Graham is the founder and CEO of The Carbonauts. They help Fortune 1000 companies build climate-literate, sustainability enthusiastic cultures via tools such as live, interactive sustainability workshops. Their clients include giants such as Amazon, Chanel, News Corp, Toyota, AT&T, Warner Brothers, Discovery, Netflix, Dow Jones, and HarperCollins. Many companies have or are developing sustainability strategies. While this is a positive development, it is said that “Culture Eats Strategy” and as such for these strategies to succeed, it’s critical to develop a culture of sustainability. It is for this reason that The Carbonauts focus on cultural transformation. The Carbonauts believe that if companies can find and support internal sustainability change-agents that their ranks will start to grow and once they reach 25% of the company, a rapid transition to a powerful, sustainability-forward culture will take place.
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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. This is a super special edition. We’ve got with us today, the tree hugger himself, Graham Hill, founder and CEO of the Carbonauts, but of course, so many of you know him for many other reasons which we’ll get into today. Welcome Graham.
Graham Hill: Thank you for having me. A real pleasure to be here.
John: It’s such an honor to have you today, Graham, because even for me who got into the industry about 20 years ago, you’ve been a living legend, a shining light even when there was a lot of darkness and so many of us, like me, have followed your career, follow your trajectory, and just follow all the great and important work you’ve accomplished and inspired all of us. Thank you for all that you’ve done, including for myself.
Graham: Thank you, John. That great. Yeah, it’s nice to have been able to create some things that help get people excited about the incredible green future. I really appreciate hearing that.
John: It’s the truth and for the listeners and viewers who haven’t heard of you yet, and I wanted to ask you about this, you have a TED Talk that has over 11 million views. Of course, you created the iconic and legendary, which still exists today, and I read it today, treehugger.com, which had, at one point, billions of views, probably now, tens of billions of views. You’ve been on the cover of numerous magazines and, truly, before sustainability became a thing, you were beating the drum and doing it way before it was cool and you actually made it cool. Can you talk a little bit, before we get talking, of course, about the Carbonauts, can you talk a little bit about your history leading up to the Carbonauts?
Graham: Absolutely. yeah, so I’m an undercover Canadian, although I’ve been in the US for a long time. I studied architecture and product design. I grew up in the country in a log cabin with hippie parents, a lot of health food and hippie stuff. I definitely came by this honestly. In the mid, the early 90s 93, 94 I fell in love with the internet at Emily Carr in Vancouver. They just were advanced, advanced, meaning that we had one computer that had the graphical web, as it was called then. Then we used email, the War Games green characters on the screen thing. Anyway, I just saw that as the future and so was lucky to start a company in 1995 in Seattle, just over the border from Vancouver with my cousin Tish Hill building websites because we just thought that was… We were very lucky and did some good work and pushed hard, right place right time and built it to 60 people and sold it and did a ton of work for Microsoft. I’d been in the service industry before and so that was really formative because it really allowed me… Yeah, I really became an entrepreneur at that point. I made some money at an early age. I basically moved to Boston temporarily to run one of the other companies that got bought by our parent company with the deal that I would be able to get to New York City. When I had traveled to New York City, I was like, people walk my speed here. I really like it. I was very drawn to New York and so I finagled my way there, worked for the parent company for a little bit and then that’s when everything blew up in 2000, I guess 2001. I made some money and I no longer was working for the parent company and I stumbled across the Natural Step, which is still going today. I was able to be choosy about what I wanted to do and so Natural Step and Natural Capitalism, the book by the Lovins and Paul Hawken, etcetera was very inspiring, reading science about evolution and that sort of stuff. Yeah, I was able to be choosy about what I wanted to do and I was very clear to me that I wanted to do environmental matters. That was 23 years ago and I’ve been focused on it ever since. I started off, I was looking at green roofs in 2000, 2001, but I ended up focusing on building a plant-based air filter. It turns out that if you run air through soil, the living plant the bacteria around the root structure will break down pollutants. I wanted to build a beautiful air filter that would go in your bedroom kind of thing. I got some bad advice from some of my partners and wanted something small and inexpensive and it ended up being large and expensive. But it really got me going. Yeah, people have built these things. I honestly don’t know how well they work because I sort of know about it. In my opinion, they have to be pretty big to do much. But in any case, that got me going. I had an idea for Treehugger in 2000 and basically environmental media at that point, as you remember, and certainly some among us, some of the listeners will remember, was terrible. It was negative. It was, “Stop this, stop that.” It was political. It was partisan. It was often anti-business. It was not designed forward. Loved the hippies, tiny market. I just saw an opportunity because I saw I could piece together in my mind, I could see this incredible green future that was highlighted by books like Natural Capitalism. I could see it. In my searching around the internet, I could see all these incredible things, but it was hard for most people to put it together. The environmental media, we need the alarmist stuff. We need the negative stuff. We probably even need the partisan stuff, not that that’s terrible. But I really felt we needed something for someone who wore a collared shirt, lived in a city. But we needed something that was bipartisan, that was pro-business, that was designed forward that showed this exciting green future that I could see. That was the basis for Treehugger. Obviously it’s a tongue-in-cheek name. We were just having some fun with it, but it made it very memorable. I had thought about it in 2000 and basically in 2004, the technology came. Then the blogging platform, which made it inexpensive and easy to build media, which has changed our world in such a big way. My friend, Nick Denton, did Gawker Media and was very helpful in pushing me to do it. We pushed really hard and we had such a new unique approach and we were one of the early blogs, which was very incestuous, which helped you get page views so we were very quickly the biggest green site on the web. Tree Hugger grew and ended up selling it to Discovery in 2007. Worked for them for a number of years and it’s still going strong. Lloyd Alter, who I hired probably in 2005, maybe even 2004, still there crushing it. They’re now, yeah, they were part of Discovery, then they did a joint venture with M&N and then they eventually sold to IAC and so my old friend, Neil Vogel now runs the whole division there. Yeah, they’re ending up in a good place and it’s still going strong. I highly recommend to readers. They have a fantastic newsletter and it’s just a solid site. Of course, it’s hard to see it in the context of what it is now because there’s so many other sites doing similar. But, yeah, Treehugger is a wonderful thing and it got billions of web page views over the years.
John: It was in my…
Graham: Yeah. Okay, go ahead.
John: It was in my inbox this morning and it was still, like you said, Lloyd’s doing a great job and it’s still very relevant.
Graham: Yeah, it’s great.
John: Which is awesome.
Graham: Yeah, and he’s still as funny and funnier and more now… Listen, the guy’s been doing it forever. It’s amazing. Highly recommend that. Yeah, and we’re probably going to do some work with them, which is fantastic. That was the Treehugger story. Discovery, loved them, they were great to work with and still we’re probably going to do some work with them at the Carbonauts. Then I focused on small living for about a decade. I built this company called LifeEdited with Ross Porter and a handful of others, David Freelander and a number of other people. Basically, the idea that if you apply smart design technology and a little behavior change that you can create a smaller life. It’s going to save you money, that it’s going to be better for the planet and that ultimately a smaller, simpler life is actually a happier life. We’ve just gotten confused with somehow this idea that more space and more stuff is really going to make a difference to our happiness. Happiness levels have flatlined since the 50s and it’s just crystal clear. We did some really cool…
John: The 50s, do you know why it’s flatlined since the 50s? I actually learned this recently, but the… Do you know why?
Graham: I don’t know. Tell me?
John: Pretty much, it was the lack of connectivity that was created by the television.
Graham: Yeah, that’s good.
John: Yeah. That actually came out of the Harvard Happiness Study.
Graham: Oh, right. I’m just about to listen to the Sam Harris interview with that guy about that. He’s very cool. Yeah, that sounds about right.
John: He literally talks about just what you said, since the fifties, it’s been flatlined or in decline.
Graham: Yeah, and probably, with social media, even worse, further decline. Yeah.
John: It’s funny you talk about space, though. I remember, and of course I don’t remember the actual publication, but I remember a wonderful article on you being done about the space that you had been living in, that you had set up, during this period. It’s such a visual, the visuals articulated your message better than even the message itself, the written word. Because I remember, just marveled at how small you were living in and were…
John: …just very happy.
Graham: Yeah. It was great. I did a couple. I did three main personal projects. Then we did some projects for other people, including one of the founders of Summit Series. But I built, in New York, I built a 420 square foot apartment.
Graham: Then after that, I did 350, and I lived in both of them for quite awhile. I really pushed it, or we pushed it really the team. It was down to the forks and knives kind of thing, every last detail. But it was, yeah, if you search LifeEdited you can see a bunch of examples. We were on the cover of Dwell, for the small space issue. It was moving walls was part of it. Definitely lots of Murphy beds and the one’s main space would transform. It would go from your open office space for during the daytime to living room. We had a table that hid away and stretched from about a foot wide to, I don’t know, eight feet so we could have a bunch of parts that you would add to it so we could have dinner for 10 people in my space.
Graham: Then there was a moving wall that came out and revealed some fold down bunk beds on one side and then a big queen sized bed folded over the couch. Then a curtain closed the two off so you could have couple of guests over. Yeah, it was terrific. It did everything. It was really fun. Then I did an even smaller one upstairs. That was great.
Then I built in Maui, everyone was like, “Yeah, it’s micro units, what about families, and so I built one for a family. I built 1000 square foot, four bedroom, two and a half bath, which is a lot in a bath. Now part of it, it’s Maui, so part of it was 400 was outside…
Graham: …covered lanai kind of thing. There definitely was a little cheating. But by the book it’s 1000 and fully off-grid so full solar set up with the Blue Planet batteries. My friend David Sellers helped us put that all together. Water catchment, composting toilets and electric cars so we did the whole thing. I still own that and rent it. Have a lovely couple there now. It’s been, yeah, fun to expose it to other people…
John: That’s wonderful
Graham: …over the years. It was part media, part projects. It was really fun. We were good at it. Maybe not good at doing inexpensive stuff. But I got to the point where I realized that I didn’t want to be a real estate developer. That was a problem because I didn’t want to be an architect and I didn’t want to be a real estate developer.
Graham: It’s still a passion of mine. I’m trying to avoid it because it’s such a time suck. But it is really fun for me. That brought us to the Carbonauts. That’s what I’m up to now. The Carbonauts is about three years old. Basically, I realized that awareness is very high. Compared to when I started Treehugger in 2004, that was about mainstreaming green. How do we make this more popular and mainstream? The reality is now, everyone gets it. The numbers are incredibly high and climate does not care about our feelings
John: Or our politics.
Graham: Yeah. It doesn’t care about our awareness. That’s not what matters. What matters is action and so…
John: Well, we live in California, we’re living through one of the biggest rain…
Graham: Right. Exactly.
John: …systems ever what, in California’s last 50 years.
John: It’s no matter what people’s opinion is anymore, which used to matter back in 2005 and 2006, when there was…
John: …like you said, when things were bipartisan, it’s undeniable now.
John: It’s unstoppable, the…
John: …climate change issue.
Graham: Yeah, it’s clear.
John: Yeah, it’s clear. Talk a little bit about what Carbonauts is and for our listeners and viewers…
John: …it says it right on your hand, but it’s just so people know, it’s not carbonnauts.com, but carbonauts.com to find Graham and his colleagues and all the great work they’re doing. Tell us now what was the mission and the vision with carbonaut?
Graham: Basically what I saw is incredibly high awareness, very little action. I think I’ve always, and I used to do it back in Treehugger days. I’d look around because I was in this group of green leaders and I was like, feel like a lot of people are not actually living like…
Graham: …living super, even though these are the leaders, not living in super green ways. Not to point fingers, it’s just like we’re busy and this is sometimes complicated to know what to do. You sit down and try to figure it out. There’s so much information these days and misinformation, disinformation that it’s hard to feel confident. Then you just go back to your normal life. It’s hard to know what to do. The Carbonauts is really about helping move our society from awareness to action and building the identity. We believe that this is largely about social norms. Where we are now is we have high awareness, very little action. We need to find that 5% of the population that are game to do stuff and help support, incent, inspire them to help create the social norms that will have everyone else come along. That’s the big idea. Over the years, I’ve seen so many websites and apps and all sorts of guides and a hundred tips for this, and just felt like nothing ever got much traction. We decided to go back to basics and realized that a lot of this is, pursuant to what we were talking about earlier, is about relationships and about connection and about hip things being alive. We’re on a video chat, we’re human we like to look at each other and see how each other is reacting. A long way of saying we ended up doing workshops, and that’s our focus. We do live, cameras on, highly interactive workshops around sustainability for mostly big companies. We’re going to do more B to C, direct to citizen, as I like to say. We’ll definitely do some of that. In fact, we may be doing some great work with the National Wildlife Federation as a partner. Excited about that.
John: That’s great.
Graham: But largely we have a fantastic set of clients including Amazon and Chanel and AT&T and Toyota so a big amazing…
John: Big brands.
Graham: …set of clients. We do cohorts of usually 30 people and we teach them these live workshops. Could be anywhere from 30 minutes, 45, 60, 75, something like that. Some of them are one-off, some of them are an hour a week for a month or six weeks. Largely we are just meeting people where they are and helping them, teach them how this stuff works. Most importantly, helping that to educate and inspire them to take action, to actually start to build. Part of when you do something you become the kind of person that does that kind of thing. Action can really help you create identity. We need to build the social norms that we all know that these things are important, but not a lot of us are doing them. Once you build the social norms, then people just start. We care very much about what other people think. That’s what we’re trying to do. We do a whole bunch of workshops around stuff like, what we call the big six, which are the six most impactful things you can do to reduce your footprint. Those are, I haven’t talked about this for awhile, it’s funny to do it, I guess the holidays. Switching to renewable energy. That could be via your utility, via community solar, via solar panels, depending on your capabilities. We advocate reducing driving by as much as possible and electrifying as much of the miles as you can so moving to a, at least a plugin, if not full electric. We advocate for a plant rich diet. We help people become more plant rich. Reducing food waste, which turns out to actually be a big component of climate change. Composting, so you can do it whether you got an apartment or a house. We help people with that. This one’s a little trickier, but we work with people on reducing and optimizing flying. Because it turns out that flying is actually, for many people, the biggest component of their footprint. There’s a bunch of useful stuff that you can do there. Then offsets, high quality, third-party certified if you can afford them, as much as possible. Ideally, bring yourself into carbon neutral territory. Then social norms, helping people understand that you want to be public about this not in a preachy, shaming way, but in a positive, helpful, tactful manner. You want to let other people know that you’re doing this stuff so that they can be more comfortable doing it or talking about what they’re already doing. We help people understand the importance of social norms. We do stuff like that. We’ll do a workshop on climate optimism, so how to move through the depression that some people… We’ll do some on sustainable fashion. Then we’re starting to do more stuff on the businesses themselves so focused on but typically our slight of hand is in a way to get employees engaged in sustainability. We have them start with focusing on their homes.
John: Got it.
Graham: It appeals to people’s self-interest. For most people, home is number one, it’s not work. In that process, so the companies pay for them to take these cohort-based workshops, and we help them do all the things I just mentioned at home or whatever works for them. Now. We’re very non-judgmental. We call it the judgment free zone. Meet people where they are and we’re just very inspiring and helpful and give them the resources and the support to get this done. In that process, they learn all about sustainability, which of course applies directly to the company. We help staff become climate literate, climate enthusiastic. That helps with eco-innovation at work. Also it’s all employee engagement and staff really care, particularly the millenniums, etcetera. They really care about working for a company with values. This is great team building and great attract and retain. There’s some awesome HR benefits on top of the sort of standard ESG that you would expect from these. Yeah, so that’s the basic carbonauts idea, three years going. Yeah, it’s a simple service company. We’re all over the US. We work all over the planet. We’re working with over 30 countries, Asia, Australia, all over Europe. We’re even looking at doing some other languages. Yeah, so it’s not an easy… We’re stuck in slow corporate sales cycles, which is maddening to say the least. But we’re getting there. We run net promotion surveys, NPSs after every single hour and so we know, we get anecdotal and statistical feedback and so we know that our workshops are very well received. We’re very focused on being a learning organization and doing a great job. Yeah, we’re high touch and, yeah, we’ve got a great group of people. Meg O’Neil is one of them, and she was my editor in chief, at Treehugger. Getting the team back, the band back together a little bit. Also Matt Daniels is a guy I worked with for my first company in Seattle in 95.
Graham: It’s fun to work with some of the people I worked with in the past.
John: Let’s go back a little bit. Your mom and dad, are they still alive?
Graham: My mom and dad? Yeah.
John: Yeah, so you have to be the dream child for hippie parents. In terms of your success and everything you’ve touched has been really part of you really are a product of your and all the environment, but you’ve overachieved, just say in a wonderful way, in a very positive way. It’s in an inspirational way both with your success in Web 1.0, in using it for the greater good. Now with your leveraging technology, but also all of your knowledge base now, 30 years of knowledge of what you’re doing with the Carbonauts. They have to be just the two proudest parents on the planet.
Graham: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, I think that, yeah, they’re very principled based parents. They’re very cool on that…
John: It’s great.
Graham: …and adorable. My mom and stepdad did a, a few years ago now, but did the 100 Mile Challenge. I think they lived for a month or something with only using things that came within 100 miles.
John: Oh, my gosh.
Graham: My mom’s been a vegetarian for, I don’t know, 40 years or something. Yeah, my dad’s fully into it. They actually did the Carbonauts. Then, full electric car, he’s got solar, he is got heat pump, he just went for it. Yeah, I think my parents are awesome.
John: Number two, both you and I are lucky enough to have lived through and actually been part of Web 1.0.
John: Then also environment 1.0. If we’re going to draw parallels to where we are with regards to technology now and all of the coolest stuff that’s happening with regards to these apps and Zoom that we’re on today, where are we in the sustainability journey? Things shifted a little bit. Obviously you were one of the big, just like Al Gore and I’ll put you in Al Gore’s level. You were one of the change makers in society when it came to sustainability. I got to live it and see it so I can say that. But we’ve evolved since 2000 tremendously…
John: …for better and worse. There’s a couple of trends going on. I just want the understanding from your perspective, what’s your thoughts on them. One is the trend of linear to circular economy.
John: A sustainability itself then morphing into, with linear to circular economy, morphing into the greater ESG trope trend that is coming from all different angles, both coming from, partially the Me Too movement, coming from Larry Fink in the financial institutions pushing down on their portfolio companies. A lot of European influence is sprinkled into there too and how far ahead they were on sustainability further than we were ever in the United States. Where are we now in your mind with regards to the journey in sustainability compared to when you were part of the genesis of the whole movement?
Graham: Comparing it to Web 1.0 where…
John: How far they’ve moved. Have we moved far enough and are we on the right track?
Graham: Yeah. Great question. A tricky question. Yeah, I think we’re pretty early.
Graham: I was part of Web 0 1995, but then…
John: Yeah. That’s early.
Graham: There probably were people back, there certainly were people, it was 72 or something when the DARPA natter and everything…
John: In modern times, given that Google started in 98, 95, you were at…
Graham: Yeah, we were early.
John: …ground zero. You were ground zero.
Graham: Yeah. I think we sadly, we’re probably only in like 98, 99, 2000.
Graham: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Certainly, if you just look at the main graph, the carbon, it’s just…
Graham: We’re certainly not winning.
John: Well, like you said, this stuff has become ubiquitous. Sustainability is still not ubiquitous.
John: Back with what you’re doing with Carbonauts, trying to democratize your sustainability and bring it to your city to the people and to the corporations.
Graham: I don’t like to be negatives. I don’t think…
Graham: …it helps very much.
Graham: Obviously we’re in a very serious situation and now compared to 2004, you just have to look out the window sometimes. Certainly California, either it’s on fire or it’s in a drought or it’s flooding.
Graham: Yeah. The situation is serious and there’s unbelievable news daily and we do have very high awareness. What’s been really gratifying is seeing these big clients that we’re working with have really aggressive goals.
Graham: It used to be people were setting 2050. It’s easy to say something in 2050 when it’s 2018. That’s a long way out. But that has changed. Now it’s 2040, 2030, 2025. People made the commitments and now I think they’re like, “Oh my God, that’s really around the corner.” They’re sorry. There’s, I’d say, there’s fantastic news on a daily basis. I think there are lots of vested interests. It has been bumpy, it’s going to be bumpy. That is absolutely clear. But I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction. Although you can’t see it yet in the graph. I think we’re headed in the right direction. I’m optimistic that we will figure it out.
John: I agree with you. I’m very optimistic.
John: Do you feel that the, and i love the brands, of course, it’s exciting the brands that have signed up to already use your great service. I think you’re going to get many more brands and I think you deserve to. In terms of engagement, I’m 60, my kids are 36 and 30, is it more the millennials and Gen Zs that are signing up and are leaning in, or are you seeing it across all age groups?
Graham: In terms of the people that we generally are hitting, it’s, I’d say, that probably our primary demographic are moms.
Graham: I think it’s pretty clear if we just had the women direct things, we probably wouldn’t be where we are.
Graham: Moms are very connected to their kids and are looking forward and they care and they care enough to actually do something. I’d say that’s a lot of our demo. I feel like this is not a very well researched statement, but I feel like a lot of the youth are a little bit more, they don’t have the cars, the houses, the money. They’re getting started out. They’re a little bit more about pushing on governments and corporations and stuff, which is absolutely necessary. I feel like that’s a little bit more of what they’re into in terms of our focus. Our clientele probably end up being a little more at 30, 40, 50, 60s. Yeah.
John: Which by the way, I think, although, like you said, it’s not science yet, but as you say, the young generation is untethered to what my generation was raised on, which was, “Oh, you need a house in the suburbs and it’s got to be four bedrooms, and you need two cars and a spare house up in the mountains.
Graham: That’s it.
John: Like you said, they’re part of this real shared economy, and they’re very comfortable with Uber, Airbnb…
John: …and CityBike and all the wonderful shared economy services that have come up in the last 10 years. Like you said, that can again help be the wind at the back of this whole new sustainability push…
John: …and carbon push to neutralize where we are and get to carbon neutrality for all of us, not only corporations, but all of our households and all of us as people.
But you are brilliant and great and super creative. Obviously, art and architecture is all part of the creative, and you’re the makers. You took that and you just transferred your skillset and your creativity brilliance into internet and web. But that’s just another form of art, really what you did. Treehugger I still see is art. It’s beautiful. What you originally created, I remember the original issues, I saw it this morning and it’s still beautiful. Why not today, in terms of what you’re doing with Carbonauts, is it okay to create hand content to go along with what you’re doing live where you don’t see that as usable or as it’s not reaching really the audience the way they want to be reached. As you say, coming to people where they are now?
John: Is that ability still there, or not as much as it was back in Web 1.0?
Graham: Yeah. Well, we’ll do that. We just get a little bit nervous about cannibalizing ourselves. But we’ll do prerecorded content and we’re starting to do some experiments with News Corp, etcetera on that. The irony though, or the paradox is, you sign up for a course that’s online that you can do 24/7, 365 days a year.
Graham: It’s the most accessible, and yet you end up not doing it because it is the most accessible. There is something about signing up for a workshop, a single one or a multi-session where it’s a time and you’re going to be there and the teacher and your fellow attendees are going to notice if you’re there or not and you’re going to be engaged. We think that that’s really powerful and then and we try to make it about them and get them really connected and interacting so that it’s really sinking in. It’s not just a one way what you’re sort of watching something, but you’re busy on your phone. We’ll do that stuff and certainly a bunch of our stuff is on demand. We look at the people. There are buckets of people within companies and some of them are going to just dip their toes and so they’re going to be light, and some of them are going to be medium, and then some of them are going to be change agents that are going to really get after it. We are trying to offer stuff for each of those. We work with our clients to develop a program. We look at a whole year, and so what are we going to do this month? Some of the stuff, yeah, some prerecorded stuff available at all times, some customized newsletters every month, ask-me-anythings a couple times a week, workshops, a book club, a film club so we have a whole bunch of activities. Then we can help them do stuff for Earth Month, we can help do stuff for New Years, for Climate Week, etcetera. We really try to be their partner in developing a drumbeat of content that helps get people climate literate and enthusiastic and taking action.
John: That makes so much sense.
Graham: Yeah, so we’re a real partner for our clients.
John: I love that. That makes so much sense. Like you said, when something’s available 7/24, it’s like putting a book on your nightstand that you never get to because it’s always there.
John: I think you’re really onto something. But talk a little bit about, and I know you’ve been kind enough to invite me to it, of course I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t made them yet, but I’m going to make them this year. This is one of my resolutions for you.
John: I really do want to come to your sustainability dinner series. Talk a little bit about what you’re doing with that in California and nationally and…
John: …and what’s your vision of your sustainability dinner series?
Graham: Great. I should remember. I can I get you a link. We actually have a nomination link, so if anyone wants to nominate themselves or others for these…
Graham: …then maybe you can put it in the show notes or something.
John: Yeah, we’ll put it in the show notes for sure. By the way, for those who just joined us, we have Graham Hill with us today. He’s not only the founder of treehugger.com, many moons ago, but he’s also now the founder of Carbonauts. You can find them at Carbonauts at .carbonauts.com. Graham go right into the dinner series.
John: Excellent. We’ll put that into the show notes.
Graham: Yes. Great. I’ve always been a social person. I love bringing people together. Literally in my loft in 2000 in New York, we used to have a regular thing with a bunch of environmental people that would come over. We had a little group, a little offshoot of the Natural Step. This has been something I’ve always loved doing it. I’m newer to Venice Beach. I was 19 years in New York. I just was like, I want to get into the green community here. I was pretty integrated in New York and I really want to figure out LA and so I started doing these dinners. Now we’ve done, I don’t know, 35 of them or something.
Graham: Basically I find cool sustainability people, ideally at some big companies so that they might be interested in working with us. But also cool nonprofits and cool startups and investors. Yeah, I order some vegetarian Indian from this amazing place called Mayura. We do them either in my backyard, I have a long table and they’re usually somewhere between 14 and 18 people. Everyone comes at seven and we have some drinks, and then food comes. Sometimes I have someone speak for a little bit. We do intros going around the table so everyone knows each other. Then I write a LinkedIn post and I connect everyone. It’s just trying to build community around sustainability. It’s similar to how Green Drinks, which I think is still going strong in some cities, but I don’t think it is in LA. It’s just a fun way to meet everyone and connect everyone. For me, it’s very rewarding because I see people making new friendships and off doing projects together and getting people jobs and that’s really cool. We started to do more a targeted one. Tonight I have one for sustainability investors. Next week is more for CSOs higher up in the food chain and sustainability. We’re doing them in Venice, we’re doing them in Seattle, we’re doing them in Vancouver, we’re doing them in Boston. That’s where we have staff and then when I travel I do them as well. Yeah, it’s great. Then it’s just a nice way for people to find out about the Carbonauts and then some of them end up saying, “Hey, maybe this is something we could bring to my company.” It’s just a nice way to meet people and it’s good for business.
John: Good for business. Yeah.
Graham: It’s been really rewarding.
John: That’s great.
Graham: I’m excited Katharine Hayhoe we’re…
Graham: …talking, I just connected with her and she happens to be coming through town so we’re gonna try to do one around her. Yeah, been really fun.
John: What are you excited about as we go into 2023 now and, we’re taping this episode in the first couple weeks of 2023, there’s lots of new technology coming our way with regards to hydrogen and battery recycling and new EV brands and all sorts of cool stuff.
John: What gets you excited and on the new technology that will further accelerate the sustainability revolution?
Graham: What really gets me excited is when people we’ve actually helped transform and has, yeah, we’ve really helped them build a new identity and they’re really getting after it. That’s what’s most exciting. But tech stuff, I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to need some pretty big breakthroughs if we’re not going to end up in a world of hurt.
Graham: Yeah, I find that stuff very exciting and I don’t know what it’s going to be. Small nuclear I think is pretty amazing. I always get fusion and fission mixed up, which whenever the new one is, fusion?
Graham: Yeah, fusion is what we do most fusion. It sounds like it’s still probably decades away. Of course, solar and wind and geothermal all these things, if we can develop and make broadly accessible really clean energy, we can do a lot. Because if you think about it, these direct air capture things, we’re very likely going to have to figure out a way to take the stuff out of the atmosphere. If we have a lot of clean energy, then that’ll very much help us do that. That stuff’s very exciting. Maybe small nuclear can be safe and work well. I don’t know the energy stuff, I think is what is mostly is very exciting. I think the one thing that is starting to get some traction, luckily, is biodiversity. I think there’s a lot of talk about carbon. But we can solve for carbon and we do need to solve for carbon. We can sell a crappy world as a result. Biodiversity is very important. That stuff’s very exciting, definitely appeals to the nerd in me. Again, talking to National Wildlife Federation, they have building habitat in your back backyard, planting, figuring out how to make it friendly for pollinators and for other animals and build the biodiversity. The nerd in me just loves that stuff. Really excited to work with them on that. Yeah, any cool biodiversity stuff is great. I’ll tell you about my BFF is this woman named Courtney Nichols Gould and her man Gordon Gould have a company called New Atlantis. They are doing a metagenomic analysis of the ocean in marine protected areas, MPAs. Then attaching it to the blockchain. Basically figuring out a way to understand the health of the ocean and then make it an investible asset so that if the health of the increases the idea is that the asset increases and so that you could get real money into these marine protected areas and really help us save our oceans.
John: That’s exciting.
Graham: There’s crazy stuff like that, which I think is amazing. Yeah, it is really exciting. I’m, obviously, I’ve been doing tech related stuff since 1995 so all that stuff is really exciting and there’s so much that we can do already that’s really basic. We can live much lower energy lives. You can sign up for renewable energy anywhere you are in the US. Community solar is gaining a real traction and you can literally be on solar and save money even if you live in an apartment or can’t put solar panels on wherever you are. Electric vehicles are getting serious traction and have their issues, of course. But compared to the alternative are definitely better. Plant-based foods, just every single area is developing new, better, exciting, compelling product that often doesn’t require any sacrifice. That stuff’s definitely exciting. Cell-based meat, how amazing would that be if that happens?
John: Is that coming? They say it’s coming right?
Graham: They say. It’s exceiting. Yeah.
John: Graham, talk a little bit about, if I don’t work for Chanel or Amazon or AT&T but I really am so inspired by you and the carbononauts, are you going to open up a program this year or anytime soon that the general public at large could sign up for of course studies or other things that you’re offering at the Carbonauts?
Graham: Yeah. In fact, I believe we have some live right now. We also do direct to citizen.
Graham: I think we’ll do more and more of that. We like that. Corporate we like because we can develop a long-term relationship…
Graham: …and a big program over years. If we can affect the corporation, it’s a huge thing. We look at it, our theory of change is that often there’s under 5% of a population that are doing the thing. The change agents really, if you could really support them and help them build that social norm you get some momentum, and if you can get to like 25%, that’s when, if it’s a thing that we know is right, intuitively, subconsciously, or consciously, then that’s when the whole thing flips. You don’t have to get all the way there. You got to get to 25% and the whole thing flips.
Graham: We’re largely about working with that 5%, getting the momentum to get to the 25%. You can see it, you can imagine us doing that within a company, trying to get the company to really flip. But you can also go up one level, and if you can get 5% of the companies and get it to 25% of the companies, then all the companies are going to flip. That’s our big theory of change.
John: That’s fascinating. The lift really is in, you’re not even when you look at 95% of the population in America, the lift is in 95%, you just want to get us up 20% more because then the flip will naturally happen.
John: Didn’t realize that. That’s brilliant.
John: That’s cool.
John: That’s really brilliant. Graham, I could just spend all day with you. I’m going to come to one of your dinners in the near future. For our listeners and viewers, if you’re inspired by Graham Hill and how can you not be, and the Carbonauts, please sign up. Go to the carbonauts.com. Get involved. He as a direct to citizens approach. Even if you don’t have working for a larger company that’s already one of his clients, you could be one of the citizens who signs up for his course series on sustainability and be part of the change, be part of the lift, be part of the future of changing our world to make it a better place. Graham Hill, you are definitely one of the key people that have made our world a better place. You’re the reason why I started this show. You’re the reason why we’ve been on our mission. You’ve been inspiring to me personally. I’m so grateful for your time today. I’m so grateful that you’ve stayed on this journey when you could have retired long ago and done a whole host of other things. Thanks for starting the carbonauts.com. Thanks for being on the show today. You’re always welcome back here and I do look forward to meeting you in person in the near future.
Graham: Thanks, John. It’s very sweet of you. It means a lot coming through from you. I really appreciate it. Yeah, and if anyone needs to reach out to me, I’m just email@example.com. Easy to find.
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The Carbonauts are creating an IRL community of folks building our bright green future by hosting informal & intimate sustainability dinners.
Across LA, NYC, SF, Boston, Seattle, and Vancouver, Carbonauts has hosted people from over 300 companies, including large multinationals, investment firms, non-profits, cutting-edge startups, and cities at its dinner meetings. Past dinners: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/hashtag/?keywords=carbonautsevents Carbonauts appreciates nominations from large companies.
Please nominate potential guests here: https://carbonauts.typeform.com/to/ftiCR4Q6?typeform-source=www.google.com#type=nominate