When Tom Rand sold his software company in 2005, at the age of 38, he could have retired. Instead, he decided to try to address climate change. Rand (MA 2005, PhD 2008) wanted to help grow businesses that would support a new economy that isn’t perilously dependent on carbon, as ours is today. His need to make a difference didn’t come out of nowhere: Rand’s dad is a retired professor of molecular biophysics, and family conversation often turned to climate change. “There were many discussions around the family table about just how bad it could get,” he says.
With the financial freedom to reinvent himself, Rand founded VCi Green Funds – which invests capital in technology that reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. Then he opened Planet Traveler, a hostel in Toronto that counts as North America’s most environmentally friendly hotel. He retrofitted an old College Street building with technology such as geothermal heating and cooling, so that it emits 80 per cent fewer greenhouse gases than an average establishment. He believes the building is proof that greening is good for business. “I’m wealthier as a hotelier by reducing my energy needs,” he says.
Then, in an attempt to popularize the ideas he is exposed to every day, Rand published Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World (Eco Ten Publishing, 2010), a coffee-table book that showcases technology and ideas that can reduce society’s carbon load. These days, he helps others start green companies as lead adviser in the Cleantech Practice at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. Rand feels now that he’s earned his stripes in business, he can talk about the changes businesses need to make. “I’m a gadfly,” he says, “but I’m a gadfly who has earned the right to be heard.”