Green Leaders: 4 Black founders ushering in a sustainable future

BY Preta Peace Namasaba September 12, 2023 5:40 PM EDT

Climate change and sustainability have been at the forefront of the 21st century. However, a concerning revelation from the 2022 U.S. Energy and Employment Report points to a significant underrepresentation of Black Americans in the clean energy industry. Black talent make up only 10% of all energy jobs and a mere 8% of positions in renewable energy generation and fuels, energy efficiency, grid modernization, clean vehicle manufacturing, and related fields.

As our world grapples with climate change-induced challenges such as resource scarcity, pollution, food insecurity, and disease, it becomes increasingly evident that diverse perspectives are essential for the success of sustainability initiatives. In response, these four Black leaders in sustainable energy are championing the cause to ensure that African Americans are well-represented in this crucial sector.

1. Jessica Matthews

Jessica Mathews. Photo source: Jessica Mathews
Jessica Mathews. Photo source: Jessica Mathews

Mathews serves as the CEO and founder of Uncharted Power, an acclaimed sustainable infrastructure company. Their innovative approach harnesses the earth’s sub-surface as an IoT-platform to efficiently manage and integrate crucial infrastructure elements like water pipes, power lines, broadband, and sidewalks. Her extensive research and career focus on the transformative power of technology, renewable energy, human behavior, and the psychology of self-actualization.

Mathews firmly asserts that the real concern should not be Artificial Intelligence (AI) itself but the individuals responsible for its development. In a groundbreaking achievement in 2016, this Nigerian-American entrepreneur secured the largest Series A round ever raised by a black female founder at that time. Her achievements also earned her the privilege of ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ on behalf of all Forbes 30 Under 30 alumni.

With her name associated with more than 12 patents, Mathews holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Her journey started early, as at the age of 19, she invented the SOCCKET, a soccer ball that generates energy. Mathews was honored with an invitation to the White House by President Barack Obama, where she represented small companies during the signing of the America Invents Act in 2012. Additionally, she was appointed as the Ambassador for Entrepreneurship by the President of Nigeria.

2. Matthew Portis

Matthew N. Portis. Photo Credit: SolGreen
Matthew N. Portis. Photo Credit: SolGreen

Portis is the Founder and President of SolGreen, a pioneering manufacturer specializing in commercial, automated, self-powered, off-grid solar technology. He proudly holds the distinction of being the first individual to conceive and patent a solar charging table/workstation known as the Evodia Solar Workstation. As a Black inventor, Portis faced persistent skepticism from consumers while tirelessly seeking a market for his innovative solar workstation. Nevertheless, SolGreen takes pride in its unique position as a Black-owned systems engineering company.

Portis earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technology from Devry University Columbus, followed by a Master of Engineering Management degree from George Washington University. At SolGreen, Portis is actively expanding the company’s global presence and has ambitious plans for collaboration with African countries, as he spearheads a new generation of Black entrepreneurs. Currently engaged in two significant projects in Nigeria and South Africa, he passionately encourages Black-owned companies in the United States to explore partnerships with Africa.

3. Natalie King

Photo courtesy of Natalie King.

King is the CEO and visionary leader behind Dunamis Clean Energy Partners, making history as the world’s first black-woman-owned electric vehicle charging station manufacturer. In 2012, when she initially established her company, Dunamis primarily focused on energy auditing and management for commercial and industrial clients. It was during this journey that King discovered a growing trend among her customers, as they transitioned to energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) lighting solutions. Driven by the need for reliable LED supply, King embarked on a new venture and secured a contract to provide LEDs to multiple health clinics in Michigan. However, when the manufacturer failed to deliver, she took matters into her own hands, leading to the inception of Dunamis Lighting in 2015.

Before venturing into the world of sustainable energy, King pursued a career in law. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan and earned her Doctor of Law degree from Wayne State University Law School. Prior to founding Dunamis, her professional journey included roles as the Vice President and General Counsel of J King Solar Technologies and as the Managing Partner at the Law Offices of Natalie M. King.

Navigating the male-dominated landscape of EV recharging as an African-American woman presented challenges for King. Nevertheless, she remains steadfast in her commitment to creating employment opportunities in the predominantly Black city of Detroit. Her unwavering dedication centers on ensuring that marginalized communities have a rightful place in shaping the sustainable energy future.

4. Gilbert Campbell

Gilbert Campbell. Photo credit: Microsoft

Campbell is the CEO and visionary behind Volt Energy Utility, a pioneering renewable energy firm specializing in financing and developing utility-scale solar projects for corporate entities. His innovative approach has revolutionized how large corporations incorporate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals into their renewable energy procurement strategies. Notably, Volt Energy Utility made history by establishing Microsoft’s first-ever Environmental Justice Power Purchase Agreement (EJPPA), supplying them with 250 megawatts of utility-scale solar energy, marking a significant milestone as the first such agreement with an African-American energy solar development firm.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Howard University, Campbell is a staunch advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the clean energy and sustainability sectors. As part of their commitment to environmental justice and clean energy initiatives, Volt Energy Utility and its corporate partners allocate a portion of their EJPPA-generated revenue to support the Sharing the Power Foundation. This foundation plays a pivotal role in providing students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with pathways to careers in the clean energy sector.

In recognition of his exemplary leadership in advancing climate change equity, Campbell was honored with the White House Champions of Change Award by the Obama Administration in 2016. His dedication to reshaping the clean energy landscape underscores his commitment to creating a more inclusive and sustainable future.