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Action Learning


Multi-solving for decarbonization and healthier living


Nearly 40% of GHG emissions come from the building sector, through gas and oil furnaces, gas ovens, and other appliances. Multiple studies link these fossil fuel appliances to chronic health conditions, such as asthma and COPD, conditions that disproportionately impact low- and moderate-income households. Climate tech company BlocPower specializes in residential building electrification, which improves human health and reduces healthcare costs. But no funding exists to link electrification to preventative healthcare efforts. A team of Sustainable Business Lab (S-Lab) students stepped in to help BlocPower make the link.

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“The S-Lab project provided a critical connection between three industry segments - affordable housing, energy efficiency/building decarbonization, and health care. These industries are not usually interconnected in a holistic approach by either housing developers, energy efficiency firms, or health care systems,” says Clare Doyle Dowd, director of policy and community at BlocPower.  “While the linkage between oil and gas appliances in low-income housing and poor indoor air quality and consequently the negative impact on low-income tenants has been demonstrated through scientific studies, how to leverage the health system funding to address these issues through innovative payment systems has not been widely examined.”

Specifically, BlocPower sought to convince healthcare providers, insurers, and state actors to fund their decarbonization and retrofitting work in low- to moderate-income communities in two markets—Alameda County, California, and New York City—by the end of the year.

“This project was truly fascinating and engaging,” says S-Lab team member Angel Ibanez, MBA '23 and Harvard Kennedy School MPA '23. “I had previously worked on the policy development side of building electrification but didn’t know about the various financing models that could be used to move projects forward. It was an excellent opportunity to see the current linkages across the health equity and climate space still being developed in real time.”

Applying multiple areas of expertise to a complex challenge

Ibanez, along with his team members, Master of City Planning student Shaler Campbell, MCP '23 and Master of Science in Management Studies student Tristan Watel-Dehaynin, MSMS '23, interviewed BlocPower’s internal and external stakeholders. After that, they conducted extensive research on funding structures, market analysis, and stakeholder engagement for Alameda County and New York City.

“I found this project particularly interesting and fulfilling,” says Watel-Dehaynin. “As a native of France, I knew nothing about the U.S. healthcare system nor initiatives to retrofit city buildings, but I was able to link my prior work with a real estate environmental consultancy to BlocPower’s problem.”

A pathway forward

Throughout their project, the students solicited feedback from numerous faculty members at MIT Sloan and MIT DUSP. At the conclusion of their research and analysis, they delivered a slide deck for BlocPower to use in conversations with healthcare providers and stakeholders, along with the following recommendations:

  • Leverage funding from healthcare networks and insurers.
  • Adapt funding strategy to the context of the local market.
  • Adopt a systemic approach to engaging with the healthcare ecosystem.

“BlocPower intends to use the S-Lab student recommendations and model as a key component of our building decarbonization work in low-income communities,” says Dowd. “Leveraging BlocPower's track record of building decarbonization in low-income buildings with a stronger connection to health benefits for residents, and thus savings for healthcare systems is a cutting-edge approach. BlocPower was delighted to be selected for the MIT S-Lab program three years in a row and we hope to continue this engagement for many years to come.”