How to Grow a Cleantech Future from Seed – with Matt Petersen

by | Dec 2, 2019 | Podcast | 0 comments

In this episode I am joined by Matt Petersen, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, who is nurturing the environmentally sustainable technologies of tomorrow. Matt shares with us his professional origins of working on environmental movements with Mikhail Gorbachev and Hollywood celebrities, and how in his current role, he is creating a community around sustainable tech innovation.

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Episode Transcript

John Bwarie:  Matt, who are you and how did you end up here at the LA Cleantech Incubator or the La Kretz Center? Where are we?

Matt Petersen:    Well, physically, we’re in the La Kretz Innovation Center that is a 60,000 square foot facility that the city of Los Angeles built and is owned by the department of water and power. And my organization that I run the LA Cleantech Incubator is the steward of this resource on behalf of the city. So we get a dollar-a-year lease to be able to sublease the space out to startups and other contributing members of the clean tech ecosystem, shall we say. So we have nonprofits and others that that sort of compliment the work of our Cleantech startups that operate here.

John Bwarie:    And what is Cleantech, if you were to define Cleantech?

Matt Petersen:    Cleantech is a pretty broad term used in a lot of different ways, but clean technologies, anything that reduces emissions, reduces water use, reduces the environmental impact of things we, whether it’s good services, buildings, vehicles, that’s really what it means to us.

And we’ve defined our focus within Cleantech. We’ve prioritized zero emissions transportation, 100% clean energy, and third is a broad category, sustainable cities. But we’re working on defining that to probably focus on circular economy. Things like fashion and textiles, organic waste, which is, you know, food waste, et cetera. And then probably resiliency. Some are in our parking lot, we have four different types of cool pavement demonstrated, to see how it operates, how it maintains, how it holds up, how it reduces ambient heat temperature, heat gain. So looking at a number of sort of solutions that work together.

John Bwarie:    And that example, this is more than just an office space of shared coworking.

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    You’re actually building things here. You have labs.

Matt Petersen:    Yep.

John Bwarie:    You have people creating technology.

Matt Petersen:    Yeah, absolutely.

John Bwarie:    In this building.

Matt Petersen:    So it’s not just coming here with an idea and finding a desk to work in, work from.

It’s creating the hallway connections that happen when you have an open facility like this that people walk in the door, what? This is a public city-owned building. What? This place is amazing. And the excitement and innovation that comes out of those conversations, whether they’re curated or by chance. Then we have the prototyping center where entrepreneurs and students create their ideas, manifest their ideas to create the, the future by using our water jet that cuts through six inches of steel.

John Bwarie:    Wow.

Matt Petersen:    To fashion a piece of lighting a chassis that then becomes added to the electronics that are put together in our electronics lab or a new polymer is tested in the wet lab and developed, or whatever it might be. Those things happen here and we see so many exciting ideas come and be created. And some of our entrepreneurs have raised money for their startup by just walking in the hallways and meeting somebody randomly.

So that’s what’s happening here.

John Bwarie:    So this is a community in and of itself. Incubator here is about developing ideas but also developing that community around shared ideas and this vision for a sustainable zero emission, 100% clean energy future.

Matt Petersen:    Yep.

John Bwarie:    Is that…

Matt Petersen:    That’s it.

John Bwarie:    [inaudible 00:04:01] put.

Matt Petersen:    Our mission is inclusive green economy, but I like the way you put it.

John Bwarie:    Thanks. Well, how did you get here? I mean, so this isn’t your first rodeo. You’re not, Oh, let me, let me talk about sustainability when I took this job…

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    A couple years ago.

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    Are you from LA?

Matt Petersen:    No, I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1991. I started working in electoral politics down here until 1992, oh, just a year and a half. But when you’re young, it seemed like an eternity. Ran a congressional race in ’92 and just stayed, went to grad school at USC. My goal was to run a nonprofit when it got done with my MPA, got hired to run a nonprofit a month into the program and then left that organization in ’94 when I got done with grad school and then ran an organization for 19 years called Global Green, which was the American affiliate of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross International.

And that was an exciting place for a young person to not just lead a nonprofit, but to learn.

John Bwarie:    So it existed already, they brought you in though to run it. Or did you…

Matt Petersen:    I was the first executive director.

John Bwarie:    Oh!

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    You created it.

Matt Petersen:    I was essentially a co founder.

John Bwarie:    Co founder.

Matt Petersen:    Absolutely. And, it was a sort of a ground up operation and I used to be able to, I would prepare in advance Gorbachev’s trip as well as negotiate his media interviews, to set up his political meetings.

John Bwarie:    Wow.

Matt Petersen:    It related all with to our environmental agenda, obviously.

John Bwarie:    Right.

Matt Petersen:    But it was pretty heady, exciting stuff as a young man.

John Bwarie:    How did you navigate that? How did you navigate the climate of what the world was like then? With an international leader on the forefront of sustainability, environmental issues when it is not as prevalent as it is today.

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    30 years later, 25 years later?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    What was it like then in terms of who you’re interacting with and what the reception was to the ideas you were promoting?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah, I mean in those early days we were focusing on a lot of nuclear and chemical weapons, destruction and non-proliferation as well as climate change, and things like energy efficient buildings, and solar power, and electric cars, and the like. I would go, like the best way to describe it is I would go to a cocktail party, or a party, and people go, Oh, what do you do? And I would begin to describe what I do and their eyes would glaze over and they, that’s nice. And they kind of go off to the next conversation. Either they didn’t want to deal with it or didn’t care or whatever. And I remember fast forward, we, Michael Bloomberg spoke at a Global Green dinner in New York when he was mayor.

And I introduced him and we kind of went back and forth around the joke like yeah, now you go to a cocktail party, people actually want to talk to you about climate change or sustainability. And it has changed a lot. And one of the things we did early in those days, like so about in 2002 we put out a call for Hollywood to join with the organization, Global Green to say to the president then President Bush, Hey, we want you to be our environmental president. We want you to go to this world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was really important at the time, and represent America. And we ended up getting Leonardo DiCaprio to show up. And the press event we did and the party we did that night, ended up getting more like hundreds of millions of impressions that got so much media attention. The White House put out counter spin, like Well, Leonardo DiCaprio is not going to this meeting, this UN summit.

So we then tried to make the environmental movement sort of sexy and fun, and then the next year we put celebrities into hybrid cars to go to the Oscars, to try to popularize fuel efficient vehicles.

John Bwarie:    You said you only did that for 19 years.

Matt Petersen:    Only 19 years.

John Bwarie:    And what happened? What was the transition? What were you thinking?

Matt Petersen:    Well, I had put a lot of effort into the work with cities as a place to create change. So we started with a greening affordable housing where we really thought you could improve the condition of low income families by creating better air quality, lowering their energy costs. So we did a lot of work with the city of LA, a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity, then we started doing the same approach on schools. Same with LAUSD and then other school districts. And we were always doing both a kind of a project and policy focus hook.

What can we learn in the project? How do we then inform policy and then use that as leverage to change how buildings are built and maintained and how, more importantly people live and operate in them. Part of the leverage point was to then begin to work with cities. Along the way I met a guy named Eric Garcetti, when he got elected to city council, he started doing a monthly meeting with environmentalists, which you know I had worked in and around the city of LA for seven, eight years at that point, had never had a council member want to talk to me on a regular basis, and I gave him an idea of why don’t we create a green building policy, that requires all cities buildings to be LEED silver or better. He’s like, let’s figure it out. And they got the policy passed, first big city in America, really only a second or third city use LEED as a policy tool and to require it changes.

The building engineer at the time was a little frustrated with us like what are you doing to me? We’re all building great buildings. You’ve got to put this additional requirement. Now LA is the hero on terms of the most LEED gold certified square footage of any city in America.

John Bwarie:    Mm-hmm (affirmative) So that started as a conversation like when…

Matt Petersen:    Yeah! When Eric embraced it as a council member and made it happen.

John Bwarie:    And the other folks sitting around the room, do they come with ideas as well or?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah, I can’t remember them now.

John Bwarie:    Right.

Matt Petersen:    But you know, I think some of them also probably ended up into the hopper for Eric to [crosstalk 00:09:55].

John Bwarie:    Collaboration sort of ideation in these meetings.

Matt Petersen:    Yeah. Yeah. And that’s where the magic usually happens. You knows where you can scratch out on a napkin the policy idea, or over a beer, or a coffee or in a room like that, or in a hallway at a conference, or at a community meeting where these ideas come to the fore.

And then I was so impressed with Eric as a young council member that gave him an award a year later, even though he was just on the council over a year. But he got this policy passed and I could see great potential in him. And so we gave him an award and Mikhail Gorbachev was there, and we gave Leonardo DiCaprio an award that year. So he was amongst all these, you know, major players and a couple of giants like Gorbachev. So we did begin our friendship. And then a couple of years later, took him to the Arctic Circle with Jake Gyllenhaal and Selma Hayek and then a member of the state assembly. We’re going to take Fran Pavley but she couldn’t go. She was assembly member and passed AB 32.

John Bwarie:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matt Petersen:    She had to be in New York for a speech. And so she sent another member of the assembly and then we took a couple of business leaders and we all went up to the Arctic Circle to see the impact of climate change upon the Arctic people in the region.

And again, early days of the climate movement, but they were facing the impact of climate change two to three times the rate of the rest of the world. And now we see the Arctic see ice. Of course, it’s just devastating what’s happening, quickens the whole pace of climate, global warming and intensity of climate, the climate crisis. That really deepened our friendship. And so when fast forward to 2013 when he got elected as mayor, he called me and said, Hey, I want you to be the Chief Sustainability Officer for Los Angeles. Wow, okay, that’s a big move. But he and I would be friends and he had talked, we talked about what else we could be doing.

John Bwarie:    And there hadn’t been one before?

Matt Petersen:    Never one before. And we had talked about over the course of our friendship and his members as time as a city council member, how does LA create a sustainable city plan? How does it create a comprehensive framework? So that was the mandate going into city hall to create the city’s first ever sustainable city plan.

John Bwarie:    You seem to have done a lot of firsts, you’re on the cusp of what’s happening, what’s next?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    And it lead you to here.

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    I mean this, this space that we’re sitting in, LACI, is you said the largest in the world or?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah, it’s certainly the largest Cleantech Incubation coworking space, and certainly the largest for any city related facility like it.

John Bwarie:    If you look back and you look forward, looking back over your shoulder and look into what’s, the future, you still got at least 30, 50 years left…

Matt Petersen:    Extra generous.

John Bwarie:    Right? Yeah, there you go. But what’s coming, what’s the next chapter to this climate crisis? Do you stay here for another 20 years? [crosstalk 00:13:03] Or is there something else brewing out there that we should be aware of?

Matt Petersen:    I served the mayor for entire first term and when this opportunity came up, it was tough to leave the mayor’s office. I figured there was another good year left to work and one of the big lifts that we had to make was around transportation, electrification, particularly with goods movement and trucks. But it really just took that need and manifested a solution here. So that’s why we created the Transportation Electrification Partnership. It was me, Chair CARB, Mary Nichols, then President of Edison, Ron Nichols, may he rest in peace. And the former, the general manager of department of water and power, we all sat around this table we’re sitting at, said we’ve got to do something to get people to come together to work regionally to accelerate the progress towards zero emissions, mobility and goods movement and credit the partnership. And now we’re getting major corporations to invest in LA, in a way they don’t invest anywhere else.

Time and money. So BMW based in Munich, yes. Their largest urban market for their car sales is LA, but they don’t have any policy or technical staff here. So we get, they’re flying in folks from, Sacramento or Silicon Valley where they have relevant staff or Munich to participate in a conversation with Mary Nichols or their CARB’s technical staff and the mayor’s current CSO, Lauren Faber O’Connor or Metro CEO or whomever to talk about, all right, how do we get more momentum on electric cars and how do we get the charging where it needs to be? And so we’re really using this platform, this facility is allowed us to be a convener. And so how do we build that?

John Bwarie:    And it seems like that’s what you’ve done sort of in this narrative here of what you’ve done all along, is you’ve brought people on. So what’s the secret? What are your approaches to bring people into something that may be unknown to them? Besides taking them to the Arctic Circle firsthand?

Matt Petersen:    Right.

John Bwarie:    How do you get people to join from celebrities to politicians to adopt policies, to people just to sit around and say, how do we solve this? How do you bring them in?

Matt Petersen:    Well, you’ve got to find a shared sense of purpose. That’s always core. And number one is the commonalities. And once you have that, how do you also one of the, I think the, if you have a shiny object, it helps a little bit sometimes. So in case of working with Mikhail Gorbachev, it was the former Soviet leader, which allowed us to bring people to the table that wouldn’t otherwise have engaged with us. And that then translated into our ability to work with some leaders in the entertainment community and whether it was Leo or Brad Pitt, we worked together in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina or we did, Global Green opened up a whole office and built a team of 15 there, and did tremendous amount of work to help the city rebuild. But again, you’ve got to have a compelling idea number one and that’s probably the first thing to start with.

Then that’s your sense of common purposes. Who else shares that commitment to that compelling idea and solution? To a challenge that connects to people on a human level as well as a scientific or technical level. It can’t just be one or the other, in my experience. And then I think one of the secret sauce aspects is find someone who’s an unexpected partner who others value. Like, Oh wow, I didn’t think about that, I think about that you were able to get X to be able to come and figure out how to do Y with you and your partners and that’s also part of, it doesn’t always work. You can’t get unexpected partners or somebody who maybe was reluctant before to actually engage.

John Bwarie:    Have you ever tried something really, really gone far down a path and then realize it’s not going to work and had to either scrap or start over or just abandoned?

Matt Petersen:    You know, when you make it that far where you’re down the path where you’re… The short answer is yes, of course. The long answer is if you’ve made it that far that the ideas come to life, you’ve gathered the resources, you’ve gathered the people, you’ve gathered the projects and you’re making progress towards that goal you’ve set together, you’ve got to pivot, right? It’s never, you never want to abandon.

John Bwarie:    Okay.

Matt Petersen:    This ship. Look, the closest is example to having to abandon, in New Orleans, after Katrina, I went in with three ideas. It was like I watched the coverage after the storm in 2005, August 29, 2005 with horror, and like how could we abandon our own people? Every level of government, local, state, federal failed our own nation and our own people. It was mortifying for all of us, and we ended up going through that kind of grief process and disbelief was all right, what can I do?

We can give a family a place to sleep. We can, Oh, I could adopt a nonprofit and help them come back. But then really sort of kept feeling something well up and root work through me that was bigger than me, and came up with this idea to rebuild New Orleans to be the first green city in America, through greening of the schools, greening of the rebuilding and the housing and adopting a neighborhood. Long story short, raised money to hire a staff and bring some people there. Got a $2 million grant from the Bush-Clinton Katrina fund to green the schools, and led to greening of two a $2 billion in school construction. All LEED certified, healthier, better daylight, all that. Or along the way, I met Brad Pitt and said, Hey, I’ve got this idea to adopt a neighborhood and why don’t we work on it together?

And he wanted to do a design competition, so we did. And that led to a project Global Green Build. He went off after that and did his own project in Lower Ninth Ward that had its challenges, but also successes. And we built five single family homes and a community center. But the piece that I had to let go of was a 20 unit apartment building. Current Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana was treasurer of the state, didn’t want more affordable, subsidized housing in New Orleans. He was a conservative Republican, sort of took himself to be a budget hawk, and took away the money we had after I’d done all the difficult architecture, finding a tax credit investor and other partners and dah, dah, dah, took the money the state had put in and spent it on housing elsewhere in the state. That was tough, I probably could have read the writing on the wall sooner and given up, but it was hard to let go of.

John Bwarie:    Yeah.

Matt Petersen:    When you feel like you made a commitment to a community and to people.

John Bwarie:    And so what happened? The reaction, was the blame to you? They realized what the politics of it?

Matt Petersen:    I think most people, yeah, saw the politics of it. There was no blame. It took a while for the organization to get the community center completed that had to be finished after I left and went to the mayor’s office. But it got done and now it’s open and being used. And while I was there, we got the five single family homes built and sold. And teachers and nonprofit staff and others lived there and they get $24 a month energy bills in the middle of New Orleans summers.

John Bwarie:    Wow. And it’s interesting if you think about tech and Cleantech and you think about innovation, you’re thinking about a lot of hard technical work. It may not be, it may be fun for the person working on it, but if you’re an observer, this stuff is highly technical, highly sophisticated, may or may not work, but it’s for the purpose of the people, right?

Matt Petersen:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Bwarie:    We’re using very brilliant minds to solve complex problems that take many partners. How do you connect that work and that brilliance and that solution to the people who need it? You mentioned a little bit about New Orleans, and creating energy efficient homes and that adopting of a neighborhood, but if you come back to here, the work today…

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    In the, almost 2020, what’s the, how do you connect with the people here that you’re serving? It’s this municipal facility, right? City owns it. There’s four million residents in Los Angeles, and how do you make sure that the work being done here benefits them?

Matt Petersen:    Great question. The way that we make sure the work we’re doing here benefits the residents of Los Angeles and the city, but also more broadly in the region, is that we’re here first and foremost to help Cleantech startups come to market, iterate and grow their businesses as a way to solve the climate crisis and to create an inclusive green economy. Meaning how do we include everybody in the workforce, empower our new entrepreneurs in the future, et cetera. So the way we’re doing that is getting opportunities for startups to deploy solutions in disadvantaged neighborhoods, disadvantaged communities that suffer from disproportionate air pollution, suffer from disproportionate disinvestment as well as lack of, just for historical lack of investment and bring them, and let’s say a E.V. car sharing program to bring them a electric scooter service. So, Bird and Lime are not necessarily taking their scooters to some of these disadvantaged communities, these lower income neighborhoods, they’re dropping them off in arts districts in Santa Monica or those types of neighborhoods.

So we, well I went to friends in the legislature who support LACI and said, why don’t we create two things. One, a pilot program where we can deploy zero emission mobility pilots in top 10% disadvantaged communities, which is based on the CalEnviroScreen, so using an existing framework that prioritize neighborhoods that would be eligible. And then we call to our startups in our portfolio we work with, and others in the ecosystem and say, tell us your ideas and communities, tell us what your needs are. That we got $2 million from the state legislature and the budget that we then allocated to pilots and then to create a workforce development program. So the pilots we’ve selected for communities…

John Bwarie:    They apply or [crosstalk 00:23:27].

Matt Petersen:    They applied. So we had 19 communities apply.

John Bwarie:    Right.

Matt Petersen:    Saying, what are your pain points for mobility and air pollution? Roughly? It’s more complicated than that, but that’s roughly what we asked. And then technology providers through startups, what solutions would you have that would be appropriate for a low income neighborhood? And we then did some analysis and matchmaking. We picked four neighborhoods, Pacoima, Long Beach, San Pedro and Huntington Park. So now we’re working with the community based organizations, the tech providers to put the solutions in place that will bring these benefits to these communities. So that’s a tangible way where we’re taking the startup technology and solution, bringing it directly to the community. And then what we’re doing in parallels, we’re doing job training and workforce development. We’re preparing those, basically apprentices, with the startups to then work in these neighborhoods to install and operate these solutions.

John Bwarie:    And how do you get the community to have buy in? I mean oftentimes, so someone applied a nonprofit, a government agency perhaps or a partnership combination applies, of the 19 you select four, and you go back out. Now there’s a lot of people who have no idea this is happening, but they might get the benefit or they might even want to be involved in the…

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    How do you get in there?

Matt Petersen:    Well, you’ve got to have the community based organization and your partner play a role obviously in educating the neighborhood and the community about it. Because you don’t want this to be a surprise, A. B, want them to use it. Once it’s in place, you’ve invested this time and money, you don’t want it to sit there. So you know, whether it’s passing a policy or getting a project in place, too many people put their attention on just getting that policy passed, a law passed, an ordinance passed or a project in place. You’ve got to focus on how do you get acceptance then adoption and implementation in wide use of it. So we’re building that into our partnership of how do those community based organizations help us do the marketing and education and then as well as looking at how we provide some additional resources to make sure we iterate and learn along the way.

John Bwarie:    And as a pilot, is there a evaluation I assume, built in or how does that work? So you say, okay, come back a year later and say did it work? Do we know?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah [crosstalk 00:25:51].

John Bwarie:    Have you actually gone through that whole process yet?

Matt Petersen:    We only have on the campus pilot. So in the building you will see different startup technologies have been implemented and integrated into water monitoring or lighting technologies, et cetera. We’re seeing how they work or don’t work. And that’s feedback for the startup, but it’s also a way the department of water and power wanted to learn from the startups working here, and that’s one of the reasons they justified the investment, is to get new ideas for the department of water and power and the water and power system. So, and then we also have some pilots we’re doing around the campus, same sort of thing. We’re seeing what works, what doesn’t, and testing.

We have BMW’s first electric scooter, first time they’ve ever deployed it and we think the world, but certainly North America is here at this campus. It’s not a cheap scooter, but it’s a beautiful heavy duty electric scooter. And then we also have more of a traditional, what you’d see on the road now, scooter, that you can blown out for free if you’re a campus member. And we’re seeing what works, what doesn’t. So we’re going to take that same approach as we do these community pilots, is what’s working, let’s get some feedback and then iterate.

John Bwarie:    Where do you see the next move of community embracing these? I mean these technologies, we know that oftentimes people say, well, I don’t want to give up the modern convenience. I don’t want to have to stop flying. I don’t want to have to stop driving just because, I don’t want to have to stop eating the food I want because it’s delicious, but now I’ve been told that I shouldn’t eat that anymore. How do we get more of the masses involved in understanding the choices they’re making and realizing that they, I assume, I don’t know, maybe they don’t have to realize this, that they have a role to play. And it’s not about giving up life.

Matt Petersen:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Bwarie:    It’s about choosing, making some choices that affect them and the world?

Matt Petersen:    It’s always been a challenge, is how to get people to pay attention and focused a lot on efforts to engage the public to, at the time, to drive a hybrid car or to bike or walk or take the bus or whatever it is. The call to action. I mean, all these things matter, and did this in the mayor’s office to try to get the public to conserve water. So you need a sense of urgency and a sense of hope. You do need a little bit of sense of fear. I mean always with the extreme drought there was that a reality like, okay, worst case, how do we make sure we don’t have a problem with our, we’re never were in a crisis mode where we weren’t going to get water in LA, but other places in the world, we’ve seen that, that’s a challenge. And including some cities in the United States in California and the extreme drought.

So challenge solutions, call to action, and we had a water conservation target to experts like Mark Gold thought was just, wow, that’s laughable. That’s way too aggressive. How are you going to get there? And Mark will tell you, he was pleasantly surprised when we’re able to get to 20% per capita water reduction within a year and a half. And we did it by creating a public campaign. We did it by putting another incentive in place to get people to tear up their front lawns. If the only person that walked across it was a person that mowed it and put in drought tolerant landscaping. We did a number of things that achieved, helped us achieve success. And the same thing back to the Prius. I mean it was Toyota was putting it out there. Parsley’s response to California policymakers.

We were open to any car maker given us their hybrid car. They were the one through the dealership that lent it to us, it was part became meme, that a cultural meme at the time where I had friends saying, Hey, my Republican mom in Oregon saw the coverage and decided, you know what, if celebrity can drive a hybrid car, I can, and I get to save money.

John Bwarie:    It worked.

Matt Petersen:    So it can work.

John Bwarie:    Yeah.

Matt Petersen:    And individual action does add up. It does, you know the power of the pocket book. Of course, the power of your vote, these all matter. And we need government and corporate leaders to make it foolproof. That yes, we need to make that electricity system 100% clean energy. Yes, we need to move to 100% clean transportation through electric vehicles. So it’s got to be both.

John Bwarie:    Great. Let’s move on to our lightning round. I’ve got a couple of questions here. Just the short answer. First thing comes to mind. Are you ready?

Matt Petersen:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    Okay. Who’s a leader who has influenced you in your work?

Matt Petersen:    Probably I would have to say Mikhail Gorbachev just because he was such an influential figure in my late twenties and early thirties.

John Bwarie:    What book has changed the way you think about the role of community in your work?

Matt Petersen:    Two books were seminal for me. One was Paul Hopkins, A College of Commerce, the other was Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. And one nonfiction one fiction. College of Commerce showed me how the depth of interconnection, not just in the natural ecosystem, but in our literal community of cities and neighborhoods. And I think in Ishmael influenced me, at just about the interconnection of systems and institutions and how they impact us and sometimes limit us, sometimes empower us.

John Bwarie:    What’s the most surprising finding that one of your pilots at LACI has found?

Matt Petersen:    Well, I think one of the most surprising things, one of our pilots here found is not really a pilot, but was our startup Ampaire got their electric airplane in the air recently.

John Bwarie:    Wow.

Matt Petersen:    And there was a line in one of the Ironman movies were Tony Stark sees Elon Musk and Elon’s trying to talk to Tony, he says, I’ve got an idea for an electric airplane. Well, these guys have an idea that actually they put in the air of an electric airplane.

John Bwarie:    That’s amazing. What’s the first place you turn to for information when working with a new community?

Matt Petersen:    There’s always the first step of just education and doing some reading. But then the real intelligence comes through finding a community leader or an authority who can give you the nuance and insights that you just can’t get from reading anything.

John Bwarie:    Perfect. What advice would you give 25 year old you?

Matt Petersen:    Don’t suffer and sweat the small stuff.

John Bwarie:    What can our listeners do to contribute to a Cleantech future?

Matt Petersen:    Well, look at the ways you could integrate Cleantech into your life or business. Obvious steps like solar, now there’s storage to add that, more important than ever driving a zero emissions vehicle, changing their behaviors and trying to get out of the car and into the bike or walking or on a bus. But those are still the ones that I think come to mind. But I think giving us a donation is also an option.

John Bwarie:    Absolutely. What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made you?

Matt Petersen:    There was a leap of faith when I took the job at Global Green, even though Mikhail Gorbachev was involved, though it really, the path wasn’t clear, but that was great. But I think the best career decision by far, in a yes, a black and white situation was saying yes to Mayor Garcetti to take the CSO role.

John Bwarie:    And finally, what so far has been your proudest professional moment?

Matt Petersen:    Well, that’s easy. It was electing my dad as County Superintendent of Schools in 1990 against the three term incumbent. And my dad, I was his campaign manager and he served 16 years in a way that just really enriched the lives of kids in Stanislaus County, and used his leadership mantle to effect policy statewide.

John Bwarie:    Great. Well, Matt, thanks so much for spending some time with us and sharing your approach to working to change the future and work with communities.

Matt Petersen:    Thank you, John.

John Bwarie:    Thanks for listening to Community Intelligence, and for more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at At Stratiscope we provide community intelligence services to businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. Let us know how we can help you.