Getting Creative on the Road to Net Zero with Graham Hill of The Carbonauts

February 29, 2024

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Graham Hill is the founder and CEO behind The Carbonauts. Hailed as one of Fast Co.’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” Graham’s 23-year environmental career has many achievements. There was the groundbreaking, highest trafficked green website that was sold to Discovery Channel and has served billions of page views, LifeEdited, a small living consultancy with projects on the cover of Dwell and features in the NYT and two main-stage TED talks that have reached over 11 million views. Graham’s latest adventure is The Carbonauts. With Clients including Amazon, AT&T, and Disney, the mission is to get 25% of the population to live compelling, lower-footprint lives and precipitate a tipping point that will pave the way for the rest of society to move rapidly to net-zero. They are doing this by providing the best interactive workshops on the planet, for the planet.

John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a Rockstar Impact Podcast guest? Go to and just click Be a Guest to recommend someone today. This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loops Platform spans the arc of capital, from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to

John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact podcast I’ve got with us, my good friend Graham Hill. He’s the founder and CEO of the Carbonauts. Welcome back to the Impact Podcast, Graham. Welcome back man.

Graham Hill: What an intro. Thanks.

John: What an intro. But what a guy.

Graham: Glad to be here. Thanks, John.

John: What a guy. You deserve it.

Graham: Thanks.

John: Hey, listen for those of our audience who don’t know you or are not familiar with you, or who haven’t seen the first episode you taped with us earlier this year, Graham, all kidding aside, you are literally one of the sustainability OGs of the world for sure. You have an amazing and storied background. I was honored enough to have followed it because I got involved with the recycling industry about 21 years ago or so. So I’ve been able to follow your great career. But why don’t we just go back and do a little bit of greatest hits of how your sustainability career unfolded and where you are today. Like, walk us through the early Graham Hill days back at TreeHugger and everything else you were doing back then up to now.

Graham: Awesome. Thank you so much. Yeah, it’s just nice to be interviewed by a fellow OG. We sort of came into this around the same time. Just awesome. How did I get into this? I think largely I am, I’m an entrepreneur. I call myself a designpreneur because I studied architecture and product design.

John: That’s right.

Graham: I fell in love with the internet at a very early stage, so literally 93/94. So I saw the future somewhat, and I built this company to build websites with my cousin in Seattle. It went very well and sold it in 98. So I made money at an early age and was very fortunate to be able to choose what I wanted to do.

John: Right.

Graham: I didn’t have any pressure in that regard. I’d always loved sustainability and just the outside world. So that’s what I started doing. So I started doing that in 2000, so coming up on 24 years, and I’ve had a varied career. I’ve done a lot of different things, some things worked, some things didn’t. I started in sort of science doing a plant-based air filter and that strangely didn’t quite get there, but it did have me in a ceramics factory with some extra cycles in Peru. I made the ceramic cup that looks like a paper cup.

John: Wow. That’s the cups I grew up with in New York City.

Graham: Yeah, exactly.

John: That’s exactly the New York City coffee cups.

Graham: Yeah, this is the one.

John: That’s awesome.

Graham: So, yeah, for those of you who don’t know, next time you watch a movie or a TV about New York and the cop is in checking out the body or whatever it’ll be, he or she will be holding this cup.

John: That’s the cup. That’s a great cup.

Graham: It’s a weird thing, but I’ve sold half a million of them. It’s a bestseller at MoMA for like 15 years. So that was a great little product. Wow. Still going. My lovely mom and sister run the one single product business. So that’s a fun thing. It’s a comment on our disposable society. Yeah, it’s a cup that’s much loved. It’s very iconic, and it’s a useful souvenir. It’s a great cup to drink out of, which is nice. Not a lot of souvenirs have any sort of utility. So I’m proud of that and happy.

That was exactly pretty much at the same time I started a site called Still going strong, billions of webpage, and 20 years later. Basically it’s a tongue-in-cheek name. It came about out of my frustration with environmental media, which was really negative and anti-business. It was partisan. It wasn’t designed forward. So I started one of the early blogs, again, just right place, right time, and sort of saw a bit of the future a little bit ahead of others.

So we built this really positive, amazing site that inspired people and got people to understand that there could be business in sustainability, could do well while doing good. So we just were very aggressive. It was one of the early blogs. It was very incestuous. So very quickly, we were the biggest green site on the web. And so mid two thousands for a number of years we were the place to be. We were lucky to get acquired by Discovery, now Warner Brothers Discovery. They took great care of us. Yeah, ended up doing a bunch of joint ventures, and then it ended up getting bought by IAC. So now it’s part of the Dotdash Meredith group, which is run by my old friend Neil Vogel.

Yeah, still going. So still a great site. Have a look, at Then I did small living for about a decade through, unfortunately, a company called Life Edited. I feel like I’ve nailed it on a couple of names. That was not one of them. But we were basically really early looking at small living and trying to make that a thing. So the idea that if you apply smart design technology and behavior change, you can live a smaller life, so less space and less stuff, and in that process, save some money, reduce your footprint, and ultimately, I believe, live a happier life. So I was on the cover of the Dwell Small space issue for one of my apartments, 350 square feet that I lived in, in Manhattan.

John: I remember that.

Graham: Did a couple there, did a cool off-grid home in Maui that I still own and rent out. Yeah, just really did a lot of media around small living. That was very fun, very rewarding. But ultimately, I realized I didn’t want to be a real estate developer, and that was really the outcome. I sort of wish I could have stayed the course, because I definitely was in the right place, the right time. And with ADUs, as you know, in California, I was sort of a great space.

But anyway, I might circle back at some point. That leads us to the Carbonauts. The Carbonauts is about four years old. I started because I was… Again, often I guess entrepreneurs are problem solvers and start things outta frustration. When I started TreeHugger, awareness was a challenge. But now awareness isn’t the challenge. Seventy percent of people are aware. People get it. We know there’s a problem. And climate doesn’t care about awareness.

John: Right. It’s really true.

Graham: Yeah, it doesn’t care about our feelings.

John: True.

Graham: It ultimately cares about our actions. So we need to move from awareness to action. So I just became obsessed with how that happens. There’s a lot of finger-pointing. Humans love to make whatever needs to be done in someone else’s thing. So we love to point at government, they should do it. Corporations, they should do it. My opinion is it’s all hands on deck. Individuals are part of corporations, they’re part of governments, they’re sort of the atom of this all, and if we’re going to get there, individuals have to do it. So we have to build new social norms, new ways of living, new behaviors.

It can be a bit of a slog. You can’t just have a good electric vehicle or the possibility of signing up for renewable energy or a great meat replacement product. People have to actually buy these things, sign up for these things, use these things. So if we are going to get there 100%, corporations have to do a ton, governments have to do a ton, but individuals have to do a ton as well. So that is what caught my attention. So we are in a very difficult area. We’re in behavior change, which is really tricky. Humans don’t like to change. But it’s really important. Our theory of change is based on scientific theory that is proven.

That is if you can get a group to have 30% of them, roughly a third living a new behavior, that’s when the whole thing will flip. So the other 70 will come along. So the challenge is really not getting to 100%, it’s really getting to 30%. And so what we view our role as is within groups in our case, typically corporations, find that small group of people that are engaged enough and willing enough to actually move from awareness to action and really support them to do so. So that’s like 3% to 5% and really do the heavy lifting over time to build momentum such that you get to 30% when the whole thing flips. So that’s what we do.

So we’re in culture change at the Carbonauts. We work with the typical staff. You’ve got these companies that have these ginormous staff. So we work with Fortune 1000, like many Fortune 1000. So the Amazons and Disneys and Chanels, and these sorts of large corporate clients. They’ve got all this staff, but then they have this tiny little sustainability team. Compared to the staff, it’s really small, often too small, and often underfunded. They’re great people and they’ve got plans and a strategy, and they’re getting after it. But ultimately, culture eats strategy, as Peter Drucker says. So the culture of the company is really important.

If we have to go a long way in a short period of time, which we clearly do, we’re going to have to get the culture on board. Net zero isn’t easy. Many of the efforts out they’re focused on low-hanging fruit, but it’s going to get harder. You’re going to want to have a culture that’s climate literate, climate enthusiastic, such that it’s really supportive. You’ve got a green team that’s powerful and growing and accelerating, and you’ve got supportive people such that ultimately every job’s a climate job.

So like the internet was where I started my career, internet was viewed as a vertical, when in fact, of course, the internet is a horizontal, there’s no department of the internet. Same with this. Like there’s a Department of Sustainability, but ultimately, this is part of everybody’s job. If we’re net zero, it hits everybody in the organization. So that’s what we’re focused on. How do we do it?

We do mostly virtual, 90-plus percent, cohort-based, so usually 20, 30 people, really powerful workshops, sometimes single session, sometimes ideally multiple session. We teach people, we appeal to their heads via the information, but most importantly, we appeal to their hearts and we get them emotionally connected such that they’re building an identity.

So we’re working, finding those 3% to 5% within the corporations, and then teaching them. We focus on the home. That’s because for most people, home is number one and it’s just sort of the easiest on-ramp to get people connected. Of course, that information applies to the corporation. You learn about renewable energy, it’s the same thing at work. So we run these workshops for these big companies, and we basically are in culture change. So we get people aware, but then action-oriented, taking the stuff. So that’s Carbonauts.

John: Thank you for that, Graham, and for our listeners and viewers to find the Carbonauts and Graham’s colleagues and all the great work he just explained that they do, please go to Explain to me the home corporation connection. So I’m John Shegerian at XYZ corporation, and you’re running one of your cohorts. You are trying to coach us on how to better be stewards of the environment at home first, and then we’re going to bring that behavior back to the corporation that’s hired you to help us become the change makers at that corporation.

Graham: Yeah. I mean, your average person, understandably, is not climate literate nor climate enthusiastic. It’s very complicated out there. There’s a trillion-dollar industries that are trying to seed disinformation. Like it’s hard to do.

John: It’s true.

Graham: If culture eats strategy, then the average person is going to inform your culture. And your average person thinks sustainability is about straws and coffee cups and stuff that we need to fix, but they don’t know that it needs to be driving electric, switching to renewable energy, plant-rich diets, food waste, composting, flying is huge. A lot of people don’t know how big flying is. So these are the kind of stuff that we help educate and get them taking action. So that’s creating the culture at work. So they’re supportive, they’re of the overall initiatives. So they’re joining green teams. They might be further educating themselves so they can get a job from the sustainability group, so higher from within. So, yeah, we’re just trying to do the job of changing the culture.

John: Explain two deltas to me, one delta from the time you started the Carbonauts to now, how much traction and how much velocity we picked up. And then your episode earlier that we taped this year on Impact aired earlier in 2023. This episode’s going to be aired early in 2024, just in this last year. Are we continuing to accelerate our velocity? Are things slowing down? Where are we now in terms of the acceleration to getting more people on board with making these important changes that you’ve referenced already?

Graham: We’re accelerating, absolutely. So we’re very lucky. We have these Fortune 1000 clients, and they’re buying again, and we’re learning how to work with them to develop year-long monthly program. So there’s a larger thing to commit to such that the staff really feel it. They’re like, wow, something’s happening. There’s momentum within the company. So yeah, we’re absolutely accelerating, definitely doing a lot more business with new clients since last year and just improving our product and developing more specific workshops on different topics. Yeah, it’s going well

John: With annual-type programs where you get to share information and meet with the companies on a monthly basis, I assume that’s going to, like you said, drive even deeper change and culture shifts because instead of just one-and-done, oh, Graham’s coming, Carbonauts are coming and we have our annual July 15th meeting, they’ll know that you’re going to be coming back and tracking progress, and asking everybody for updates and things of that such. So there has to be a level of accountability that comes with that.

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Graham: Yeah, absolutely. The continuity is critical. We’ve got a chronic condition. Solving climate change, it’s not easy. It’s a long way from where we are to where we need to get to, and we don’t have that much time. So it’s all hands on deck and we got to get everybody involved. You can’t be left up to just the sustainability team when. They need support. They need help.

John: Well, that’s funny you say that. Let’s then shift just from the sustainability team. Let’s take it a couple of levels higher. The Investment Recovery Act. A lot of people say, well, Investment Recovery Act, that’s going to change everything in America. So why do I really have to do composting in my house or why do I have to drive an EV or get solar on my house or things of that such? Talk a little bit about the role of good government, but still the need and role for all stakeholders, as you say, to be invested and to be involved from an individual to a corporation, to a government. What’s the role of good government here? And is government helping enough, or are they in the way too much?

Graham: I think at the highest level, listen, we’ve made some good progress. The IRA. One couldn’t have seen that coming really.

John: Right.

Graham: It’s great. Even at how great that is, it’s a fraction of what we need. So if you really look at the numbers, really look at where we are, we need to be investing like crazy. So it’s a good start. It’s promising. It’s really nice to see. We need that times 10. It needs to not just be our country, but sort of all countries. So that’s the thing. We have a global issue. I think all the sectors are really important, but the government helps set the sandbox.

I think also Americans have a big outsized influence on the world. So government is really important, but establishing a sandbox such that the market can go to town and trying to give companies consistency. Like it’s hard for these big companies to invest if they’re going to have one set of tariffs for two years, but then those might be out the window. So really trying to make a nice sandbox so that people know what the situation is and can do long-term planning and be confident that it’s okay for them to invest in all this stuff.

And then we just need a ton of money invested and programs and yeah, it’s got to be really smart. Also just how we deal on an international basis in terms of tariffs and those sorts of stuff. So how that we build competition from others, but also don’t put them out of business. This is a global thing. If we’re going to get there, it’s not just the US.

John: Right.

Graham: The US is a big powerful influential place, but it’s a small part of the world. So we need everybody on board. So we got to be good players in that.

John: Environmental degradation knows no borders. So if something bad happens in China or in Europe, it’s going to affect us. So our goal is to help support everybody’s efforts to continue to make change in the right direction.

Graham: Yeah, absolutely.

John: You know what, Graham? One thing that makes me nuts is we have all these wonderful, brilliant entrepreneurs that have done so many great things on this planet, and it goes without saying. Throwing names around that doesn’t get us anywhere, but so many of them are chasing these lofty goals to go to Mars. I’m like, we got enough problems down here. Let’s solve these world’s problems first. What’s your thoughts about this Mars space race? I have no desire to ever go to Mars. I have no desire to live there or step foot on Mars or anywhere else like that. I just love this planet. Why don’t we focus still on this planet? Isn’t this a little bit of a fool’s errand chasing the ability to go populate Mars?

Graham: I’m not as educated as I should be. That never has profane me from running my mouth. I’ve always found that challenging. I mean, space is so inspiring, and there is definitely a value to that. Have we come up with amazing things as a result? Yes.

John: Massve:

Graham: But I also think if we applied a lot of money and specific stuff that we were trying to work on, we’d also probably have come up with a lot of stuff. So, I don’t know. It’s tricky. Then you come to understand, oh, well, they might be able to do mining and get a lot of minerals that might be very useful. Okay. Could we do solar in a whole different way? There’s stuff that I just don’t know about that may make a lot of sense.

John: Me neither.

Graham: Mars seems like not a great place to live compared to the paradise of Earth. It’s like cold. I don’t quite get that. I mean, how cool is it to go to another planet, but I don’t want to live inside on something. This place is amazing. So I think fundamentally I’m with you. Like, why don’t we get this get this place right. It’ll be great if all these smart minds could spend more effort on getting this place right.

John: Talk a little bit, Graham, I’ve heard you talk about this previously, but I want you to share on this podcast a little bit, your concept of leader heroes and us making all leaders heroes. It’s maybe a little bit of a quicksand issue. Can you share a little bit about your take on leaders as heroes or leaders as how they should be viewed in society and public at large?

Graham: Yeah, I mean, in terms of that, like, I think it’s great to have leaders the people aspire to. So maybe it’s a yes.

John: Right.

Graham: I just think that we really want to support and applaud and inspire the individual that doesn’t have to be in a real position of power or has the gift of the gab kind of thing, but just is doing the right stuff. So this is the everyday person for whom sustainability matters and they make the effort. Not everybody wants to do it, but hey do it. We all have a lot more influence than we think we do. So the person that like makes the effort and figures out their transportation and figures out their housing and renewable energy and diet and and people that maybe make a little sacrifice. We’re literally talking about the survival of our species,

John: Right

Graham: So when people are like, yeah, but it takes a little bit extra to charge, yeah, well, we might have to do a handful of things. So the people that do that and are willing to make small sacrifices or large sacrifices, that helps get that social norm going so that the volume goes up, the pricing goes down, and the rest can sort of pile in. I just think those are the people. So we do this little series for our clients when we call them eco heroes. So have like a graphic, it’s like a picture of them, and then like, Diane signed up for renewable energy. That’s the kind of stuff. That’s what we need.

If everybody did that, if we have a significant number of people who are doing that, there’s significant demand on all these things, we’d be in good form. The market will follow. If we had incredible demand for renewable energy, for electric vehicles, for plant-rich diets, for not flying as much and figuring that out, like, those things will change. So I really think it’s great to have these leaders, but the everyday person that is just doing it right, for me those are the true heroes.

John: So really it’s the democratization of stakeholder credit. Let’s make the eco heroes just a regular man and woman on the street who are just making the changes that helped get us to that 30%, which gets the flywheel going.

Graham: Yeah, exactly. Right. Those 3% to 5% who are starting, that’s really valuable. So people got to start voting with their feet and with their wallets and just doing the right thing. A lot of this is not easy and has a lot of advantages, but they’re just doing it because it’s the right thing to do. That’s a beautiful thing. In my opinion, those are the real heroes.

John: Graham, we were chatting a little bit off the air about the massive success. You had just mentioned it and you kicked it off when you visited the last time on the Impact podcast the growth and the explosion of this wonderful networking opportunity that you’ve created. I’m following it on LinkedIn of course, and through emails and other things between you and I, but you’ve created this whole dinner social gathering experience at the Carbonauts.

Explain how you started it, why you started it, and how it exploded. You’re having an event tonight with 160 people over in West LA. I mean, this is just a massive success, and I think one that is so grossly needed in a world that is leaning so much on all this wonderful technology that you and I are getting to share today over Zoom. It’s a great place for Zoom, but there’s a supreme need to do things face-to-face and in person more than ever before. So share a little bit about how you conceptualize this and launched it, and how it’s grown massively just even this year.

Graham: Yeah. Thanks, John. That’s great. Listen, the virtual world, the email Zoom, it’s great stuff for sure. But most of us like to do some stuff in person. There’s nothing that replaces having some drinks and food and chatting with people, and it could be old friends or new friends. So I basically started this as very natural. I literally used to pull people together at my loft in New York in 2000 around sustainability. So this is a very natural thing, and I’ve always had a long table at every apartment or house. Even my 350 square foot was designed to be able to sit 8 or 10 for dinner.

John: Wow.

Graham: So I’m all about bringing people together. I love it. So basically, it happened about a year and a half ago, I’d moved to LA after 20 years in New York. I wanted to meet people. So I put together a sustainability dinner at my house, and cold pinged people on LinkedIn in sustainability. I did it, and it was magical. I was like, well, that will never happen again. And then it did again and again and again. I’m such a lunatic. I literally did 40 dinners in a year.

John: Oh my God.

Graham: Which burned me out a little bit. But then I would do it while traveling, and then we ended up… I lead some hikes. I started a book club, which everybody’s invited to. We’ve done some screenings, and then we started doing these cocktail events. Those have grown very nicely. I’m able to be really open, and they’re usually like 20 bucks and comes as a sustainability cocktail. We’re having one tonight in Venice at the Waterfront, as you mentioned. We’re probably going to have 170 RSVPs, so it’s great. We’re doing them in New York and talking about doing them in San Francisco and Seattle. We’ve done stuff all over, in Dallas, in Vancouver, in London, in Paris, in Atlanta.

John: So let’s give a call to action. How can our listeners and our audience and viewers get involved with that? That is so important, just getting people together with you to socialize together sustainability folks. I think this is just one of the greatest things you’re doing.

Graham: Great. Well, the easiest way is actually probably just to reach out to me no matter where you live. On LinkedIn, I am Graham Hill. If you search Graham Hill, I think I’m pretty easy to find. Graham Hill Carbonauts might help, but connection requests, you’ll end up on my list and then we will invite you to the next one.

John: That’s great.

Graham: Yeah. They’re great. Listen, this is not a new idea. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years. I used to go to Green Drinks in the mid two thousands. It was fantastic. So it was a similar thing. So this is just like a modern Green Drinks, and I think Green Drinks is still going strong in some places. So yeah, it’s very fun. It’s very simple. It’s just really nice to be in a group of sustainability people when you can strike up a conversation and you know that when you tell them what you do, their eyes are not going to glaze over. It’s a nice feeling.

John: It’s true. Hey, Graham, 2024 is going to be an exciting year. Hopefully, the economy starts improving and interest rates start dipping a little bit, but it’s also an election year in this country. What are you excited about for the Carbonauts and all the important and critical work that you are up to in 2024 and beyond?

Graham: I mean, politically, I’m not that good in that department. I would say I’m fairly terrified about where things go in this country. So hopefully, it does go well, and hopefully, it goes better in other countries. I want to bring that more and more into what we do, into our offerings. It’s hard to do within a company, obviously, but I think we can do sort of B2C and really help people get involved politically and make a difference. I think that’s really important.

Personally, for Carbonauts, we’re trying to really work with our clients to get more and more committed, to do more work with them and more customized and just do some great work within them and trying to find new large corporate clients. So we like sort of 5,000, 10,000 person, big corporates. That’s sort of our specialty. So trying to work with them. Move into profitability, hopefully early in the year such that I can reinvest and really try to make a product better and better. Our product’s really good.

We run net promotion surveys after everyone, so we survey to understand and we know that people really like it. But we’re in behavior change and this is one of the hardest things that exists. So we need to pull every trick in the book and make just the best that it can be because it’s always going to be hard. But we’re in that very difficult business of helping move from 3% to 5% to 30%. That’s our mission. So we just need to be very good at utilizing every last trick in the book, in behavioral science to get people to change, to start to really build the momentum that we need for this movement. We do not get there unless individuals move from awareness to action.

John: I love it. I think it’s so important, Graham, and I love your work. Like I said to you earlier, you’re always welcome back on the Impact Podcast to continue to share your journey in sustainability and culture change and impact, and everything that you’re doing at Carbonauts is so important. For our listeners and viewers, to find Graham, as he said earlier, you can find him on Graham Hill, on LinkedIn. He is very easy to find there. Also to find the Carbonauts and Graham’s colleagues and all the important work they’re doing, bring it into your corporation, give it a try. Graham Hill, you are a rockstar in sustainability and everything that you touch goes green.

I’m so grateful for all the important and impactful work that you do. I’m so grateful that you take the time to come on this show and continue to evangelize and be one of the greatest ambassadors we have in sustainability around the world. I just wish you continued great health and success, and I’m just grateful that you’re around, buddy. Thank you so much.

Graham: Thank you. Thank you for doing the work that you do and highlighting all these great people out there. It’s really appreciative. Not to mention your day job. So thanks, John, and really appreciate the opportunity.

John: Thanks, Graham. This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of The Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit