"More people are thinking about climate in a serious way than ever before."
This week we're joined by Austin Whitman, CEO of Climate Neutral. Austin shares how Climate Neutral came to be, the certification process for brands, and why they launched in the outdoor industry. Austin also discusses what creatives can do about the climate crisis, who leads these certification processes inside companies, and how to get involved. This episode is jam-packed!
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Lisa: Welcome to Outside by Design, the podcast about the business side of creativity in the outdoor industry. I am your host, Lisa Slagle, the owner and creative director of WHEELIE, which is a creative agency for people who thrive outside.
And I love doing the podcast because I get to talk to interesting people all over the world. And sometimes the podcast is hard for me because I don't see people and I don't… I just hear them. And to have a one hour recorded conversation with someone you've never met before can be really challenging. But it's a challenge I enjoy because of the depth that we can get into in these conversations and the different topics.
And today is a really interesting episode. It's with Austin Whitman, the CEO of Climate Neutral. And Climate Neutral is an organization that's helping businesses and consumers take action against the climate challenge, like immediately. And you can certify your brand and it's a three-step process. I like it because there's immediate action and then also future thinking and future actions, kind of the whole ripple effect. So it feels pretty holistic. And Austin is a genius. He is a really thoughtful guy. Like I said, the CEO of Climate Neutral, and I love that he had some observations about climate change and that there was a need and a market to help companies understand their impact and do something about it.
And so he took these observations and used creativity to work towards solving a problem and used innovation and technology as a way to help people and brands understand their impact.
We talk about different steps organizations can take, who in brands typically are responsible for having these climate conversations - surprise, surprise, it's marketing.
And we talk about creativity being a process and not perfection, even in technology and data analytics gathering. And get into things that you can do immediately as a creative, as a small business, and as a big business, for those of you who are like VPs of marketing departments. So it's a robust conversation and I could talk to Austin all day because he's got a lot to say, but yeah, enjoy our conversation.
And I got a ton out of it. I am working on getting WHEELIE certified to be Climate Neutral. Yeah. It's a good conversation.
Lisa: Austin. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today.
Austin: Thank you so much for having me.
Lisa: The first question we ask everyone is to describe where they are and what they're looking at.
Austin: [laughs] I'm in my basement. Because at eight o'clock this morning, a friend of mine dropped off his dog and his dog is large and loud - and a wonderful dog, but not a great accompanist to a podcast recording. So I retreated into the sound chamber of my basement and I'm looking at my bicycle, actually, on a bike trainer.
Lisa: Oh, nice. Where are you at in the country?
Austin: In Boston.
Lisa: Oh, that's... you're based out of Boston.
Austin: Mhmm. Well, I am, yeah, I live just outside of Boston and we have a program manager here or certification manager, and then we have a certification manager up in Burlington and then we have somebody in Denver. So we're kind of, we're virtual. We went virtual before virtual was the cool thing to do.
Lisa: So you're fully virtual, no headquarters, no office.
Austin: Fully virtual. Yeah. Which meant saving a lot of money on the rent that we would have been paying for empty offices this past year.
Austin: And I have to ask, you're in Whitefish. Is that right?
Lisa: Yes. Headquartered here. You've been here?
Austin: I rode my bike through Whitefish in 1996 on a cross-country bike trip. And it was probably the most lost we got on the entire 3000 mile truck from Vancouver to Philadelphia. Because we tried to follow the Adventure Cycling maps, which - this is before GPS and phones. And the one time of the... most of the trip, we followed a Rand McNally map of the US like 1 piece of paper. And then in Whitefish, for some reason, we thought we'd catch onto this Adventure Cycling route. And there were about a thousand turns from the west end to the east end of the town. And I don't know where we ended up, but somewhere where we shouldn't have been in town.
And then my other Whitefish story is the best wedding band I've ever heard was from Whitefish. They were an eighties cover band and they played at my brother-in-law's wedding and they were just phenomenal to the point where I want to, like, I don't know, rent them for something else.
Lisa: You can, we can put you in touch with them.
Austin: You know them?
Lisa: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Austin: Cool. What are they called?
Lisa: 1985. They might've changed her name to the New Wave Time Trippers at one point. We can, we can put you in touch with them. They're great.
Austin: Okay, awesome. Well, I guess it's not surprising that there's one. It's not like, you're like, “oh yeah, we've got 10 of those. You'd have to tell me which one it is.”
Lisa: [laughs] No, we got you. Amazing. They'll be really happy. Cool. Well, I'm super curious to learn kind of how you got into what you're doing with Climate Neutral and also kind of talking about the ramifications of creative work and climate change and how we can all do better. So, where do you want to start?
Austin: So much to talk about in that. I mean, I can start with just a very short sort of why does Climate Neutral exist, and then maybe we can quickly veer off into thinking about the sort of importance of creative, creatively-based engagement in this line of work. Does that sound good?
Lisa: That's perfect.
Austin: Okay. So. We started the organization in early 2019 with basically two sort of observations on the way the world was at that point... I guess three observations. The first being of course climate change is a huge problem and humanity is doing a horrible job dealing with it. But the second, more relevant to our model, is the fact that, you know, there's this certainly long list of eco labels and certifications that consumers depend on to just very quickly make determinations about the practices that went into making a product: whether it's a pound of fair-trade coffee or a t-shirt that's made with organic cotton or, you know, you name it. And there wasn't anything at the time for climate. And that felt like a real gap.
And while we didn't think that the world needed another eco label, it certainly needed one that was going to deal with climate in a very explicit way. And then the second problem that we observed was that the market for services that help companies understand how they're contributing to the climate challenge has really not evolved much in the last 20 years. And things that people were doing 20 years ago are still in practice today. And that feels like a real miss in a world that's dominated by a lot of great software and technology.
And in addition, we felt like, you know, the solutions in the market are really not designed or priced for scale, they're designed and priced for profit. And what I mean by that is consulting services or enterprise software are generally designed and priced to serve small numbers of clients at a high price point. And what we need now is lots and lots and lots of people, all taking steps to understand their impact, and then immediately thinking about and investing in ways to mitigate the impact on the climate.
So I guess that wasn't super short, but hopefully it was understandable.
Lisa: Definitely. So, okay. So you noticed these observations and then, and then thought, “okay, we need to do something about this.”
Austin: Yeah. I mean, my personal professional background in energy and clean energy and climate goes back to about 2004. When I made the decision to return to grad school after five years in software, and I really felt like the environment and climate was important for me to work on and was what I wanted to work on professionally.
And I met through a friend, a guy named Peter Dering who founded a company called Peak Design. And he was noodling on this very problem with his company. What's my carbon footprint. What do I do about it? And so the sort of process of forming the organization took place after we met and, well, I mean, in his mind, obviously before, and in my mind before, but when we met sort of things started to come together.
Lisa: Peak Designs, the camera backpack…
Lisa: Okay. Wow. Perfect tie into creative work.
Austin: Totally. And they've had an amazing growth path and the process of... kind of that he went through understanding their footprint and learning more about the voluntary carbon credit market, I think was inspiring to him to the extent that they even became a major funder of our organization.
Lisa: Gotcha. Okay, so Climate Neutral existed, became born. You grew it. And kind of what was the response? Pretty powerful right away, I believe?
Austin: We did a big launch, which was a great decision and I take zero credit for the ambition of that launch because it was, um, almost entirely orchestrated by the marketing teams at Peak Design and BioLite. So, yeah, so we did this big launch in June of 2019 at Outdoor Retailer. And it really was an amazing experience because I don't think I've ever stood in one place and talked to people for as long as I did that day. And it's totally memorable. I think it was like eight hours of just one person, after another, after another talking about climate and their work and our work. And that alone was just an indication of the fact that we were going to strike a chord, I think, with the launch of the organization.
And in the first year we thought maybe we'll get up to... we had no idea how many companies would be able to recruit. We thought maybe three dozen would be a good target. And we ended up having 150 that got certified within the first year. And then we're now up to about 350 companies, ranging from PR firms to software companies, to REI, to all kinds of different outdoor products companies and health and beauty companies and food and beverage companies. So the timing was excellent. And what I have observed in the last few years is that more people are thinking about climate in a serious way than ever before. Truly, ever before, back to the beginning of the time when people thought about climate for the first time.
Lisa: Mhmm. So like, how does the organization work in terms of buying voluntary carbon credits or how does it, how does it go down?
Austin: Yeah, so we sign up companies to become certified and that starts them into a process that depending on when they come to us, it may begin next month or it may begin next year. Because what we do is we look at annual carbon emissions for a company.
And so let's say a company comes to us in September and they say, we want to get certified. We'll say, okay, it's September of 2021. We're going to certify you for your 2021 emissions. And that process will start in January of 2022. Because at that point you'll have all the data that you need to create your carbon footprint. And we call that measurement. So measurement is the first step in getting certified and that usually takes about two months or so. It's a process that involves pulling together data from different sources, sticking it into a piece of software that we built and producing a carbon footprint.
And then from there, companies are required to purchase verified carbon credits that are sourced from projects around the world. So they're offsetting the entirety of last year's footprint. And then they have to think about ways that they're going to reduce emissions in the future. And we're talking kind of the one to two year future, not the 20 to 30 year future.
And those steps that they're going to take to reduce emissions, get put down in what we call a reduction action plan. And at the end of that three-step process companies are certified for a year and they'll come back to us after that year and recertify by measuring again and taking the same steps all over again.
So it creates this sort of running tally of what your carbon footprint is, mitigates that footprint, and then gets people really thinking about what they can do to reduce their footprint. And of course the end result of the process is the ability to use the Climate Neutral certified label in marketing on products and pretty much anywhere somebody wants to use it. Which kind of brings us into the design conversation to some extent.
Lisa: Yes. Like the simplicity and effectiveness of that logo.
Austin: Yeah, exactly. What is it that it's going to take to mobilize people at large scale? And I think that some of the principles of good design really are... you know, sit behind how we've approached the certification. Because, you know, a good, compelling design says a lot with little effort. And that's what we've tried to do in the way we tell the story of the organization and the way we've approached the website and the content. And then of course the design of the label itself.
Lisa: Absolutely. And what I like about it is it feels like it belongs in the outdoor industry. But obviously it can transcend outdoor and it just feels like it's existed for a long time where it should be. It's very natural.
Austin: That's good to hear. Yeah. I mean, I think two years... I guess, you know, I don't know at what point we're no longer a startup, but two years definitely makes us one of the older players in this space. There have been a number of startups, mostly for-profit startups, that have entered either labeling or, you know, have launched consulting practices or have gotten into measurement technology. And you know, it's nice to sort of have a brand identity that does maybe feel a little bit more established.
Lisa: Mhmm. So can we talk about creative work and kind of like surprising impact that our audience, including myself will probably be surprised to hear about, in ways that we contribute to the climate challenge?
Austin: Yeah. I mean, well, let me ask you this. What do you know about how you contribute to the climate challenge?
Lisa: I mean, it's been really interesting with COVID. We don't travel like we used to, but we have production companies and we travel with them. We buy cameras, we have computers going all the time. We use a lot of energy. You know, but I don't know how to measure that or what that would look like. And I'm a little scared to find out, but it's obviously important to find out.
Austin: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think, you know, there... it's not easy to get a hold of that information. There are some individual carbon footprint calculators, but I think that the big chunk of what an individual is responsible for is often not what is talked about. And that is the carbon and climate impacts of both the food that you eat and the products that you use every day. I mentioned that I'm sitting here staring at my bicycle. Bicycles are, in fact, fairly carbon intensive to manufacture because they're made out of things like metal and carbon fiber, and that all takes a lot of energy to produce and process. And what we typically hear about as individuals is the energy that goes into making the electricity that we use to power our computers or the cars we drive and the gasoline that goes into our cars, or hopefully increasingly electricity that goes into our cars. And then of course the airline miles that we travel. But there's this huge chunk, you know, tied to both the food and the products that we use that is extremely difficult to measure. And that's the piece of the pie that we're trying to really focus on because the companies that make those products do have ways to reduce the carbon intensity of those products. And our hope is that by letting people know that their footprint includes this whole chunk tied to the things that are around us, that we'll be able to get more companies to pay attention to that and to start thinking about ways to mitigate the impact.
Lisa: And a lot of our audience, you know, directly contributes toward the success of product-based companies. Since a lot of outdoor brands are very product-focused. You know, so as a marketing agency and a creative agency, if we do our job well, we sell a lot of jackets or we sell a lot of, you know, ski boots or skis. And so it gives me a lot- like I have a obviously miniature existential crisis about it when I really think about it as an outdoor lover and, yeah, kind of like what's your advice to creatives and really kind of measuring the impact we have?
Austin: Yeah. I think, you know, there's, maybe there's sort of two pieces to that.
One is the advice on measuring the impact, and then the other is advice specifically on what you can do about it as creatives. You know, the impact that you have is in large part a function of the decisions that you make on, you know, things that you do day-to-day. And in large part, the decisions that you make day to day, you know, you don't have a lot of control over how much you're contributing because you don't control the type of electricity that goes into, or the type of fuel that goes into making electricity. And you don't control the supply chain of the bicycle manufacturer. And so there are... other than just sort of generally consuming fewer things in the world, there is not a whole lot more you can do. Except however, you know, I'll promote the label that we have because you know, what we're trying to do is create a difference between companies that are measuring and offsetting and reducing their carbon emissions versus the companies that are not. And as an individual who's looking to understand their impacts and do something about them, this does get at, you know, a pretty big chunk of what your impact is.
But just know in general that when you spend money, that the correlation between spending money and carbon emissions is pretty direct.
So the more money you spend, the more carbon emissions you're responsible for. Certainly every dollar is not equal. If you spend a dollar on an airline ticket, that's different from spending a dollar on a tree that you're planting in your backyard, of course. But generally economic activity and carbon emissions are highly correlated.
So then, I guess the question is as creatives, what can you do? We've seen a number of super interesting partnerships crop up in the last couple of years between either marketing and advertising firms or individuals who have left careers in more traditional design or creative work and decided to launch things that are solely focused on climate change.
Because I think a lot of people have recognized that there's this massive failure over the last 20, 30 years to make climate - both the problem and its solutions - accessible to people. And I think that's what creatives are often awfully good at. Whether you're a photographer, who's taking a picture and bringing, you know, natural beauty into somebody's living room that way or a designer who is designing a physical product or a marketing campaign, it's all about making information and ideas kind of come to life for people. And the initiatives that we've seen certainly are responding to this fact that the information and ideas around climate change have not been brought to life for people particularly well.
And there's no end to what needs to be done here because still, many, many, many people just haven't the foggiest idea about what climate change is all about, what to do about it. And so I think that there's a huge, still a huge opportunity to do more of that. And creatives can play a huge role.
Lisa: Absolutely. I'm super interested in if you are like the imagination behind what sounds like proprietary technology or software for measuring the carbon footprint, like, is that something that you were able to invent? Like, you're a software guy.
Austin: I have worked at software companies. I'm not a software engineer, but I was able to fumble my way through the product development process for our footprinting tool, to the point where we were able to launch and provide a tool that companies found useful. And that felt like a good thing.
I don't want to take any credit for the coding that went into it or in any way for the thinking behind the methodology that we used. But I think the value that we brought to this industry was seeing an opportunity to just take something that is, like, really not very complicated, but appears complicated.
Because it hasn't... no one's taken the time or no one's had an incentive to make it simple and using software to sort of, to fix all of that. And it's not to say that we've built the world's most elegant or perfect solution, but it did something for us, which was allow us to credibly create carbon footprints for hundreds of organizations relatively quickly with not a whole lot of staff on our side working on it. And that's, that felt pretty transformative and it continues to feel like one of the bigger areas for impact potential for our organization.
So, I mean, as an example, if there's a company that's looking to measure its carbon emissions and it has the choice between a tool like the one that we have, which is incredibly low cost, and, you know, has the same general methodology behind it as something that's going to cost 50 times as much, we'd much rather have them use our tool and then spend that 50 times as much on actually offsetting and reducing their emissions. So the whole purpose of the footprinting tool that we built was just to push people further down the road faster.
It's not a joke when people say that there's only a decade, you know, “ish” to deal with climate. And the minute you start to tell people, okay, the first thing you’ve got to do to deal with climate is just to understand what you're contributing to it. In order to do that, you've got to find a hundred thousand dollars in your budget and develop a whole working group that's going to select a firm and a partner to work with, like you just lost two years or a year. And that's real time. And the problem is if, you know, if that happened with any other corporate initiative no big deal, because it's just your company that pays the price for that delay. But no, this is a case where the entire globe is paying the price because there's just so much inertia and it's so difficult to get started on that type of action.
So we're hoping that the software will continue to evolve. That we'll be able to find development partners, with both software engineering expertise, as well as funding capacity to help us bring this out to a broader audience and make it really part of just like the open domain. Because it does feel like just such an over- such a mistake that, that this kind of thing doesn't exist more broadly. I mean, if I had access to a government, if I were - maybe I should say if I were like a government agency, you know, controlling a budget that was thinking about climate change, this is like the first thing I would do. I would just basically say the government is going to pour $10 million into a software tool that just, like, standardizes. And the EPA has done a little of this, but not to the extent that it really makes the the data truly accessible.
Lisa: That's yeah, it is wild that something like that hadn't existed, and kind of doesn't exist on a bigger, more standardized scale.
Austin: Yeah, but then again, like there aren't that many... there aren't that many parallels. Right? And I think that's maybe a head scratcher is why, why aren’t there? Cause we've sort of thought, well, we're building the “X,” the *blank* of, you know, of carbon footprinting, right.
But there aren't… it's hard to come up with examples. So you could say TurboTax, but TurboTax is produced in... it's a for-profit company and it's produced and you sort of, you pay for it. So there aren't that many examples of well-respected and widely used software tools that are also free or close to free.
And so the closest thing that we could come up with would be an operating system like Linux, which is an open source operating system. But it's, it's a pretty wonky example and not a lot of people know what it is.
Lisa: Maybe like WordPress, kind of ,open source, but…
Austin: Yeah, something like that.
Lisa: Yeah. Oh man. How cool. I think that's something really interesting about our stance on creative, creative work in general. Is that like most of the time, what you attempt doesn't work. And that's like part of having an idea and part of like pressure testing your ideas and then, you know, the magic of creativity when you have an idea and it actually works.
How did you kind of pressure test this one and, like, deal with the seasonality and like, measuring something if someone comes to you in September versus January. And, I don't know, like how, how did that look for you guys?
Austin: So with the measurement tool, we didn't do a whole lot of pressure testing because we figured that after a full canvassing of the market, that anything we did in this space was going to improve upon what was out there. So it felt like... not that we had a low standard, but it felt like the bar was pretty low. And so we were unafraid to introduce something into the market because people didn't like it. It's like, okay, great. Show us the alternative and we'll be happy to use that, but there really wasn't much or isn't much.
But we, you know, we worked extensively with folks who have been doing carbon measurement for their entire careers and decided in essence to sort of take their… take their brains and put them into this software tool. And that felt, again, like a way of de-risking the whole thing, because if they'd been, if they would go and work with a company and, you know, make $30,000 doing it for the company, then why shouldn't it work for a software tool.
In terms of the certification process we… we really just, you know, again, we surveyed the landscape extensively. We looked at every other carbon neutrality certification program, all the standards manuals that exist around carbon neutrality, carbon footprinting and all the important steps of the certification. And then we just had to put a stake in the ground and the fact that we launched in June and were signing up companies meant that the most logical thing to do would be to start certifying them the following year.
And by doing them in a batch, it allows us to do things like group several companies at once into a call where we're talking about how they're going to go through the measurement exercise. And the certification process has certainly... we're on our, I guess, really the third round of it right now. And we've learned a ton along the way about how you nudge companies through, because it's very exciting for them to think about getting certified, but then when it comes to actually making it from point A to point B in certification, there are parts that can be confusing and it's easy to get distracted. And so we've had to figure out how to get people, to continue to engage people and how to get people across the finish line.
And we've used things like, you know, marketing incentives. You know, if you complete your certification by X date, you can be part of this marketing campaign. We've also used technology extensively, you know, beyond just the measurement tool, to try to organize content, to create checklists and timelines and, you know, virtual help libraries. And we have a slack channel where people can ping us with questions. So there's all different ways we try to support people through this process, all of which has been developed through trial and error and, you know, the exact process that you described. Which is sort of saying, well, we're probably not going to get this right the first time, and that's okay. And we'll figure out how to, how to make it better.
And so we're still, I mean, we're now designing our certification process for 2022, which is hard to believe, but it's something we got to start now, and we're probably going to build an entirely different tracking system because we just, we need to.
Lisa: This is so cool. I don't know. I love the technology behind it. I love data. And so just kind of listening to your methodology there and the certification process, right? ‘Cause it's a process, not like a certification perfection. So, I don't know. I'm enjoying your journey there from the software standpoint. And I think it's super interesting work.
Austin: I'm glad to hear that. I mean, it's interesting. Cause I'm often just kind of... I often check myself and think, “do we need to do this thing?” Because, because we have a mission and we have an objective and you know, if the thing isn't contributing to the achievement of the mission, then maybe it maybe it's overkill. But what we've heard from companies is that the certification process actually adds value. In other words, it shows them things they didn't know about how they're contributing to climate change and they come out of it feeling like they have a much better sense of what they can do. And then of course the practical limits of what they can't do. And as long as they're getting value out of it, then it feels like it's adding to the mission because that's the kind of… it puts companies on the path that they need to be on.
So that's my, that's my kind of quick mental calibration around, you know, just because it's technology doesn't mean it's valuable. But I think we're… I think we're doing work that companies really benefit from.
Lisa: Absolutely. It makes the intangible feel more tangible and also like actionable and measurable. Right? So I think, yeah, I think it's amazing. If you don't mind sharing, are there any brands that you feel like are a big win for you? In terms of getting on board, going through the process and, and actually changing some of their practices.
Austin: There's so many different stories like that. It's a great question. I mean, from small brands that have been incredibly... sort of incredibly positive surprises for us where their total carbon footprint may not be that big. We measure our impact in terms of the size of the carbon footprint, because the more carbon that we're measuring and, you know, offsetting and reducing, obviously the more impact we're having. So there've been some small brands that we've signed up and they have become tremendous advocates for us through referrals, just punching way above their weight in terms of the referral capacity.
And then there have been some, some stalwarts in the sustainability world, like Cotopaxi and Klean Kanteen that joined us where it really felt like their joining us was an acknowledgement that the thing that we were doing has real value in the sustainability world, because these are people who just completely know their stuff.
REI, of course, you know, it has to be mentioned because they're our biggest brand. And when they signed up, it just felt like a real endorsement that a company that has a thousand other companies that it works with is willing to put us forward as the standard for carbon neutrality, was a great, it was just a great step forward.
There are folks like avocado who joined us really early on, who have a whole sea of labels that they use, labels and certifications. And they felt that we were the right climate label to partner with. So that was great. ‘Cause we were put alongside all these other well-established folks like B lab, B Corp, 1% for the planet and so forth. So I could go on and on... Fetzer is one that's joined us recently. Fetzer vineyards. And they've been both great to work with and a tremendous advocate in helping us get deeper into the food beverage and agriculture space. And also just to have a great brand that people recognize.
So each brand that we work with seems to have its own, just, really interesting story. I mean, there are plenty that are doing really interesting things on the carbon reduction side. That seemed to have been spurred on by the fact that they've been through the certification process because, you know, basically the decision to get certified creates an initiative within the company. And everybody starts to think about the initiative as a thing that they have some responsibility for making a success. And that gets everybody focused on climate as a thing. I mean, you know how organizations work and it's, it's just sort of, it's great to be that seed kernel for, for climate work within companies.
Lisa: So a lot of our listeners are like brand managers or VP of marketing within their companies. Do you find that this is something that kind of goes to the attention of the CFO or the CEO, or like who's the actual human that kind of tends to get this going within organizations in your experience?
Austin: Yeah, this, the CEO is often involved for smaller companies, smaller in the range of $5, 10, 15, up to 50, 60, 70 million in revenues. In the case of larger companies, we often will have a marketing or a sustainability person who takes the initial lead and then has to sell it up into the CSO or the CMO. The people who are on the ground doing the measurement and certification work are often in operations or marketing or sustainability. So that, that varies a little bit. But the business case usually rolls up through marketing or sustainability if sustainability is a separate thing.
Lisa: Interesting, interesting. That it's marketing and not like operations at this point.
Austin: It is interesting. And I, and I don't actually have numbers that break that down. We talk about internally wanting to know more about how people are paying for it. But my sense is that the real driver is the consumer engagement piece and that makes it, that puts it squarely in the domain of marketing.
Austin: I mean, it's sort of like, it's a pretty interesting question. How should companies view their investments in low carbon? Should it be a product expense? Should it be an R&D expense? Should it be seen as a tax, just a corporate expense to the entire organization? Should it be a marketing expense?
And, you know, maybe there's no right answer. But you know, there's probably... I think the moral argument would be, this is just a tax, right? This is the kind of thing that every company just has the obligation to do. But the capitalist answer is put it wherever there's a business case. And that's going to depend from company to company.
Lisa: Hmm. I'm currently studying eco psychology. I just decided to go back to grad school for fun. And because I'm like on... I'm in this existential quest right now around, is it possible to be a capitalist and a feminist? Is it possible to be a capitalist and a naturalist? Like, you know, can we, can we actually like, blend capitalism and the planet and caring about the planet and it's like, it goes so deep. It's so intense. And, I guess, like, politically... do you guys come up against a lot of resistance from brands? Or do you think, like - I love the outdoor industry because it's very directly tied into location and places and wild places. So, I mean, is it, is that why you started in the outdoor industry and are expanding outwards?
Austin: Outdoor industry… I mean, obviously it was sort of the home, the natural industry for our two founding funders. It also is just a... it's an industry that has a very very dynamic history of sustainability because of the nature of what the companies do and the consumers do. And we could not have as effectively launched into something like home goods because that same track record just doesn't exist. Maybe in food and beverage, because there's a long history of labeling there, like USDA Organic, et cetera. But outdoor is just a more, you know, just like a more, more natural place, with the whole kind of experience element of it and the connection between the climate and the outdoors.
What was the other part of your question?
Lisa: I guess like, has it been met with a lot of resistance? Like I, sometimes I feel so like, almost tunnel visioned in the amazing brands and humans that we do work with. Yeah. You know?
Austin: Yeah. I mean, probably the biggest source of resistance that we get, other than just, “we don't believe there's a business case for this” is that companies don't all agree on the right way to tackle the climate challenge. And in particular, companies say, well, we're taking this on, but we believe the right way to take this on is by redesigning our products and working on long-term carbon reductions.
And at the risk of sounding cynical, I think unless that claim and that statement is quantified, meaning a company actually publicly discloses the money and the efforts it's taking to redesign its products and reduce its emissions over time... it just, it just invites people to really just say, this is what we're doing, but having put no basis behind it, behind that claim. And then also there's sort of no necessarily, like, guaranteed outcome that those companies are going to get where they need to be in five, ten years on carbon.
So the thing that we require all companies to do is probably the basis for, for a lot of companies not joining, which is we require them to spend money to directly clean up their carbon emissions every single year. And you can look at it as a, you know, kind of a missing piece of the capitalist system or an obligation or a hedge, or you know, in many different ways. But the reality is that the amount of investment going into turning down carbon emissions around the world is just such a fraction, such a small fraction of what it needs to be. That when companies say, well, I'd rather spend money on a product design, it's like, no, you should be spending money on product design, as well as taking account of the emissions that you're currently generating, because those aren't going to magically go away.
And I too often hear people, on the one hand, talking about just the existential threat that is climate change and the incredibly short timeline that we have to deal with it. And then on the other hand, just really taking advantage of the fact that they don