The JMK Innovation Prize - Carbon Neutral Indiana

The JMK Innovation Prize

Anne Laker and Daniel Poynter just applied for The JMK Innovation Prize. It's one of the most respected sources of support for early stage social entrepreneurs:

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize seeks to identify, support, and elevate innovators who are spearheading transformative early-stage projects in the fields of social justice, the environment, and heritage conservation.

In 2021, we will award up to ten Prizes, each including a cash award of $150,000 over three years, plus $25,000 in technical assistance funds, for a total award of $175,000. Awardees also receive guidance through the Fund and its resource network, providing tools and training that can help turn innovative ideas into life-changing social impacts.

Read our application below:

What's your innovative idea for positively impacting the world and why is it needed?

The largest group of scientists in history is called the IPCC. They warn the world must be carbon neutral by 2050.

If the Midwest were a country, it’d be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. But most climate philanthropy flows to the coasts. Why? Researchers at Yale found that, even in Indiana, over 50% of citizens are worried about climate. And researchers at U Chicago found 23% are willing to contribute $40/mo to the cause.

The climate movement is missing an enormous opportunity.

So we founded Carbon Neutral Indiana (CNI) — a nonprofit social enterprise that helps households become carbon neutral.

How? We measure carbon footprints over the phone for free. Then we invite people to clean up their “carbon trash” by investing in high quality, verified offset projects.

And it’s working. Practical Midwesterners appreciate our focus on metrics. They also resonate with our unique positivity:

"I have been thinking about why I wanted to [become carbon neutral]... I want to be part of the HOPE not part of the HOPELESS.”

And so, in our first year, we helped over 150 households become carbon neutral, growing annual recurring revenue to $100K. We did this in a conservative state, during the pandemic, with an all volunteer team, and about $5K in donations.

But this is just the beginning!

Because the unit economics are sustainable, Metcalfe's law says the bigger the community gets the faster it’ll get bigger. Just like eBay.

It helps that 60% of households put up a yard sign — marketing carbon neutrality to over 200,000 people daily for free.

This is how we translate awareness into action, build a movement, and shift social norms. We can replicate this model in other states. When just 1% of the Midwest is carbon neutral, that will be like taking 4M cars off the road.

Our dream is to grow a national, effective climate non-profit as respected as Teach for America. Then individuals will understand that, collectively, we can make a big impact.

Now, describe your innovative idea in just a single sentence.

Carbon Neutral Indiana is a nonprofit social enterprise demonstrating a self-financing, inclusive, and scalable climate movement by helping households clean up their carbon footprints, engendering hope, and shifting social norms toward a post-carbon society.

Why are you, your team, or your entity uniquely qualified to tackle this issue?

My name is Daniel Poynter, and I founded Carbon Neutral Indiana in April 2020.

Entrepreneurship was in my DNA as a kid when I sold a mélange of items: cans of pop from a wagon at small town parades, homemade peanut butter candy wrapped in wax paper, pencil drawings, mixed CDs, websites, and on and on...

It wasn’t until college when I discovered *social* entrepreneurship. I created an EdTech social enterprise and won a Young Innovator award from the MacArthur Foundation.

After graduating with a degree in philosophy, I continued to experiment and explore:

+ Speaking about digital literacy at universities throughout North America like Stanford, Brown, Cornell, Northwestern

+ Interviewing 50+ social entrepreneurs along a chain of referrals throughout the country

+ Working as a software engineer

+ Converting to Orthodox Judaism

+ Studying ancient Hebrew in a Jerusalem yeshiva and

+ Advising 100+ social entrepreneurs as an executive coach

It wasn’t until 2019 when I discovered the climate crisis. I learned that coral reefs account for less than 1% of the ocean yet 25% of all marine life. If temperatures rise above 2° C, most will die.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder said, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”

So I dove into the climate full-time. I took a sabbatical for a year, using life savings, to interview 200+ people working in the field. I used formal systems thinking — Donella Meadows and an online course by Omidyar / Acumen — to map who is doing what. I wanted to discover the gaps and how to make the biggest impact.

Full story here: CarbonNeutralIndiana.org/blog-cni-origin-story 

This sparked a network of contributors and a core team, who contributed over $500,000 in professional services already: CarbonNeutralIndiana.org/team

Hundreds of interviews helped us understand what makes our Midwestern community tick. Our network’s relentless learning, experimenting, iterating means we *will* find a way. In fact, we already found a spark. Now we just need to fan the flame.


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