Kathleen Biggins

Founder of C-Change Conversations

Kathleen Biggins is the founder and president of C-Change Conversations, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting productive, non-partisan discussions about the science and effects of climate change. The organization, comprised of volunteers who span the political spectrum, sponsors the C-Change Conversations Lecture Series, which invites business and community leaders in the Princeton, NJ area to learn about climate change from a wide range of nationally-recognized scientists and business and military leaders. Kathleen also developed the C-Change Primer with input from Climate Central and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Team members have presented the Primer to more than 9,500 people in 29 states, and it is widely hailed as an intelligent, dispassionate introduction to and illumination of climate change. The Primer has been endorsed by business, political and social leaders and enthusiastically received by many conservative audiences across the country. Learn more at www.c-changeconversations.org.

Where did the idea for C-Change Conversations come from?

In 2012 I attended a conference in Washington, D.C. and heard from business and military leaders that climate change was a real and significant threat – something I was not hearing from the media or from my peers. When I attended lectures in my home state of New Jersey to learn more about the issue, I noticed audience members tended to be very liberal and environmentally focused. Many of my colleagues, peers and loved ones, who did not identify with those groups, avoided the topic because they felt it wasn’t relevant to them and there was a “social taboo” about discussing it because it had been so politicized. I wondered if creating a speakers’ series that would bring in experts in areas that moderate and conservative leaning individuals would respect, like the experts I had heard in Washington DC, could help them understand the issue without inflaming partisan pushback. I invited three dynamic community leaders, Pam Mount, Katy Kinsolving and Carrie Dyckman, who were also concerned about the climate change risk, to join me, and together we developed a very successful speakers series, which included a rear admiral, a former Republican governor, an energy company CEO, and a risk specialist from Wall Street. Later, I worked with energy and climate experts to develop our own presentation called the C- Change Primer that provides a 360-degree view of the issue and frames how climate change will impact our economy, personal health and security, and geopolitical stability. It has been very well received and audiences have recommended it to others, leading to our exponential growth. We travel around the country presenting this to moderate and conservative groups and train others to give it as well.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Clearly the COVID-19 crisis has changed our typical day. Before the crisis, I was often on the road, presenting to groups around the country. We’ve been to 29 states and presented to about 10,000 people. We charge a very nominal speaking fee and stay with our hosts, getting the opportunity to really connect with our audience. When I’m in Princeton I spend a lot of time reading about climate change and energy to stay abreast of the topic. I also (used to meet) and speak with business leaders who are interested in the topic and want to help us spread the word. We are in the middle of training others around the country to give our presentation, so we have a lot of Zoom meetings.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Team work. We have an incredible group of intelligent, creative and passionate volunteers who have brought this initiative to life and continue to drive its success. We are not very hierarchical – allowing for a lot of cross pollination and creativity. We also span the political spectrum which helps us remain nonpartisan in approach.

What’s one trend that excites you?

People across the political spectrum are beginning to understand that climate change is impacting our world right now and will have profoundly negative repercussions in the future. As people awaken to the risk, they are demanding more – from themselves, companies, their communities, and their leaders.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Bouncing ideas off and learning from others. I trust my instincts but know that I need to refine or reframe with input from others. And, checking in with our team on a regular basis – their energy and enthusiasm keeps me going and vice versa. We are an all-volunteer initiative: our “reward” is a sense of accomplishment, that we are making a difference on an issue we care about passionately, personal growth and camaraderie.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be so worried about what other people will think. I grew up in the deep South and had ingrained in me a strong sense that it was important not to “rock the boat” or challenge social norms. One of the hardest things I’ve done was send out a personal letter inviting friends and acquaintances to learn about climate change. These were business and community leaders who I knew did not necessarily believe in climate change and may not have welcomed the invitation.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Political partisanship can be weakened. As strong as our tribal connection to our political “tribes” may be, our sense of self-preservation can and will override it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Review what others are successfully doing to learn from them. We are in a unique segment – reaching out to centrist groups and individuals on this difficult topic. There are a small number of other groups who are successfully engaging this audience, though they use a different approach.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Our growth has been fueled by the quality and enthusiasm of our volunteers, both in our Princeton headquarters and in communities where we bring our presentation and educational outreach. Developing a strong and cohesive team has driven our success.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Because we aren’t very hierarchical and grew so rapidly, we did not have enough structures in place to simplify execution. I was so focused on maintaining our momentum and bringing our message to new markets that our volunteer team felt overwhelmed and that we needed more processes to organize and smooth the workflow. We restructured, created a new position to oversee all internal systems, and are integrating supportive technologies.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

The transition to a cleaner economy is already happening and will accelerate. There are so many ways to be involved – from developing new fuel sources, utilizing new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and lasers, new financial structures, new processes in farming and land use, new ideas for geoengineering. For me, food production is one of the most intriguing. We know we are on a path that will significantly diminish our future food supplies (due to heat thresholds on crops and acidification and increased temperatures in the ocean) at a time when our global population is growing. Countries have to feed their citizens in order to keep their legitimacy, so there will be a lot more attention paid to innovation in this sector in the future. Kelp farming (and other new ways of aquaculture and agriculture) are very intriguing.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Best $100 spent recently– on my four-year old dog’s vet bill. He’s a tyrant but I love him. He brings me joy.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We’ve recently begun to use Slack, which enables us to manage individual project threads. It helped us keep information out of our email trails, which can be difficult to find, and made it easy for different volunteers to collaborate.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Getting to Green; Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution” by Fred Rich, a retired corporate lawyer who is very well respected within the financial community. It is a great explanation of how environmentalism became politicized and how to address the divide.

What is your favorite quote?

“Tell me, and I will not forget – show me and I may remember – but involve me, and I will understand.” Chinese proverb

Key Learnings:

  • Surround yourself with people who share your passion
  • Listen to the naysayers but trust your instincts
  • Leverage sources trusted by your audience to get your message across
  • Move from teaching to involving