Connect kids with farmers. Show them where their food comes from so they can understand the supply chain and the impacts. Growing up in Vermont, I spent a lot of time getting to know my local farmers, learning about farming practices, and seeing how important organic farming and traditional farming practices are pivotal to creating sustainable ecosystems. (Tip: watch the new movie The Big Little Farm with your kids — the photography is beautiful and the message is key.)
David Parker is Chief Operating Officer of Cleverciti. Parker leverages his more than 15 years of experience scaling technology businesses globally to solidify Cleverciti’s leadership position in the market further. Parker comes to Cleverciti from Cox Automotive, where he served as COO of Modix, the leading global automotive digital marketing solution. At Modix, he led the expansion of the business across more than 60 countries. Throughout his career, Parker has held senior-level roles and advisory positions with a wide range of high-growth tech businesses, including Dealer.com, Dealertrack, BentoBox, and Kusshi. He holds MBAs from Columbia University and London Business School and a B.S. in Information Technology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Vermont, an unusual home for a tech entrepreneur. But, I was surrounded by technology and creativity with my dad working at the state’s fastest-growing tech startup, which later IPO’ed as IDXC. My mom was an art teacher and artist. This mix of tech and creativity led me to theatrical lighting design, writing my own software, and starting my high school’s first website. In 2000, I was profiled by Margot Adler on NPR about the shift from adults teaching kids to digital native kids teaching adults.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a more environmentally conscious business leader? Can you share that story with us?
I was always personally focused on making environmentally conscious decisions, such as buying most of my food from local, organic farmers, minimizing personal use of plastic, and commuting by foot or bike. But it was a long time before I realized the dichotomy between my own personal life and my focus on building automotive digital marketing businesses. I helped grow Dealer.com (the leading automotive digital marketing business) from a small 30-person startup to a $1-billion exit to Dealertrack. We then sold Dealertrack to Cox Automotive. It wasn’t until I was building a digital marketing business in China that I fully experienced the effects of over-proliferation of cars, energy usage and massive consumerism on the environment. The air pollution and enormous traffic congestion was overwhelming, and we couldn’t go outside our apartment there most of the time without worrying about our health. This experience flipped a switch in my mind and I realized I needed to do something about it.
I started seriously researching how technology can improve our climate and explored everything from vertical farming to electric flying taxis. During this journey, I discovered the enormous impact of parking on traffic congestion and the resulting emissions and wasted energy. In many cities, more than 30 percent of traffic is the result of people searching for a parking spot. I met Thomas Hohenacker, the founder of Cleverciti, and we quickly realized that our values were deeply aligned and our skillsets were very complementary. I joined Cleverciti full-time in October and am thrilled to be able to finally apply my skillset of globally scaling tech businesses to reducing emissions and their impact on climate change.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to make a better impact on the environment?
As I learned more about climate change, I realized just how broad of a systems issue it is. Every business and human activity has some negative consequence that impacts the environment. This means that anyone in any profession can have a positive impact. In the United States and Europe, we do a pretty good job of hiding the bad results out of sight, but I encourage young people to learn as much as they can about how our economy’s systems work. How is that avocado grown and how does it get to your plate? How is a cow raised, and how much water is required per calorie versus vegetables? How are lives and our environment impacted by mining for precious metals and rare minerals? What actually happens when something is recycled? If you have a curious mind and a willingness to travel and explore, you can learn so much about what is behind any part of our economic system, and you will undoubtedly find areas where it can be improved and its impact can be reduced.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
While some companies offset their negative impacts on the environment by planting trees or investing in offset projects, what we do every day directly addresses climate change by reducing traffic and pollution. This is why I get so excited about what we do. Each time we deploy a parking space management and guidance system, we are reducing miles driven, pollution emitted and energy consumed. For every sensor we deploy, the environmental benefit is akin to planting more than 50 trees! Our technology detects available parking spaces and guides drivers on the optimal path to reach an available space — whether it’s on a city street, in a shopping mall or within a corporate parking lot.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
The most impactful and one of the easiest things an individual can do is to reduce food waste. Approximately 1/3 of food that is grown is wasted. Better planning your grocery shopping, avoiding over-ordering, and giving your business to sustainability-minded restaurants all make a big difference. There are many services popping up that sell “ugly” produce, which is perfectly delicious and safe but might otherwise be thrown away. Sign up for one of these services! Wasted food is responsible for approximately 8 percent of global emissions.
The second most impactful thing an individual can do is to eat more plants and less animals. This is because plants are at the top of the food chain — when you’re eating an animal, you are eating something that has eaten lots of plants to grow its muscles to be large enough to be eaten. All the necessary vitamins, minerals, proteins and calories can be found in plants and so it makes sense to do everything we can to minimize meat consumption. Eating plants is also delicious and healthy, and it can be a lot of fun to explore new recipes. Project Drawdown estimates that approximately 66 gigatons of CO2 emissions can be eliminated by avoiding the inefficiencies of animal raising combined with stopping the deforestation that occurs due to land use related to animal production.
Finally, I think it’s really important to observe a lifestyle of minimizing waste overall. At home we use almost zero plastic, storing food in mason jars, larger glass containers and Beeswrap (like plastic wrap but made with cloth and beeswax — and from my home state of Vermont!) We don’t have our own car, we take public transit or bike whenever possible. We recycle and compost, and we do everything we can to minimize waste in all areas. While the overall impact isn’t large, I have found the mentality shift to be incredible. It has changed my outlook on the world and helped me to see just how wasteful our society is.
Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate activism in September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things we should be doing to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Connect kids with farmers. Show them where their food comes from so they can understand the supply chain and the impacts. Growing up in Vermont, I spent a lot of time getting to know my local farmers, learning about farming practices, and seeing how important organic farming and traditional farming practices are pivotal to creating sustainable ecosystems. (Tip: watch the new movie The Big Little Farm with your kids — the photography is beautiful and the message is key.)
- Introduce sustainability practices at home: composting, avoiding plastic, not using disposable products, limiting food waste, shop in bulk stores, etc. Even if it makes only a small impact in the big picture, making these practices a part of everyday life shifts your whole mindset about the world. When my wife and I started doing this in our own house, we quickly began to think much more about the impact of everything and the broader systems that are causing the problems in our world.
- Sell your cars and use bikes and mass transit instead — or at least go electric. By making a major lifestyle choice like this, you can think everyday about the importance of making such a decision. I no longer own a car, and not only is it a freeing feeling, it also saves a ton of money and reminds me every day just how bad the impact of a car is.
- Travel. Even though you can see many of the things I’ve talked about online, it is so much more impactful to see these things in person. If you see rivers of trash and plastic in a third world country, or hundreds of cargo ships waiting in a Chinese harbor, or a factory farm in the midwestern U.S., you will gain a firsthand appreciation. Living in China was how I was originally inspired to make my own lifestyle changes, and I think these firsthand experiences are the most important ways to inspire yourselves. But, I would advise that you try to offset the carbon emissions of your flight if you need to take a plane!
- Participate in political discourse and protest. Encourage kids to speak up about their viewpoints, and push for political change. When I lived in Vermont, I was lucky to be able to closely connect with many of our local and national politicians and serve on the advisory board of one of our congressmen. I learned that in the end, politics is all about bottom-up support: politicians are elected by the people and at the end of the day, they have to respect the wishes of their constituents or risk not being reelected. The more pressure they feel to do the right thing, the more likely they are to do it.