It’s safe to say Elizabeth Shirt could never have anticipated what she was signing up for when she accepted the role of Managing Director of GLOBE Series in February 2020. But could anyone have anticipated what 2020 would bring? Get to know Elizabeth in this Q&A, why she loves the opportunity to lead the GLOBE team, and learn more about how we’re designing GLOBE Capital to create value for your organization today and build a more resilient tomorrow.
You have close to 20 years of experience in sustainability, innovation, energy and clean technology, and most recently served as Executive Director of Policy and Strategy at Emissions Reduction Alberta. You left that role this year to become the Managing Director of GLOBE—a company that has a 30-year history of convening in-person sustainability events. Now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. How’s that working out?
Elizabeth Shirt: Well, I accepted the role pre-pandemic and even then, the GLOBE Series team was already recognizing that the business model of 10,000 people descending on a single city for three days was not walking the talk from a sustainability or accessibility standpoint. We already knew the events industry needed to pivot. The pandemic accelerated that pivot and pushed us to get creative and hone our virtual convening skills.
What have been some learnings that you’ve picked up along the way during this pivot from in-person to virtual?
ES: A practical lesson is that it’s become a busy space. Anyone can set up a Zoom meeting. However, I think we’ve all realized that a Zoom meeting is not the same thing as an in-person meeting, and that it takes a unique skillset to deliver virtual events and experiences that are enjoyable while also driving action and concrete outcomes. GLOBE has combined our 30 years of experience in creating top-notch in-person events with engaging virtual platforms and techniques that allow people to connect and make deals from the safety and comfort of their home office.
A more strategic learning is that with the transition to virtual events, we’ve been able to drastically reduce GLOBE’s environmental footprint while increasing the accessibility of our events. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had over 4,000 people register for our events, which is close to the number of people we would bring together for one big in-person GLOBE event. We have the potential to reach an even bigger audience of changemakers AND no one travelled by airplane to participate.
The next GLOBE Capital is taking place in April 2021, following events in 2017 and 2019. Can you give us the 30-second elevator pitch?
ES: When we organized the first GLOBE Capital in 2017, we wanted to help Canada and the world recognize the importance—and the opportunity—of matching investment dollars with innovative solutions to effectively address climate change and accelerate the transition to a clean economy. At both the 2017 and 2019 events, we convened a big tent of buyers, investors, executives, innovators, and policymakers with a focus on the trillion-dollar potential of the clean economy. With GLOBE Capital 2021, the focus is no longer on the ‘why’—it’s about the ‘how’. We all agree that a cleaner, more resilient economy is the goal. Now, how do we get there? It’s time to take action.
The current economic recovery gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to hit the ‘reset’ button—how do we ensure those dollars are funneled into greener, more resilient infrastructure? We know we have cutting edge cleantech solutions in Canada—how do we scale them? Businesses now recognize that both environmental and social outcomes affect their bottom line—how do companies capitalize on the opportunities associated with ‘ESG’, ‘impact’ and ‘socially responsible’ finance and maximize returns, while creating more resilient communities?
These are the questions we’ll be answering at GLOBE Capital.
We need significant action in the next decade to accelerate the transition to a cleaner, more prosperous, socially just future for all. How do we do that when people can’t meet, do deals and have those random collisions typical of in-person events?
ES: GLOBE Capital won’t be another Zoom meeting. As long as we can safely and comfortably gather, there will be a scalable in-person component in cities across the country. In Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, and Montreal, we plan to create spaces to safely network, share ideas, and make deals. For those who can’t gather in person, we’ll also offer a virtual experience, including engaging programming, networking opportunities and curated matchmaking. We’ve explored and experimented with platforms that allow people to move in and out of breakout spaces to recreate those hallway meetings and collisions that GLOBE events are so well known for. GLOBE Capital is going to offer its delegates the best online experience available.
On a broader scale, we’ve talked about going beyond recovery to resilience. Are those still the right terms? Is this the goal?
ES: Fundamentally yes, because of course we want to recover from the pandemic and associated economic downturn. But “recovery” implies getting back to where we were, and this is an opportunity to do much better than that. So, let’s take all of the resources and energy dedicated towards economic recovery and put those dollars to work building a more sustainable, resilient economic landscape that’s more prosperous for all. We have an opportunity to find the silver lining in this crisis and come out stronger for it. That’s what resilience means to me.
You’ve chosen three themes for the program this year—Financing Resilient Infrastructure, Scaling Clean Innovation, and Activating Social Finance. How do the themes relate to this unique time we’re in?
ES: GLOBE Capital has always been about accelerating investment in clean infrastructure and innovation. That lens is still critically important. It’s about investing in shovel-worthy solutions that are going to result in near-term economic growth and GHG reductions. It’s also about game-changing innovation that supports the path to net-zero that we need in the long term. The third theme—social finance—has been linked to the GLOBE mission for a long time, but this year, we’ve chosen to shine a brighter light on it within the conference programming. ESG investing has expanded into a $30 trillion-plus business. New research from the Canadian Institute on Climate Choices found that climate, economic growth and social objectives are connected in ways that make it difficult to achieve sustained progress in any one area without actively targeting all three. We’ve taken these findings to heart. GLOBE Capital will demystify social finance and how it can benefit your bottom line.
How has the pandemic impacted innovators? What does this community need right now and how is GLOBE Capital going to meet those needs and introduce new opportunities?
ES: Sadly, in the immediate term, like many businesses, cleantech companies are struggling to stay alive. They are fighting to hang onto their staff and keep their businesses whole, and they still have the same goals as pre-pandemic: advancing their solutions, identifying customers, achieving market adoption and securing export opportunities. Canadian cleantech innovators have these amazing solutions to offer, but they need access to the capital required to commercialize and scale their solutions. GLOBE Capital will connect public and private dollars with solutions that will not only drive a profit, but also deliver positive environmental and social outcomes. We know this approach doesn’t just benefit the solution providers—it delivers better returns for buyers and investors. Brands with a purpose set on improving quality of life outperform the stock market by 120%.
The other opportunity GLOBE Capital presents is our big tent. Collaboration is the key to scaling impact. GLOBE Capital is the only event of its kind to bring together the movers and shakers from diverse sectors to drive transactions and accelerate growth. We offer unparalleled networking opportunities between innovators and entrepreneurs, investors and buyers, business leaders and social enterprises. 2020 has been a rough year, but together we can go beyond recovery to resilience.
I hear there might be a video of you rocking out on the internet. True or false?
ES: I will neither confirm nor deny that information. You’ll have to go find out for yourself.
Elizabeth Shirt has nearly 20 years of experience in sustainability, innovation, energy and clean technology. She has spent her career working with industry, innovators, investors, governments and environmental organizations in pursuit of the policy, technical, financial and cultural solutions that will help accelerate a cleaner, more sustainable future. In her previous role as Emission Reductions Alberta’s Executive Director of Policy and Strategy, Elizabeth was responsible for leading strategic initiatives and events. These ranged from developing ERA’s Technology Roadmap to delivering its biennial, three-day SPARK conference.
Prior to joining ERA, Elizabeth served in various roles with the Government of Alberta, including Director of the Climate Change Secretariat and Director of Innovation Policy and Programs within Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education. Elizabeth’s previous experience also includes providing government relations support to Capital Power and providing policy advice to the Canadian Electricity Association in Ottawa and the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, DC. Elizabeth has a master’s degree in economics from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and a bachelor’s degrees in economics and geography from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.