“Climate and sustainability work is the biggest growth lever of our generation.” - Mark Hannan
Mach49 Climate and Sustainability Lead Mark Hannan knows what it takes to prioritize sustainability within legacy corporations—and he’s seen the financial and social potential firsthand.
Before joining Mach49 in 2022, Mark spent a decade and a half at Shell, working worldwide on numerous corporate venture efforts and energy transition initiatives. Most recently, Mark led Shell’s efforts to decarbonize its mining sector, including the company’s ambitious pilot program to electrify mining trucks.
In addition to his hands-on experience building game-changing ventures, Mark holds a PhD in entrepreneurship focused on technology transfer in emerging technologies addressing a broad range of industrial pain points, including energy efficiency.
We sat down with Mark to learn more about his background and why he believes corporate investment in sustainability is the most powerful way to generate financial returns.
You’ve led some of Shell’s most ambitious sustainability-focused venture efforts. Can you tell us about how your work brought together climate goals and venture creation?
I joined Shell because of their work in the energy transition space and held a number of different roles there. Early on, I worked on Shell’s partnership with BMW to develop their first electric sports car. We focused on building efficiency at high speeds, and we also worked on fast charging and developing the right charging infrastructure.
After that, I became the San Francisco lead for Shell’s global innovation hub. Our two core goals were to increase revenue for our digital services and to reduce our customers’ emissions. Within a three-year period, I launched five sustainability ventures: one we sold to a partner, two remain active inside Shell, and two we exited. During this time, we partnered with Mach49 to explore how we could work with the mining sector as part of the energy transition. A venture emerged that converted brown-field mine sites to solar/wind facilities that provide green energy to the local community.
You’ve worked on making everything from luxury cars to mining more sustainably. What project are you most proud of?
The last project I worked on at Shell was a highlight of my career. When I took over the company’s mining decarbonization efforts, I learned right away that one of the biggest problems in mining is related to transportation.
Mining relies on diesel-powered haul trucks, each consuming around 900,000 liters of diesel annually. Globally, these trucks produce more greenhouse gasses than the countries of New Zealand or Finland. Mobile equipment, including these trucks, is responsible for 40-50% of the mining sector’s CO2 output. Still, people weren’t paying attention because they operate in the middle of nowhere, unlike the cars and trucks we see on the road every day.
A colleague and I spent a year and a half exploring technology options and working to understand the sector’s specific needs and pain points to develop an EV solution we could bring to customers. One of the biggest problems is that mine haul trucks work 24/7. They never shut down, and they consume energy 50 times faster than a normal car. That means you not only need to be able to fast-charge the truck, but you need to be able to do so within four minutes.
We ultimately found several startups that could help us build that capability over the next several years, and Shell invested a significant amount of capital, along with external partners. The impact of this technology could reduce mining emissions by 25% overnight. It’s a huge investment—but it’s a $500 billion sector when you consider the overlapping pain points in the construction and agriculture sectors.
That’s a truly transformational outcome. What was the biggest insight you took away from getting corporate leaders on board with this kind of investment?
When we talk about the energy transition, a lot of people see a cost. I see huge opportunities.
Sustainability ventures open up a massive financial growth opportunity for companies. According to the World Economic Forum, every dollar invested in climate resilience generates four dollars of value. These investments also have major social and environmental impacts.
Take the electrification of mining haul trucks. Diesel prices are about 20% higher than electricity prices, so transitioning away from diesel will ultimately be positive for revenue. This shift also builds resilience for the full value chain going forward. The future is in energy transition, and this effort allows new communities to get in early, to develop expertise on electrification that will be transferable to other industries. Investing in sustainability can open up so many opportunities for so many people.
You’ve worked both within and outside of corporations. From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges organizations face in building successful sustainability ventures?
I’ve seen persistent issues on three levels: people, processes, and systems.
People: For one, employees are not trained adequately on how to work with startups, speak their language, and translate what they do into the corporate context. Secondly, corporations do not support talent that is innovative/entrepreneurial. Rather than providing obstacles to success, they should provide guardrails to help ideas create revenue.
Processes: Typically, corporate leaders have limited experience growing and scaling ventures, and they may not have access to external experts. As a result, they fail to seize the Mothership Advantage and aren’t able to use their existing resources effectively to help the venture grow. For example, they may not be tied into the marketing department or the corporation’s customer base.
Systems: Corporations are not very good at playing with other corporations. That makes sense when you’re competitors, but in the sustainability space, you can’t afford not to work with the company next to you. We need to create peer relationships so they can tackle some of these problems together.
You’re relatively new to Mach49 (and we’re thrilled to have you). How do you hope to focus your work here?
I’m excited by the opportunity to help other companies reach similar sustainability outcomes to what we achieved at Shell.
I learned through Shell’s work with Mach49 that there was a model for me to innovate and come up with new solutions alongside people who are energized and eager to make things happen. Mach49 offers expertise you can’t get in-house or from traditional consulting companies. We help corporations address the biggest obstacles to their sustainability efforts—from training portfolio managers to building and scaling new ventures, to helping companies identify the most impactful areas for investment. I joined the company specifically to focus on sustainability projects because that’s where I believe I can have the greatest impact.
Get in touch with the Mach49 team to learn how your corporation can get started with climate and sustainability venture building and investing.