Best part: "All together, in the middle of a global pandemic and economic recession, we've helped 33 households and businesses to pay for a cost they used to externalize."
Carbon Neutral Indiana grew out of about 12.5 months of full-time research in 2019 and 2020. It became a part of the Indiana Forest Alliance, a 501c3 non-profit, on April 7, 2020.
We are igniting a leadership movement and reinvigorating public service. It just so happens our thing is climate. So we're taking responsibility for Indiana and ensuring it becomes carbon neutral as soon as possible. We're starting with households, businesses, and academic institutions.
Below is the story of our first 82 days.
Table of Contents
- Academic Institutions
- Managing 15 Interns
- What's Next?
$20,000/month of in-kind contributions from volunteers. No one affiliated with Carbon Neutral Indiana is paid staff. We are all volunteers. Our people contribute 500 hours/week to help Indiana become carbon neutral as soon as possible. If we were paid $10/hour, that'd be about $20,000/month.
$1,314.80 donations. We’ve received these donations from 11 people.
First 0% interest loan. We used this loan from Greg Kempf to pay for part of 100 yard signs. We'd like to receive more 0% interest loans like this.
Venture capitalists invest millions in for-profit startup companies for a large potential return. At the other end of the spectrum, people give to charities with no expectation of financial return. We appreciate the middle ground.
Like for-profit startup companies, Carbon Neutral Indiana could grow more quickly with investment. But like other non-profit organizations, we have a social purpose and a legal structure to ensure we stay on track toward fulfilling it (e.g. we answer to a Board and our finances are public). Unlike many other non-profits, however, we are entrepreneurial and generate revenue. In this way we can pay back charitable, 0% interest loans. For example, such loans would enable us to buy carbon offsets in wholesale with greater discounts.
In 2018, 29 philanthropies committed $4 billion to local climate action over five years. Since Indiana is 3% of the US population, Indiana climate action groups should be getting about $25 million per year. In fact, they should be getting more. Why? Half of all US greenhouse gas emissions come from just 10 states. Indiana is one. Instead, Indiana climate action may be receiving about $500,000 annually -- about 2% of what Indiana should be by population.
We're confident Carbon Neutral Indiana has many unique attributes that will make our network an intriguing grantee -- our startup mentality, radical transparency, focus on data-driven effectiveness, and that we generate much of our own revenue. Grants will accelerate our growth and positive impact.
Deposits for 152.5 carbon offsets. We sell high quality, verified carbon offsets as a fundraiser. When someone makes a deposit for a month of offsets we purchase those offsets about a month later. For example, we purchased all of the offsets we got deposits for in April on June 18th. This lag enables us not to have to carry inventory as well as to, soon, purchase offsets in bulk with wholesale discounts. Like most retailers, our margins are about 50%. This enables us to raise funds for educational programming like supporting households, businesses, and academic institutions in reducing their carbon footprints. It's important for several reasons that the order goes like this: 1) Measure your carbon footprint 2) Offset all of it immediately 3) Reduce it over time.
We bought 100 yard signs for $750. These create conversations among neighbors. They also provide free advertising to motorists (70,000 daily as of now).
We bought our first carbon offsets. We purchased $114.40 worth from a verified forestry project in Alaska -- the Afognak Forest Carbon Project. The offsets were "retired" from circulation on July 2, 2020. This means no one else can claim them against their carbon footprint. View the public retirement record and view in-depth project documentation. We'll publish a report about this project here soon.
First carbon neutral household in Indiana. Josh and Cara Bach live in Indianapolis. Josh predicted, "CNI will transform the state of Indiana!"
First carbon neutral llamas in Indiana! ;) More about Colleen Altschul and her friends.
Over 120 Indiana households signed up to measure their carbon footprints. Many in the next month. If you haven't taken full responsibility for your carbon footprint yet, measure your footprint today.
Of these, we’ve certified 30 households total. The average offsets 26.2 tons annually by investing $32.75 monthly. See the full list, in order, here.
22 of these households installed yard signs. These signs reach over 70,000 drivers daily. The Indiana Department of Transportation maintains a database -- TCDS -- that shows how many vehicles drive by certain areas.
We published 14 testimonials from households:
- Josh and Cara Bach
- Alex Smith
- Greg Kempf and Family
- Rae Schnapp, PhD, and Family
- Sam Bryan
- Greg and Kathy Weaver
- Monali Das and Family
- Hannah-Marie Lamle
- Anne Laker and Joe Merrick
- Michael Grady
- Dr. Stephen Seiter
- Colleen Altschul
- Chris and Anne Haynes
- Takoda Potts
We’ve helped three Indiana businesses total:
Over 3,400 individuals decided to add their honorable names to these petitions. This is what that does to one's email inbox:
Created interactive maps to visualize network effects. When someone signs a petition they get an email that asks, "Could you please help two friends sign it too? If so, you're name will go on the leaderboard." We also call to ask them to help others sign. These network maps show who helped whom sign. It illustrates the power of word of mouth. We have one for the Indiana University petition and the Butler University petition.
104 people asked to volunteer. About 6% of the people who sign a petition ask to volunteer. We absorbed the Carbon Neutral Purdue University petition from another system where it didn't ask for volunteers, or else we'd have many more than 106 volunteers.
DePauw University hired an intern focused on carbon neutrality. This after we spoke there this spring:
Meetings with IU Athletics. They'd like to make a game, season, or building carbon neutral. To be continued.
We launched a summer internship program with 15 college students. We started with 13 from IU and Purdue. Then three more joined from UCSD, Cornell, and Butler. Learn more here.
The Indianapolis Star published an article about our work.
The Purdue Exponent published a front page story about carbon neutrality and included us. Lucas Bleyle wrote the piece.
In total -- in the middle of a global pandemic and economic recession -- we’ve convinced 33 households and businesses to pay for a cost they used to externalize. We're in this climate crisis because we've been internalizing profits and externalizing costs. It's an accounting issue. Becoming carbon neutral means taking responsibility for true costs and not shifting them onto others. What's heartening about this is that these 33 households and businesses did this voluntarily. We're convinced millions more households throughout the nation are willing to do this. They just don't have the knowledge yet.
In total, we’ve helped offset 870.62 metrics tons of CO2 on an annual basis. What does that mean? Imagine convincing 124 people to pledge never to drive a car again. Our network did that in two months with no grants or institution backing. Just regular people taking responsibility for their side of the street and helping to educate others.
Prevented over $190,000 in social costs. According to researchers at Stanford the social cost of CO2 is $220/ton. This means that every ton of CO2 in the atmosphere causes $220 in damages. Things like decreased agricultural yields. It does not include things like building a wall around Florida to keep out the ocean or the 100+ million climate refugees in the coming decades. $220/ton is a conservative number.
Gained over 4,000 supporters. These are people who signed a petition or signed up for a carbon inventory for their household or business. There are a lot more supporters out there. They just don't know it yet. Researchers at Yale conducted an in-depth poll on this. Over 50% of Hoosiers are "very worried" about climate. For the most part, these people sit in their discomfort and don't know what to do. Carbon Neutral Indiana meets them where they're at and provides a path forward. This way they can unleash their goodwill toward effective solutions.
Managing 15 Interns
Use coaching skills. Our co-founder was a professional executive coach to one hundred social entrepreneurs. He uses these skills at CNI all day every day. If you haven't ever worked with a professional coach consider it. Instead of top down, command and control management, coaching is all about bottom up autonomy and actualization.
Create group accountability. We all committed both to waking up a bit earlier than average and to designing intentional, healthy morning routines. For accountability, we use the Marco Polo app to send a five second "I'm awake!" video to the others in our group. We have check-in meetings twice a day -- fifteen minutes at 7:45 am eastern and forty five minutes at noon. At these meetings, we also say what we did since we met last and what we plan to do before we meet again. We also co-created our month two blog post. All of this increases group accountability.
Set clear agreements. At the start of the internship, we studied Steve Chandler's Expectations vs Agreements MP3 then co-created group agreements. Since then, we've reviewed and adjusted them.
Use a mandatory daily meeting to work across timezones. We have people in California all the way to New Zealand. So it's helpful to have one mandatory meeting a day (our 7:45 am meeting). We don't record this meeting. That encourages people to attend. Then we record our afternoon meeting so anyone who misses it can catch up. This works for almost everyone. Two people join when it's 5:45 am local time(!), and for the one in New Zealand it's 11:45 pm local time. It doesn't work for the person in California as it's too early.
Group cohesion. We used a version of the 36 Questions that Lead to Love to build group cohesion. Every few days, we also pick someone to tell their life story for fifteen minutes then the rest of us ask them questions. Sometimes we use an EQ trick from Brené Brown's toolbox -- we each mention two emotions we're feeling and why. Then we popcorn to someone else. That person has to repeat what they heard before sharing their own two emotions. Why two emotions? It shows that we're complex emotionally -- feeling multiple, sometimes contradictory, emotions at the same time. This also ensures active listening. Occasionally we ask, "Who do you know least well in this group?" then people pair up to work together for the day. These activities build remarkable cohesion for a remote team.
The average household carbon footprint is 25.5 mtCO2e. This includes single individuals.
Implementation is different than research or planning. One academic told us, "You all should collect data. That'd make for interesting research!" They didn't want to be carbon neutral. Another told us they spend their career researching how to stimulate hope among young people regarding climate. When we showed them a short video of how our interns felt after just one week, they said, "Wow, you've implemented in a week what I've researched for years."
Research and planning are vital, but often they are what professional coach Greg Faxon calls "creative avoidance." This is the subconscious act of using your imagination to prioritize peripheral tasks in order to avoid taking action on scarier, more important tasks.
Imagine two young people on a date. What they want more than anything is to enjoy their first kiss. Both are too afraid, so they instead talk for hours and hours. Research and planning can be like that. What's needed is courage to lean in for the kiss! Or jump off the diving board... Imagine someone who wants to be a novelist so they purchase expensive writing equipment but never actually write.
We don't have time for that. We need more courage to do what we know needs to done but, up until now, we've been too afraid to do.
What do we need to do? Educate households, businesses, academic institutions about the social costs of their carbon footprints. Let them know it doesn't have to be that way if they internalize that cost. Then ask them to invest in projects that erase their carbon footprints. Sales can be terrifying. We might get rejected! But when we feel this fear and do it anyway, more and more of us will become carbon neutral. It will unleash a tidal wave of action, integrity, progress.
Balance focusing on goals with being spontaneous and seizing unexpected opportunities. Carbon Neutral Indiana invests serious resources into reflecting on experiences, analyzing data, and setting goals. Our co-founder set personal quarterly goals for years and put them on a large board. We've learned it's also important to hold all of this lightly. Be focused and goal oriented, but remember unexpected opportunities arise. Keep an eye out for them.
Be honest with colleagues when overstressed and burned out. One of the agreements our summer interns made with one another had to do with having patience with each other about burnout and self-care. Carbon Neutral Indiana is focused on heavy topics... and we work very, very hard... but we also value light heartedness and joy. It's critical to be honest and ask for help when needed.
Ask people to summarize key ideas to check for understanding. Don't assume people understand ideas key to your work. For example, when someone is doing a carbon inventory we ask, "If you had to explain carbon neutrality to a friend how would you explain it?" And "what is the social cost of carbon?" About 75% of the time we discover at least a slight misunderstanding. This enables us to be sure they understand core concepts clearly. It slows things down, but then we're like a candle lighting another candle. Eventually there will be many, many candles lit up with correct understanding.
Don't convince people to become carbon neutral. Sometimes we get into conversations where it feels like we're trying to convince. That's not the right emotional framing. Instead, focus on people who already want to do it but need help doing so. It can be a confusing process. We make it simpler. And it's rewarding. As we've heard from countless people, before they were anxious, overwhelmed, despairing. After they felt renewed hope, purpose, and connection to a community of people making a difference.
Avoid polarized politicizing. Our culture is getting especially heated. Many people seem addicted to outrage. Rather than jeopardizing our goal -- helping all of Indiana become carbon neutral -- we choose to remain focused, to be scientific, cruising at 20,000 feet, even if a little nerdy. That said, we want to infuse this scientific attitude with life and compassion. Two of our values are "fun and friendship." As we embody these values we'll help restore the broader social fabric.
Bootstraping is challenging and powerful. We are starting our organization by educating our fellow citizens and building memberships one at a time. That's not easy, but it's powerful. It means we answer directly to our community. It uncovers new sources of energy not leveraged by existing organizations. And it's much more democratic.
Do what needs to be done and get credit for it. Of course it takes a village, so give credit where credit is due. In the Midwest, though, a lot of people instinctually shy away from standing out. This isn't always a sign of humility. It can be a sign of fear. A fear of standing out because a lot of other people attack those who stand out. If something needs to be done, do it. Of course. But also make sure you get credit for it. That way, you educate others by your example.
When you do a great thing, but someone else gets credit for it, then society will learn the wrong lesson and reward the wrong behavior. If you want to remain anonymous in your good works, that may be commendable if it's borne out of true humility. But remember it's also commendable to pursue what's good while being courageous enough to own it. "Yes I checked that homeless man into a shelter. It's the right thing to do. What's something else good we could do together in the future?" This is one reason we invest so much time documenting what we've accomplished. Be a good example. Shine your light.
Patience. We had some traction at Butler University then it sort of lulled. One of our fifteen interns goes there and has made it a focus. As such our activity there has skyrocketed recently. Patience. We're in this for the long haul.
Onboarding new interns. We started with 12. Then a month later three more joined. It's been challenging integrating them into the team, especially across timezones. Overall we've done an okay job of this. More one-on-one conversations could help accomplish this.
Distraction. Imagine a large block of ice. 20 feet tall. A lot of people are pushing on it, but it won't budge. Why? It's 100,000 pounds! Of course it won't budge. Now imagine having a hammer with a sharp head. Imagine hitting that ice block a few times. Huge chunks would break off. That's the power of focus. There are so many opportunities to chase. It's been challenging to stay focused on our first phase -- helping households, businesses, and academic institutions become carbon neutral. And in that order. Sometimes we speak with a member of an organization who wants to promote us to their organization. We ask if they, as an individual, want to be carbon neutral. They may say no. That doesn't make a lot of sense. Why promote carbon neutrality if you yourself don't want to be carbon neutral? Instead of trying to educate and transform an enormous block of ice our strategy is to focus on individuals. It goes out from there. That individual will be more persuasive when they themselves buy what they're selling. That's integrity. This creates a sense of success and accelerates momentum.
Missed our goal of offsetting 1,440 mtCO2e in Q2. We set this before executing our strategy. So we didn't have a lot of real world information to base this goal on. In practice, we learned that our network didn't multiply as quickly as we thought. At least not until we improve the Advocate Program.
What's Next for 2020 Q3?
Double down on what's working. Improve our processes, materials, and experience.
Invest in Advocate Program. Help people help their friends.
Focus on highly relevant groups. CCL, Elder's Climate Action, Unitarians.
Invest more resources helping businesses become carbon neutral.
Part of an academic institutions carbon neutral. For example a Greek house, sports game, building, etc.
Transition summer internship successfully. Collect solid case studies. Create materials like volunteer trainings.
Design facelift. Improve logo, yard signs, website, slide deck, etc. As one intern put it: "Make carbon neutrality sexy!"
Create a few staff positions. Maybe part-time student staff. Ideally, we want to build a business model that supports professional staff earning a respectable wage, like a high school teacher. With the scale and urgency of the crisis, we should have hundreds of such people working around the clock in Indiana alone.
Publish policy research. We're working on a big project here. This will be huge. Stay tuned.
Experiment with community building. How can our 4,000+ supporters participate and learn together? A public Zoom call every 2-3 weeks?