get the public to become better calibrated to better align perceptions, to reality, to not allow political identity to influence science. These things have to get disentangled, we can do it. We can charge ourselves, first, our families, friends and networks, to close the gap between perception and reality. And this is how you do it. Because we’re we are all naturally irrational. It’s the one thing we have in common. Remember that so when you talk to others recommend, don’t forget how you answer the questions tonight. We are all guilty of it. And it’s okay, we just have to recognize it. We need to be compassionate when we talk to others that don’t have the same beliefs and ideas necessarily, and then communicate, really communicate charge those to really get to the facts. And that will be what solves the communications crisis. That will be what overcomes the climate crisis. And that will ultimately be what brings that political will I never want to hear now that you’ve heard all of this, I never want to hear in hopefully, like one year, that’s what I’m charging everyone with, that there is still this political will crisis to overcoming the climate crisis. I know we can overcome this. And this is the prerequisite to doing it, we need to first confront our innate biases. And then we will be able to together solve the climate crisis. So thank you all so much for your time and attention. I’m really looking forward to what you all do in your respective roles. But remember, as individuals, first and foremost, radically confront your innate biases become better calibrated, and let’s get rid of this political will crap. Thanks.

Johan Schwind 22:09

Thank you so much. This was great. Next up, we have Su Sanni, the CEO and co founder of Dollarhide. Su is going to talk a little bit about how Dolerite is on a mission to make transportation clean, affordable and reliable across the transit deserts of America, and hopefully in the future, also the world. Please join me in welcoming Su Sanni.

Su Sanni 22:43

Thanks, Johan. And thank you to Sweta. It’s obvious you’re extremely passionate about climate change. And hopefully I don’t bore the crowd here. I know I’m probably the last step before you guys have more drinks and food. So I try to make this quick. So good evening, folks. My name is Su Sanni. I’m the founder and CEO of Dollarhide. And we’re a transportation technology company that is focused on underserved communities. We typically Launch Projects and do work in communities that are underserved by public transit. So I want to share a little bit about our work here in New York City and our plans for electrifying public transit sorry, electrifying, informal transit, you know, all around the country. So, um, you know, first and foremost, I want to give you an idea of, you know, how we started and what really inspired me to start this company. If any of you aren’t familiar with dollar vans, they are a commuter transit network based here in New York City of about 500 drivers, who have a daily ridership of over 120,000 New Yorkers. most New Yorkers aren’t even familiar with dollar vans, so don’t feel bad if this is the first time you’ve heard of them. But this is something that I grew up with living in Brooklyn, and also in Jamaica, Queens. Dollar vans are our most popular and effective in areas that have transit deserts. So these are typically you know, areas around New York and in other cities that are poorly served by public transit. But the funny thing is that dollar vans aren’t just a New York thing. They’re actually part of a global phenomenon, where all around the world small businesses and individual operators use their own buses or vans to transport people to and from work or to school or to, you know, to, to the hospital along fixed routes. In the emerging markets, you know, we have dollar vans as well, but They’re typically called something different. In Nigeria, in Lagos, where my family’s from, we refer to them as danfo buses. In the Philippines, they’re called Jeepneys. throughout South America, you might have heard of them as collect Evos, or pescados. All the things all of these are the same type of concept where the ingenuity of small businesses and entrepreneurs is what’s actually bringing people to and from work or did it or their destination, as opposed to a government sponsored transportation service. So I’m I share this story just to give people a glimpse of the breadth of transportation, and really how deep we have to go to bring our communities into the future when it comes to a more equitable, as well as a more equitable transportation service and solution. Now, 2 million people in New York City live in transit deserts, where they have poor access to public transit. And this as we know, limits economic mobility, so it limits access to jobs and health care. Now, while dollar vans have served this the same areas for years, they are also responsible for 27,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year. This is something that I learned well after starting a company, and it definitely shocked me and made me want to, you know, take action. So our solution to this problem is what we’re calling CTAP, which represents the Clean Transit Access Program. This is a community based program that will provide access to electric vehicles and charging stations. CTAP will help basically dollar van drivers convert to EVs, by providing them low cost financing, and support for fleet electrification. As a result, we believe that we’ll be able to reduce emissions in this particular sector by at least 21%, while creating the infrastructure and playbook to expand this same model to other cities. Now as the founder of dollar ride, this particular project is especially near and dear to me. My family has owned $2 van fleets for nearly 30 years. And I’ve also lived and worked in the city’s most severe transit deserts. So I believe were uniquely qualified to solve this problem, or at least bring a viable solution, you know, to New York City. But moreover, this particular project, the project team behind CTAP, is an excellent partnership of New York based companies. The core team, which includes technology from Dollarhide includes project management from build Edison, which is a management consulting firm focused on energy related projects, financing from Black Power, and also Evie charging from a Brooklyn based company here called Hiva. Needless to say, all these companies are based in New York, and many of them, including Dollaride are certified minority owned businesses, veteran and women owned businesses. Now the the economics of fleet electrification creates a compelling value proposition This is what actually made us really interested in this particular solution. Ultimately, we found that the savings from lower fuel and operational costs can be reinvested into financing and insurance products for fleet owners and drivers of things like dollar Vance. So as a result, CTAP will enable a flywheel effect where we can create support for a safer and more sustainable commuter van industry here in New York. Now, as Johan mentioned, very recently, about three weeks ago, we were announced as a winner of the New York clean transportation prize, there was a category called the clean neighborhoods challenge, where dowel rod was awarded a $10 million dollar grant to pursue the same program. Thank you, thank you, I won’t spend it all in one place, trust me. So we’re, we feel like we’re right on our way. And I’m really excited to actually put this into action. So just to go into a little bit of detail. Ultimately, what we’re doing is using a large portion of the grant funds, which are shown here in blue, and combining that with typical debt financing, which we were able to secure from our partner block power And the total funds is what we’re going to use to provide low cost loans, and access to vehicles and charging stations to the local dollar van community here in New York. So, you know, we feel like this is an interesting model and something that we can replicate in other cities. And we’re excited to get started. Now, all the current dollar vans today are gas powered vehicles. So simply by replacing roughly 100, or 105 vehicles with EVs, we will remove 5400 metric tons of carbon emissions from this particular sector. So for us, this is simply an MVP. It’s, it’s a prototype of what we want to do all around the city and other cities. But effectively, the more capital we raise over time, the larger the impact we can make by electrifying more fleets. Now I’m shut down mentioned something earlier about political will, and the way we communicate our climate crisis and the solutions that that should be viable and should be at top of mind. And that really resonated with me, because when we were pursuing this project and trying to develop it, it occurred to us that we have to do this from the ground up, as opposed to from top down. So we went around our local community through Brooklyn and Queens, and we talked to policymakers, we engaged with the drivers, the riders in the fleet owners, we talked to regulators, commercial property owners. And ultimately, we received over 40 letters of support from all of these individuals, as well as entities that wanted the same thing, a more cleaner, equitable transportation service for New Yorkers. So I’m really proud of that and think that this is a recipe that can be replicated, essentially, working deeply in the community to build these solutions and build a better future. Now, the EVS and charging stations that we will implement will be will remain in use long after the funds have been deployed. So we’re trying to ensure that there’s long term community benefits and a program like this. And also, these new EVs will be responsible for providing over 5 million rides every year, two commuters around New York City. So needless to say, I’m excited about the project. And we plan on replicating this in other cities around New York state, particularly Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, where again, there’s a lot of political will for projects just like this.
So thank you for your time. I’ll be here for the next couple of hours. So feel free to tap me on the shoulder and chat.

Johan Schwind 33:04

Cool, thank you so much. So that’s all we have for tonight. Now it’s a party. And I hope you found these presentations insightful, thought provoking, inspiring. Like I said, please stick around for some drinks and food and hopefully for some great conversations. If you would like to stay in touch with urban X and learn more about how our startups are evolving and what they do, please consider Subscribing to our newsletter. It’s a monthly newsletter, and follow us on social. That’s all I have for tonight. Thank you so much for joining us and enjoy the rest of the evening.