Responsible Impact

Responsible Impact Episode 107 – Crash Course on Carbon Offsets, with Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect

Everything you wanted to know about carbon offsets in one handy episode: it’s our Crash Course on Carbon Offsets with the MagicLinks’ carbon offset partner, Cool Effect (@cooleffect). Blake Lawrence explains how to discern good offset partners from bad, breaks down additionality, portfolios, and much more.

Bonus points for the listener who can name the cat voice at the end of the episode! Drop us your guesses at responsibleimpact@magiclinks.com

Listen to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts, or read the transcript below. Share with a friend and subscribe to stay in the know as we talk with more fascinating voices at the intersection of sustainability and e-commerce. Have a guest or topic you’d like to see featured? Drop a line at, you guessed it: responsibleimpact@magiclinks.com

 

Natalie (11s):
Welcome back to Responsible Impact, a production of MagicLinks. We connect brands and influencers in e-commerce. We know many of our related industries have a large aggregate role in climate conversations. And so this is the show where we bring sustainability and e-commerce conversations together. If you aren’t super up to speed on the concept of carbon and why it might need offsetting in the first place, here’s an extremely quick summary. Everything alive on earth is made mostly of carbon. Petroleum and gas are also made primarily of carbon, just like the water cycle, the earth has a carbon cycle.

Natalie (45s):
We are living things and the soil air and oceans have all exchanged carbon over the eons burning generations of fossil fuels has released millennials more carbon into this cycle than at any one portion of it is accustomed to or built to handle. What’s happening instead is this access carbon is bloating the system. Carbon offsets are various ways to encourage that carbon to not be a bloat on the Earth’s systems. To instead perhaps grow trees, which are about half carbon, or to incentivize the prevention of carbon emissions and the first place by stopping forests being burned, for example.

Natalie (1m 19s):
A lot of people aren’t super familiar with carbon offsets. And so this episode aims to shed some light on them. A modern and recent concept, many skeptics worry that they are a version of some medieval indulgence issued by a modern-day climate church. Others know that good work is being done, but are really unsure how to tell the difference in who to work with or not. Out of fear, many really well-intentioned people are sitting it out entirely. We found Cool Effect and we’re really thrilled to bring you this conversation with a member of the group’s founding family and the organization’s marketing manager, Blake Lawrence, here.

Natalie (1m 53s):
He introduces us to Cool Effect and why they were motivated to jump into the space, to begin with:

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (2m 0s):
Cool Effect is a nonprofit dedicated to offsetting and helping individuals, businesses, and nonprofits offset their footprint with the highest quality carbon credits available. And we did this because we’ve found that in the industry of carbon offsets and carbon credits, there was a lack of serious transparency. For-profit, big carbon offset provider were not advertising true pricing for all of the projects they have on their platforms and the projects they were selling or low-quality projects, meaning they were not additional.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (2m 40s):
They didn’t have — the benefits were really lacking. And the carbon reduction that was actually going on was minimal. So Cool, Effect set out to be the best carbon offset provider with the highest quality, with the highest transparency available. And we’ve set out to do that. And we’ve done that. We’ve just passed over 2 million tons of a reduced in the five years we’ve been around and we’re continuously moving forward.

Natalie (3m 14s):
Ooh. Okay. Tell me more about the connection between Mirador and Cool Effect

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (3m 19s):
Cool Effect really started back in the early 2000s and how my family got into the carbon offset market: we had just moved to the US and my family wanted to volunteer our time, giving back. And we got connected to a group in Honduras. That was for a medical mission. And my dad speaks fluent Spanish and my sister was learning Spanish. It was kind of the perfect place to start. So they started going down in 2001, visiting Honduras, up in the mountains and a town called Atima and translating for the doctors based out of Baltimore.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (3m 56s):
After about two years there, of going every summer for two weeks, my sister was invited into one of the homes and the families. And that was when she kind of put two and two together. A lot of the family is the mother and children who are coming into the clinics, had major respiratory problems. And it wasn’t until my sister was invited into the home that she realized that the stoves at these women were cooking on were just spewing smoke into the house. And these women were breathing in these toxic fumes day in, day out.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (4m 30s):
Now in Honduras, the stove needed to be on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, partially to help keep that home. Also because of the time it takes to heat up — it’s not something they can just turn on and turn off. These are wood-burning stoves, so they have to keep feeding it throughout the day, causing deforestation, respiratory problems, umm, and the time it takes to it for the food to cook, the women have to monitor it all day and they are not able to go out and get an education or take care of the kids.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (5m 1s):
So its a very, it has a huge impact on their society.

Natalie (5m 6s):
Jumping in here to put a little bug in your ear. When people talk about the intersectionality of say gender issues, health, and the environment, this is actually a very clear example. The wood-burning stoves are an environmental and also a health issue. And the knock-on effects from this specific situation lead to diminished opportunity and education for women and girls. That has a broader economic effect, both on the females, but for the region in general. Conversations about the environment, almost always share a wall with conversations about other big social issues too.

Natalie (5m 37s):
These things are almost always intersectional. Okay. Back to Blake.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (5m 40s):
So we set out to build a better stove and we did. We built our first stove it in 2003, since then we’ve built over 200,000 stoves in Honduras. We’ve expanded to San Salvador and we’re continuously growing this operation building more and more of these fuel-efficient cookstoves in Honduras. These cookstoves are amazing because not only do they remove the smoke from the house, but also the cook speed of all the stoves is greatly increased. It gets hotter faster.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (6m 16s):
So women are starting to have time to go out and get an education, go to classes — they’re or not dedicating their whole lives inside the home.

Natalie (6m 19s):
So how did you grow from there?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (6m 22s):
So after a couple of years of building these stoves privately financed, we realized that you can’t just fund this thing yourself. You need (A) you need investors and you need a way of funding this. So we came across Carbon Offsets and carbon credits, same thing. And we dove kind of head first into this. We were the very first privately finance gold standard certified carbon offset project. And we’ve been selling our credits since 2007.

Natalie (6m 51s):
Okay. So you’re starting out, you’ve secured your offsets or your credits, what you do next.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (6m 56s):
We can go to the previous people that we’re buying a car that were helping fund Cool Effect and selling them the carbon offsets. But we realized we needed to expand our base. And that was the one we got involved with the other carbon offset providers. What we found was that they were taking let’s call it: We were selling the tons for $5. They were turning it around and selling it for double the price, $10 a ton, and then taking $5 in profit. And we kind of looked at that and said, well, look, if you can get the $10, you should give the $10 in a project.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (7m 28s):
The project is using this to keep the lights on, keep the doors open, pay for their employees.

Natalie (7m 33s):
Yeah, you should, buy that much more offset. Right?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (7m 36s):
Exactly. And they weren’t doing that. So we decided to do our own business and that’s how we got that’s how Cool Effect it was really born. It was born to bring pricing transparency to this market where there was seriously lacking and we’ve made waves.

Natalie (7m 55s):
What have been some of the bigger, proud moments and successes for you?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (8m 2s):
We’ve been, we helped major corporations like Salesforce and Twitter get to net zero emissions or offset certain parts of their company. We just partnered with a major, major airline American airlines. That’s really exciting for us. And it’s only been going up because people are looking in this world where there’s so many things that are hidden, any transparency that is provided is such a benefit to people. They wanna understand how their money’s being used, where it’s going, what the price per ton is, what our fees are, all of these things are questions that businesses organizations wanted to know.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (8m 41s):
And no one else, other than Cool Effect will give you a solid answer on that.

Natalie (8m 47s):
So for instance, when I look on your site, I see a number of projects that if I didn’t know, they were all carbon offsetting, I’d think, Oh, these are all very diverse and they’re in very different parts of the world. So tell me about how offsetting can be effective and look like so many different things.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (9m 3s):
Yeah. So basically there are these international standards that to be a carbon offset project you need, did you need to adhere to some of the methodologies that they, they say qualifies for reducing carbon emissions. Now that means there’s a ton of different projects out there. For example, there’s forest preservation force, our natural carbon sinks, which means they take carbon out of the air and they put it into the ground.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (9m 36s):
And so they’re very effective at reducing carbon pollution. But then there’s also projects like building fuel-efficient cookstoves. It’s reducing the amount of wood burned, causing less CO2 to be released. And that is a quantifiable number that the scientists will test when reviewing the project for certification and verification.

Natalie (9m 56s):
Can you go a little bit into what some of these projects are?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (10m 1s):
Absolutely fuel-efficient cookstoves, forest preservation tree planting, we have biogas digesters that take animal waste, capture the methane and use it to power the lights and the stove in rural homes in China. And these are all amazing projects. And these are projects that we do extensive due diligence on to make sure they adhere to our standards, they go basically above and beyond the international standards. They have to adhere by any way.

Natalie (10m 31s):
How should someone choose which project is there one that’s more suited to specific preferences or Impact,

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (10m 40s):
It all starts by basically getting some direction. A client comes to us and say, Hey, we’re looking for a project in this area. What do you have? And if we don’t have a project in that area, we’ll go out and find. So as a group came to us since then, we were looking for a project that Amazon. So we set up to go find the project. And that means going on to these international standards and scrolling through thousands of different projects and looking through their documentation meeting.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (11m 10s):
These are scientific documents that when they went down to verify the project, these scientists put together and these extensive PDFs showing what they found in their research of the project. So we’ll, we’ll find the project, we’ll review the documentation. Once we have a good idea that we like the project, it seems pretty good. We will reach out to the project developer and say, Hey, we’re interested in your project. Can you pass along any other additional information, including financial, any financial documents we will review we’ll interview the management team.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (11m 47s):
So it will meet with them will set up a Skype zoom to have a car conversation with them, to make sure that their goals are aligned with the projects, making sure that they want to expand the project. They want to grow the project. That is the important item, and then once we’ve gone through those and we were really happy, we will look to add the project and our onto our platform and that will entail visiting the project, really getting boots on the ground. And so we have a scientist on our team, Sid Yadav, who has worked with a, since the very beginning.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (12m 23s):
And he’s the director of project research for Cool Effect and he’s reviewed over 1500 projects in his life. It may mean visiting these countries all around the world and doing these scientific documents. So he has a ton of experience. He will go and visit the project, meet with the team on the ground, me with the community members. And he will really get the sense that this is a great project. This is something that their goals are aligned with ours there doing the right thing. And he gets really excited about the good projects.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (12m 53s):
And then we’ll add it to the platform. We’ll negotiate pricing per ton and we’ll put it on the platform.

Natalie (12m 59s):
So say someone is brand new to carbon offsetting. What should they know?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (13m 3s):
That’s a great question. So all of our projects in our eyes are equals. We have done, they’ve all gone through the same, do diligence, not all the other projects are going through. None of them are kind of highwayed into onto the platform. We don’t put up any projects that we don’t do this verification process with. So all of the projects really are the highest quality we can find. It just depends on what you’re looking to. Impact. I’ve had a group from, I had a paper company from Brazil, reach out to us and they say, look, we want also with you guys, we don’t have to set the shipping of our paper.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (13m 43s):
How do we, what projects would you recommend? And I say, well look you guys are from Brazil, I have a Brazilian project that kind of it, it makes sense. Ah, we have other companies from Asia who were reaching out. They say, we’re looking for this and say, look, we’ve got these methane biogas, digesters that are incredibly effective for reducing, reducing methane pollution in these, in these countries. And that kind of aligns with them. So really depends on each person’s preference as to what they want to offset.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (14m 14s):
What company do they want to offset it with?

Natalie (14m 16s):
Gotcha. Is there anything else you’d look for?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (14m 18s):
So the first thing I look for is can you buy projects directly from them? Can you buy tons from that project? That would be the first thing to look for. The second thing I look for is, is there any transparency with the fees? How much is the organization taking from the sale of Carbon? You can do a little math in their nine 19 and take a guess at what they’re taking, but that’s not certain. Right?

Natalie (14m 43s):
Right. And also, I’ve been meaning to ask what’s additionality?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (14m 47s):
Additionality can be difficult. Basically what it means is, is the project forced to do this, or they need the sale of carbon credits to basically survive.

Natalie (14m 57s):
I should also tell you that Blake and I had a great long conversation about landfills and additionality. To sum it up, when we put things on top of each other in a landfill, as things decompose, methane gas is formed and released into the atmosphere where it acts like a greenhouse gas. Laws are in place to force landfill facilities in the US, but also in most of the world, to capture this gas and prevent it from contributing to greenhouse gases, the trouble is that these facilities then turn around and sometimes seek payment towards this effort as a carbon offset in air quotes, or as work to keep Carbon from entering the atmosphere, as though they were doing us a great service and stopping something detrimental from happening out of the goodness of their hearts.

Natalie (15m 41s):
But they were already trapping the methane, being paid extra to do it is disingenuous and is why they can sell these Offsets so cheaply. They have the existing infrastructure to do it. It’s why they can sell the Offsets for something as low as $1 a ton. And of course it undercuts projects starting from the ground up who are actually limiting Carbon and who aren’t piggybacking off of industry standard practices. Thus any payments you throw their way are sort of frosting on the cake or as Blake put it:

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (16m 8s):
It’s like being forced to follow HIPAA and then being paid to follow HIPAA. So we are, we’re very much against the landfill gas. It’s not — they’re not additional, no matter what anybody tells you.

Natalie (16m 19s):
Okay. So no $1 snake oil salesman, carbon offsets, what else should people know?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (16m 25s):
A lot of these, a lot of these other Carbon officer providers, they, they won’t actually cell the individual project. They sell you a portfolio of the credits for 10 bucks, 15 bucks, whatever it is. And that money gets evenly distributed to all of the projects. A lot of those being landfill gas projects.

Natalie (16m 48s):
Some people sort of ask with a raised eyebrow, you know, well, but what about companies whose practices are not great, but who’s sort of pat themselves on the back for buying Carbon Offsets?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (16m 59s):
A lot of businesses are moving into green space for marketing and PR measures, greenwashing. But you know what I say to that is like, look, if they are putting money towards the right projects to Offsets certain parts of our carbon footprint, I’m fine with it. I will help you market because if more people buy your product and you put more money into offsetting your carbon footprint, or putting more money into reducing your company’s total carbon footprint, fantastic.

Natalie (17m 31s):
Who are some companies you can name who are really knocking it out of the park?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (17m 36s):
Twitter or Salesforce. As just two of the kind of a gold standard. They look at this and says, well, Salesforce, especially Salesforce looks at it and said, “we need to be leaders on.” They are huge business. One of the biggest. And they have made the focus on getting to the net-zero carbon emissions. That means they offset all of their scope-three emissions, which are emissions that are unavoidable as such as flying with the highest quality carbon offsets available.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (18m 6s):
If more and more companies want to do that. And more and more companies want to a support, the best quality projects available. You know what? That’s great. It’s good people. They should be able to market good things. They should be able to, to put out on their products that, Hey, look, this is a carbon-neutral product. This is a green product. We’ve changed the packaging to make it recyclable or compostable. Like these are things that the company is a successful companies are looking at and saying, look at everyday, Joe wants this, like Joe and Jane.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (18m 39s):
They want to buy green products and its a great switch in the mentality.

Natalie (18m 46s):
So we’ve talked about companies, but what about individuals? What’s been your experience there?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (18m 51s):
Cool Effect really launched with the focus of getting individuals to purchase carbon offsets, to reduce their carbon footprint. We thought if we could get a hundred thousand people to reduce their carbon footprint, that would be an incredible milestone. People didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t their, it wasn’t their problem. It was other people’s issue. It was the companies fault that climate change was happening. But we contribute too, like if you drive a car. So if you have you flown somewhere like this, all contributes to climate change. And so what we found was people weren’t people weren’t ready to open up their wallet and say, I’m going to offset my flight.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (19m 28s):
I’m going to offset in my car. I am going to offset my house my life while they were doing it. They were putting the blame on other people.

Natalie (19m 37s):
Has there not been any shift since then?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (19m 40s):
I really put it back to when Gretta decided to not fly from Europe to New York for the UN Climate Conference last year, that was a massive change. And people understanding that flying had a huge impact on your carbon footprint. That was really a driving change for individuals to be like, wow, OK. So I have a day when I fly, I am putting out one ton, domestic flight, two tons international. Every time I fly, I can offset that with $6. Perfect. Done.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (20m 10s):
We’ve seen the change with airlines. Airlines are now starting to offer carbon offset programs for their passengers. When you buy a ticket that you can then go on and offset your flight for $5, $10. And this has been incredibly popular because people want to, they want to fight climate change.

Natalie (20m 30s):
So if I offset not just my seat on a flight, but the entire flight what’s that look like?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (20m 36s):
It’s expensive. If you want it offset your whole flight, it’d be about 240 tons for like an average 747. And that’s why a lot of airlines or looking into biofuels. American airlines think announced today that they are partnering with the next-gen biofuel to reduce their carbon footprint. That way its airlines are really like airlines. Get it. And they want the more green that can be the better off they’re going to be in the future. Cause people wanna will want to fly on green and airlines.

Natalie (21m 7s):
So I’m the average person, and I really need a cheat sheet for what to look for when I’m buying a carbon offset. Tell me, what am I looking for to suss out the quality?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (21m 18s):
Being able to select your own project. The second thing would be know the fee structure. Ask what the price per ton is that they are paying for the credit. What fees are they taking on a sale per ton? What’s the percentage? Cool Effect takes 9.87%. And part of that is payment processing fees. And so those are unavoidable fees so that we can’t that we just have to do. And no one will match that 9.87% there or other nonprofits. Let’s say they are lower than ours and they’re not actually real.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (21m 50s):
You can dive into their Form 990 you can see that it’s not true. If they start talking about landfill credits. If they start talking about a portfolio, have tons, these are all red flags. Having the ability to choose your own project is really important.

Natalie (22m 4s):
I know you have some thoughts around people approaching carbon offsets as if they wipe away the sins of the past. Can you talk to that?

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (22m 13s):
Right? And this is a critic as a common criticism that carbon credits get as it is. I’m just paying to reduce my pollution. That I’m continuously still, I’m still polluting, but because I’m putting money into this, it doesn’t matter. And that’s not the right way to think about it. You have to reduce your footprint in every other way. You need to bike or walk more. You need to carpool. If you can’t, although in today’s world it’s a little more difficult.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (22m 44s):
You need to eat less meat. You need to, you just need to reduce your carbon footprint. Call your local energy provider. You can request alternative energy and the electrical company will put more investment into greener energy and stop requesting from coal and natural gas. And other of these hugely, major polluting energy sources. And so I recommend absolutely everyone call your local energy provider request alternative energy for your house.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (23m 16s):
It is a couple bucks extra months, but it doesn’t not break the bank and you will have a major impact, but it’s reducing your carbon footprint in every way possible. And then offsetting the rest with the highest quality Carbon assets available. That’s really the role they play.

Natalie (23m 35s):
You mentioned a company that you had worked with, who sort of said something that really stuck out to you. Can you tell our audience a little bit more about that? I a great conversation

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (23m 47s):
With the CEO of a company called Diaper. They were partners with us. They are a sustainable baby diaper and really cool. And the guy was great. He said to me, and I’ll never forget this. He said, “If I was looking at this as a business decision, I would never do it. I’m doing it because it’s the right decision. And it’s costing me money that I didn’t, I wouldn’t have to spend, but it’s the right thing to do. And it’s because we have to do it.” That really stuck with me because those are the types of partners that we want. We want partners that say, look, I’m not doing this because I have to, I’m doing this because its the right thing.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (24m 23s):
And that’s the word that we kind of need to move into. We need to stop looking so in world and self-absorbed we need to kind of start looking around us and saying, look, we need to fix the problems around the world. And you guys were a great example of that. You guys have really stepped up and like I said, look, this is the right thing to do. We’re not doing this because of a business decision, we’re doing this because it’s whats needed, what we need to do as a business in today’s world.

Natalie (24m 50s):
Some of you may know the classroom poster that I’m thinking of. It says “Doing what’s right is not always easy. Doing what’s easy is not always right. MagicLinks talks pretty openly about how we are people with responsibilities to leave it better than we found it. And of course, if your, this far into one of our episodes, that’s probably not a shock to you. But what Blake is talking about here is a super succinct example of this. Maybe give some thought to things that you’d accepted because they were easy. Maybe there are more winners. If you choose a slightly different way of going about something, okay.

Natalie (25m 22s):
You know the drill, tell your friends, rate the show and subscribe. We’re on all the things. Google Podcasts, Apple Podcast, Spotify, Anchor.

Natalie (25m 60s):
Basically, or wherever you’re listening right now, plus everywhere else, too. Credits for this episode, go to Haesil Shin, Brian Nickerson, and Janet Cowan for being a colleague, a fan, and a friend. Right now she’s also a mommy/teacher who is making it happen. And I want to say to all you parents out there who are teaching kids during COVID and probably feeling pulled all over God’s creation: We love you. We see you. You are crushing it.

Blake Lawrence of Cool Effect (25m 59s):
Of course, massive thanks to go to Blake Lawrence for his time and insight. Cool Effect is online cooleffect.com. Go show him some support I’m Natalie and I’m out! Till next time, gang.

 

 

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