Carbon Neutral Indiana got 501c3 non-profit status on April 7, 2020. This is an account of month #7. Also see previous accounts:
Table of Contents
- Academic Institutions
- Academic Institutions
- Academic Institutions
Created a financial transparency page. We'll improve this page over time. Most nonprofits publish their finances yearly, but we're doing it as frequently as possible for maximum transparency. Why? Transparency builds trust. Trust fuels growth. Faster growth compounds upon itself. And Einstein said "compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world." All of this increases our chances of dealing with the climate crisis effectively.
Deposits for 260.86 carbon offsets. We sell high quality, verified carbon offsets as a fundraiser. This is how we grow even though Indiana is receiving 2-5% of the climate philanthropy it should per capita. For now, we support the Afognak forest project in Alaska. As we get bigger we'll be able to support verified carbon offset projects in Indiana. Learn more about this fundraiser's business model.
One donation of $100. This was from Mark Williams.
110 hours of volunteering. 10 hours from Andy Fry (designer), 20 hours from team of students from IUPUI, 80 hours from CNI's Founder (20 hours/week).
We purchased two batches of carbon offsets -- 274 tons from the Afognak Forest Carbon Project in Alaska. The first 117 were retired on Nov 15 and the second 157 were also retired on Nov 15. Retirement means no one else can claim these offsets against their carbon footprint. Learn more about retiring carbon offsets. Also see our financial transparency page.
Received messages like this:
These intense feelings are common within our community.
In fact, after 140+ carbon inventories, we've found almost all of the people we've talked with felt anxious, overwhelmed, despairing, or hopeless about the climate crisis.
Then we help them measure and clean up their "carbon trash." This brings order to what was previously an undefined, seemingly intractable problem. They realize it's easy to measure and affordable to clean up. And afterwards, they usually feel lighter, more in control, hopeful, and connected to a positive and effective community.
How do we know this? We've asked 140+ individuals and write down their responses. Here are just some of them as Post-it notes:
But this is just the beginning.
Our society is not only experiencing a pandemic and economic recession. We're suffering a mental health crisis as well.
With regard to climate, researchers at Yale University found over 50% of Hoosiers are worried about the climate. This means there are millions of people in Indiana alone who are worried. When their children ask them about the future they don't know what to say. They wake up in the middle of the night anxious and with a sense of dread.
We are helping these millions of people channel unproductive emotions into positive momentum.
And we're just getting started.
Helped offset an additional 660.38 tons annualized. Total of 3,155.76 so far.
We've grown our fundraiser's Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) 77% each month for six months. If you remove the biggest jump (286% from May to June) we've grown revenue an average of 35% each month.
Many for-profit startup companies in Silicon Valley that want to be the next Google or Facebook don't achieve this growth, even when they receive millions of dollars in venture capital. Our all volunteer team is accomplishing this completely remotely, in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession, and in a conservative state that "doesn't care about climate."
And if we can do it here, we can do it throughout the country. ;)
When we maintain 35% month over month growth, we'll be able to employ 2-3 full-time staff equivalents just on earned revenue by this summer. This is because our monthly subscriptions are a fundraiser with 40% margins (less than Girl Scout's cookies). Learn more about this fundraiser's business model here. And we'll be able to do even more when we win grants.
The chart below provides context for those not familiar with nonprofit's in Indiana focused on climate:
Why are we so proud of "earned revenue?"
Consider this: 29 philanthropies committed $4 billion to support local climate action throughout the country.
But they forgot Indiana.
Since 3% of Americans live here, climate groups here should be receiving at least $25M annually. The actual figure is about $500K. That's just 2-5% of what we should be receiving.
And Indiana is one of ten states that produces half of US emissions. So we need even more support.
Lots of numbers. Here's a story to illustrate:
Carbon Neutral Indiana's founder spoke with a neighbor recently. When she learned about the organization she said, "Cool! My cousin is an environmental lobbyist for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado. He's from Indiana, but he left because there aren't many environmental career opportunities here."
This brain drain kills silently.
Philanthropists think they can accomplish more in states like Colorado, so they invest their resources there. That attracts talent. Then they invest more resources. Rinse and repeat.
Remember this the next time you feel down on Indiana. It's not that we're inherently inferior. It's that there's a "success to the successful" feedback loop at play.
But no matter!
Carbon Neutral Indiana is sailing against strong headwinds of systemic bias against states like Indiana, and our community is wildly successful anyway.
There are neutral households in 26 of the 92 counties. Explore this map here. You can zoom in and see the 59 zip codes that have neutral households too. Let's get full coverage! When we're in all of the counties, we'll be averting about $2,400,00 in social costs.
Planning to break a Guinness World Record as a PR stunt. A domino can knock over another domino 1.5x its size:
We can break a world record if the largest domino is over 30 feet tall:
Imagine if the largest domino said "Carbon Neutrality." We can create a media spectacle that would make PT Barnum proud! Every news outlet throughout Indiana will cover the event, and children throughout the state will remember it forever. Faith (and action) of a mustard seed can move mountains.
It will announce to all of Indiana: "This is what we're going to accomplish together. Even though it appears enormous we can do it!"
Lucky for us, the Boling family is nearby in Casey, Illinois. They've already broken several Guinness World Records for building outrageously large objects. We've been speaking with them for the past year, and they want to help us break the record for world's largest domino. Learn more here.
Presented to the Sustainability Incubator group at Cummins. According to the UN's Carbon Disclosure Project, their corporate carbon footprint is 811,286,647 mtCO2e (for all three "scopes"). Because each ton of CO2 causes $220 in damages, that means that each year Cummins is responsible for shifting $178.4B in damages onto others. Cummins, and the state it calls home, has an enormous responsibility to reduce this damage. Because the number is so high, reducing it just a few percentage points would do tremendous good.
CNI's Founder got married! He proposed to her at "the biggest mass protest of the generation" in London. Daniel and Cait Poynter married on Oct 24, 2020.
Learned about Program Related Investments (PRIs). We met with Zac Kester, of Charitable Allies, to learn of opportunities to receive no or low interest loans from foundations. Many non-profits depend 100% on charitable contributions. More and more non-profits are trying to generate their own revenue in order not to depend so heavily on grant funding. Carbon Neutral Indiana earns almost 100% of its revenue in this way. This highly modern approach is part of a new wave of "social enterprises." For more see B Corps, conscious capitalism, impact investing, effective altruism / environmentalism.
Presented at the Bloomberg Midwest Climate Summit. The presentation starts at 27:14. It ends early because of connection issues then starts up again at 43:12.
We were talking about how everything we've done in Indiana is just the beginning, even here, and that it can be replicated throughout the country.
She mentioned a few upcoming reports (the Net Zero America Project and one by the National Academies) that we can use as a north star to help Indiana achieve carbon neutrality.
Began collaborating with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington. Both Barbara Backler and Chris & Anne Haynes are carbon neutral. They attend the same UU Church, and they reached out to another congregant, Marcia Veldman, about helping their church and all of its congregants become carbon neutral. Once we complete this project, we should avert over $500,000 in social costs! Then we can help the other UU churches in Indiana do likewise and avert over $10,000,000 in social costs.
Then, a few days ago someone from a church in Texas reached out about doing the same thing. Stay tuned.
Spoke with Judy O'Bannon, wife of the late Governor Frank O'Bannon. We are exploring collaborating on a documentary together for PBS. Hoosier economist Morton Marcus and environmental filmmaker JD Shuyler are also involved.
We've certified over 100 households! We're at 114 as of 11/23/20. We certified 18 more households in our 7th month.
Here are just some of the diverse occupations of the people who decided to become carbon neutral:
- CEO of a startup company with $4.4M in funding
- Co-founder of a startup company with $33M in funding
- Founder of an all electric lawn care company
- VP of Sales
- Senior Manager at Salesforce
- Two architects
- Family counselor
- Longtime environmental and community activist
- Associate Professor at IU Northwest
Of the 18 new carbon neutral households, 13 were referred by friends (72%). After someone becomes carbon neutral we ask them to educate their friends. If each person "cleans up their carbon trash" and helps just two friends do the same, then we'll transform Indiana quickly. We even created The $50,000 Club to encourage this as a game. Explore an interactive map of these connections.
A major corporation contacted us to explore a collaboration. Stay tuned.
Two meetings with DePauw University intern. On Feb 18, 2020, Daniel Poynter and Greg Kempf presented at DePauw University. DePauw then hired Erika Marchant to focus on carbon neutrality.
Balancing short term needs with long term investment. For example, we've been a critical player helping advance climate legislation at the Indiana statehouse. This would incentivize carbon markets in our state -- enabling innovation and least cost approaches to bring down our emissions. We still have not received grants, however, and are an all volunteer team. It's vital we breakeven financially with our fundraiser within a certain timeframe. Policy work has tremendous potential, but it's a longer term investment. It's important to maintain balance between short and long term investments.
When we presented to the Cummins sustainability team, it seemed no American employees were on the call. It seemed everyone was from their offices in India. How much influence do their foreign offices have? Why is there not more interest from the American employees? Every year Cummins is responsible for emitting 811,286,647 mtCO2e (according to their CDP reports). According to researchers from Stanford University, each of these tons causes $220 in social damages. That means every year Cummins is responsible for shifting $178.4 billion dollars in damages onto others. No doubt the company is responsible for a lot of good, but $178.4 billion in damages annually... yow!
Purdue University and Indiana University are failing to lead on climate. Ball State University set 2030 as their goal to become carbon neutral. They might achieve this early, perhaps by 2025. Purdue University educated Neil Armstrong, who ignited the imaginations and a sense of adventure of generations. Why isn't Purdue University leading on the greatest challenge of the 21st century? Students (who are not only not paid for their climate work but are paying Purdue for tuition) are inspiring adults with their leadership (see this petition and this letter).
Butler University is going backwards. We don't intend to be mean by calling Butler out. They are a useful example of what's wrong with much of the sustainability movement:
- Too much reward for mere commitments and plans
- Ineffective and/or not enough investment in action and
- Almost no accountability
(1) Too much reward for mere commitments and plans
Butler University's President signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2012.
Over 650 presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities also signed this commitment which expresses concern for "the unprecedented scale and speed of global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects."
When he signed it, Butler's President said, "Through this pledge to achieve climate neutrality, Butler is reaffirming its commitment to serve as a champion for the City of Indianapolis and State of Indiana, helping to ensure that future generations of Hoosiers inherit a healthy planet."
Signing this document got Butler a lot of positive press -- even honors from organizations like the Christian Theological Seminary. Anyone who ever committed to lose weight, or made a plan to become a billionaire, knows it's one thing to make commitments and plans and an entirely other thing to actually achieve them.
(2) Ineffective and/or not enough investment in action
When Butler signed their commitment their net emissions (all three scopes) were 28,841 mtCO2e. Eight years later, in 2020, their emissions are up 33% to 38,359 mtCO2e (+9,518 mtCO2e).
Researchers at Stanford University found the social cost of each ton is $220. That means that every year Butler is not carbon neutral is another year their leadership decides to shift $8,400,000 in damages onto the rest of the world -- often the most vulnerable. In what world is this acceptable?
And this number grew by $2,093,960 since making their commitment!
Assuming Butler employed two sustainability staff over those eight years, with modest salaries of $50K, with total costs of employment (e.g. benefits, cost to manage employees, etc.) of $100K, that means the university invested $200K each year for eight years for a total of $1,600,000.
In this case the university invested in action, but it's been a terribly ineffective investment.
(3) Almost no accountability
Local media reported on Butler's original commitment. Great. But has media reported that -- after investing $1,600,000 -- Butler's emissions have gone up 33%, causing over $2,000,000 in more harm annually?
A similar point has to do with the term "sustainability." What does it mean exactly?
Unclear terms invite a lack of accountability. To be sure, we need to lessen our environmental impact in more ways than just carbon emissions. Still, the concept of carbon neutrality is wonderful in terms of accountability. It's basic algebra. You measure your emissions, clean up your carbon trash, and reduce them as much as possible. Or, like Butler, you don't. There's no hiding behind feel good stories of campus recycling programs or gardens.
It could have been a different story.
Many other colleges and universities reduced their emissions since signing that commitment. Explore their public reports here. About ten are even carbon neutral.
And it's not a question of money. Butler has about $42,000 in its $213,000,000 endowment for every one of its students. The University of San Francisco has just $37,000 per student, and they are already carbon neutral. The following institutions also have less money in their endowment per student than Butler, yet they still reduced their emissions over 50%:
- Boston Architectural College
- Lesley University
- Valencia College
- California State (Fullerton)
- California State (Chico)
- New Mexico State University Main Campus
- Framingham State University
- Mercyhurst University
- Augsburg University
- Salisbury University
- Huston-Tillotson University
- Point Loma Nazarene University
So far Butler's performance is an outrageous and embarrassing failure. Surely those privileged enough to lead a private university could have demonstrated better leadership. Especially with $1,600,000 to invest!
If we are really in a climate crisis, then sustainability leaders need to be more like winning football coaches -- demanding and eliciting greater performance from their teams. Inspiring their audiences. Winning games!
Okay, tough love mode over.
So many good people want to contribute their time, talents, treasure. Several volunteers are working on exciting projects. Stay tuned.
We know more about our ideal prospect. Every startup needs to focus (and hustle) for a chance to survive. One way to focus is to make your marketing and sales funnel as efficient as possible. No leaks! But it's also valuable to focus on your most profitable prospects -- at least initially.
Carbon neutral households range widely in terms of the amount they invest monthly to "clean up their carbon trash."
The smallest 20% of subscriptions average about $5.15/mo (many are carbon negative because they own so much forest). Since our margins are about 40%, that means this group contributes about $24.72 over a year. Based on the amount of time we invest educating and supporting them, this is not financially sustainable on its own. When we receive grants, however, this could be sustainable.
The largest 20% of subscriptions average about $70.38/mo. This means they contribute about $337.82 over a year. That's 13.6X more than the first group.
For context, let's say we can employ a recent college graduate who majored in environmental science for $30,000. The full cost to employ them would be about $60,000 (with benefits, etc.). We would need 2,427 carbon neutral households from the first group to support this employee on earned income. We'll only need 177 households from the second group.
Our ideal household prospects:
- Either male or female
- Urban / suburban (not rural)
- Enjoys traveling
- Probably has a family (though not necessary)
- Probably over 30 years of age
See notes above about Butler University. Academic institutions are often not as progressive and innovative as they claim to be. Recently, the twitterverse has requested college loan relief. Higher education needs to be disrupted and reformed, not enabled. Silicon Valley, where are your outageous and inspiring ambitions to transform and improve?