Interview: Ishita Jain on IMM and the Clean Energy Transition 

Support for large-scale transitions to clean energy sources is stronger than ever before, but the specifics of these transitions are numerous and complex. 

This is where Impact Measurement & Management, or IMM, comes into play. Our guest, Ishita Jain, explained the concept in detail during our interview, which you’ll find below, but on a basic level, IMM is about assessing and considering the positive and negative effects of business decisions.  

This is an extremely integral concept in impact investing and business operations at large, and we greatly appreciate having the opportunity to speak with Jain about this topic. 

But before we get to the interview, we’d like to give Jain a proper introduction. 

Originally from India, Jain is an industrial designer who has worked extensively in the area of high-end luxury products. 

More recently, she has shifted her focus to ‘design for social innovation,’ which centers on creating social conditions that result in increased creativity, equity, social justice, and a healthy connection to nature. 

She has judged many design and innovation competitions, including competitions at MIT and UC Berkeley.

Jain is currently the Impact Insights & Analysis Manager at the Autodesk Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of Autodesk, Inc., an extremely profitable multinational software corporation. 

Jain is clearly very passionate about IMM and social innovation, and we’d like to thank her for sharing her insights with our readers. 

It’s clear that the transition to clean energy is already underway. Do you feel encouraged by the transition as it stands today? Do you feel nations/private companies need to move more rapidly?

Yes, the clean energy transition (i.e. shifting energy production away from sources that release a lot of greenhouse gases, such as fossil fuels, to those that release little to no greenhouse gases) is underway. However, the World Energy Outlook 2021 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) explains that while the world has begun a momentous shift in how we power the economy, with investment in oil and gas slowing and spending on clean energy rising. It’s not happening fast enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. 

Around two-thirds of the world’s electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels, reaching these climate goals by 2050 will require at least 80% of electricity to be shifted to low carbon sources, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). To make that happen, the world needs to grow annual investment in clean energy by close to $4 trillion by the end of the decade, according to the report. 

While I’m not encouraged by the pace of the transition, I am encouraged by the fact that the world is coming together in the face of this challenge. In many countries, the falling costs are making renewable energy ubiquitous and more affordable than fossil fuels. At recent climate conferences, a growing number of world leaders agreed to reduce methane emissions and aim for net-zero emissions. Over 40 countries committed to phasing out unabated coal power in the next two decades.

When did you become professionally engaged with the transition to clean energy?

I became professionally engaged with the transition to clean energy in my role as Impact Manager at the Autodesk Foundation. As the philanthropic arm of Autodesk, Inc, Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to address the world’s most pressing challenges. We provide risk-tolerant funding, technology, and talent to nonprofits and social enterprises to help them maximize and scale their impact. We champion solutions to climate change and inequality by investing in three impact opportunity areas (IOAs): Energy and Materials, Health and Resilience, and Work and Prosperity. 

A key part of our work in Energy and Materials is ensuring that our resources flow to the most impactful innovations for fighting the negative impacts of climate change through low carbon innovation to enable the clean energy transition. My role is to set impact targets and measure outcomes to ensure that we use impact evidence to inform our investments and prioritize the most promising solutions in electrification, energy efficiency, tackling methane emissions, and advancing innovation among others. 

Can you explain the basics of impact measurement and management to our readers?

According to Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact measurement and management includes identifying and considering the positive and negative effects one’s business actions have on people and the planet, and then figuring out ways to mitigate the negative and maximize the positive in alignment with one’s goals. 

In other words, impact measurement and management is defining an impact goal, planning how to measure it, measuring it, analyzing the data against the impact goal, learning from the process, improving, and refining the approach and repeating the same process again. This is to make sure that the investment in a particular technology or solution is having the intended positive impact in the world. 

There are many different frameworks and methodologies to evaluate impact including theory of change, self-reported key performance indicators (KPIs), third-party auditing, predictive impact modeling, and lean data — to collect and track metrics. 

For example, one standardized metric related to investments in early-stage technologies that drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to accelerate a low-carbon future that most organizations track is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reduced. 

This metric tracks the amount of greenhouse gases emitted through the organization’s operations during the reporting period, reported in Number of Metric Tons of CO2 Equivalent, or “CO2e’’. Similarly, there are many other metrics like work placements, product innovations, and individuals reached through our portfolio organizations that we track to drive impact accountability. 

Impact measurement and management helps to establish accountability. It informs strategic and investment decision making and prioritizes high impact innovations. It pushes us to consider information about drivers of impact, assumptions, and risks to learn, adjust, and improve impact performance over time. It is crucial to validate that a technology, service, or organization is making a measurable social and environmental impact to expand reach, involve more investors and move the clean energy transition forward.

What is one significant lesson you’ve learned during your time working in IMM?

While achieving increased impact requires a management approach that is aligned with the investment strategy and integrated into the investment process, it is difficult to accurately measure impact performance. Assessing the impact of the organizations and how they can be scaled is complex. Most investors like us support a diverse portfolio of grants and/or impact investments across multiple sectors and stages which makes IMM both complex and resource intensive. It can become overwhelming very quickly and it is easy to get carried away with a host of metrics and lose sight of what really matters. 

I’ve learned that this is an evolving area of work that requires patience and comfort with ambiguity. It’s important to have a long-term view of impact and staying true to the ultimate objective of creating impact accountability and generating actionable insights that can help maximize benefits to the people and planet. 

Do you think corporate and government leaders are now paying more attention to IMM?

Yes, I think corporate and government leaders are now paying attention to IMM. The challenge for governments is figuring out how to help scale up clean energy dramatically while reducing fossil fuel emissions, and still meeting the rapidly growing energy demands of billions of people in developing and emerging economies. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced corporations to scrutinize their responsibilities and role in society through environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting. There is also a huge mismatch in the necessary levels of investment in clean energy.

IMM can help both governments and corporates prioritize and amplify the most impactful solutions. Any hope of achieving the global goals articulated in the SDGs and recent climate conferences requires and making a transformative difference a firm grasp on data and insights about impact goals and a deep commitment to acting on them. 

Can you tell us more about some of the work you’ve been doing in IMM?

I have been focused on forward-looking assessment and quantification of Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions reductions of new technologies. Our impact management team partners with the team behind CRANE, a tool for assessing the potential climate impact of early-stage ventures. This helps us calculate the ‘emissions reduction potential’ of technologies before investing in them. In addition to putting our dollars behind the most impactful investments, this process is helpful for bubbling to the forefront the primary assumptions and drivers of GHG impact. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about IMM and how it impacts their lives?

IMM is a process of understanding how much social change occurred and can be attributed to a technology, service, or organization. If applied properly it can be instrumental in scaling social impact. Without IMM, how does one even know if any positive change has occurred? I hope that by learning more about it, readers will ask their leaders and companies for impact accountability. If an enterprise does not effectively use an outcome-driven approach, they are impact washing.