Carbon A List is building a climate hardware store
The who, what, why, and how of Carbon A List
I want Carbon A List to become a premier hardware store for instigating climate action. It’s almost the beginning of a bad joke. Alas no, just the latest metaphor to describe entrepreneurial ambitions where the hardware store is a place for folks who want to turn their climate dreams into a reality. Consider us the helpful salesperson at your favorite hardware store who will make sure you go home with the right tool for the job and the knowledge to do it. We feel confident that we know about these tools because we’ve used them ourselves, built the thing you want (or know those who have), understood the tool that needs to be built if it doesn’t exist, asked that question before, and can put the tool or project in context or find the right expert who can. If need be, we’ll design and build the thing you require. Like true salespeople who genuinely care about solving customer problems, if we can’t help out the customers walking into the store, we’ll gladly make referrals to vetted software providers, companies or consultants offering the service you need, folks in our network, or offer free resources and recommendations. Actually, we’d much rather be out of a job because there’s no work left to do. Unfortunately, that’s not currently the case. The hard work has just begun.
The problem as we see it is that the world is wasting time and money on how we’re addressing climate change. People will walk in our store because they want to spend their (and other’s) attention and capital in addressing this challenge more efficiently.
A business only survives if it truly knows and serves its customer. We’re still honing in on that and learning from the projects we support (13 finished or started and counting since March 2021), but the most valued customer is the one who is already making (or committed to making) climate action and scaling up their ambition. Here is some of the who and what of the hardware store:
- Entities learning about and participating in environmental markets
- Investors trying to strategically deploy capital in climate investments or natural capital assets
- Entities exploring and activating strategies that drive greenhouse gas reductions in the US for foods, fuel, and fiber production
- Programs paying farmers that can use the next generation methodologies for frameworks to assess and reward outcomes from ecosystem improvements
- Climate start-ups needing strategic support and their efforts to be put on steroids
- Projects accessing financing through digital connectivity, feasibility studies, LCAs and carbon offset standards
- People working together and learning from each other to deploy collaborative initiatives
Our tagline is, “Come for the Carbon, Stay for the Ecosystem.” It draws on the reality that while decarbonization is tantamount to our clients feeling like the hardware store was useful, the true value of what we offered wasn’t simply about the carbon lens. To my colleague Nick Goeser’s point in last month’s newsletter, “it’s about literally everything BUT the carbon”. Carbon was just the hook, and a necessary element for change.
There are plenty of climate action consultants out there. Here’s what makes us different:
We find (or create) the right tool for the job for the do-ers. If you are on the side of generating meaningful improvements from environmental interventions, we are building this for you. If we don’t know or can’t find the answer, we’ll tell you. But if we have the privilege to work with you, we’ll get to work piecing together the tools to make sure that you get what you need to do more. We don’t have a proprietary software platform or our own carbon market program. But we do possess the chops ranging from assessing and using them and navigating the landscape. And we wear battle scars from our own experience implementing high throughput models for ecosystem improvements, launching carbon markets and soil health programs, leveraging remote sensing technologies, enabling farm level data capture, conducting soil sample analysis, and using blockchains.
We value collaboration. We work with would-be competitors in the same way that a sports team has a deep bench and realizes we’re all playing for the same team. We can all learn from each other. Along with client work, we work through referral agreements, revenue sharing, grant funding, and creative structures. We work within the system with hundred plus year old institutions, recognizing the power to work within the system. We join or create communities that are goal and action oriented. We work with established bodies who are setting rules. And we love collaborating with value-aligned start-ups on explosive growth curves who need to outsource to experts or initiate synergistic or collaborative projects that can help put their efforts on steroids.
We cut through silos and hype. Our clients hire us explicitly because they want to make sure that what they do will actually work and cannot be called a greenwash. We may not tell them what they want to hear. We have a general loathing for greenwashes (but see their utility when in the form of audacious goals that don’t yet have a plan). Moreover, in our work we are constantly encountering silos. We cut through these silos on one level by making things that are public and of general utility — from comparison tables on ecosystem service programs, to a report on soil organic carbon models and model improvement, to contracting language for landowners to go into carbon credit deals with their landlord. On a deeper level, we are actively supporting technological frameworks that enable interoperability through our work as a core member in the OpenTEAM community. As we work within existing standards, we recognize that we are part of advancing future standards, products, and methodologies that can be used by industry trying to instigate climate action.
We act like a think tank at the edge of change. The “edge of change” is a concept I learned from Adam Brock from his work with Regenerate Change, and is a lens that has afforded us the ability to find pressure points on a systemic level. We can learn from history from past experiences and stay aware of what is the ideal — and very possible — future this earth deserves. Being at the edge is what takes you to the action. We won’t take projects that support more of the status quo. In fact, we’d much rather be working on a system level that makes the various tools in our hardware store open and public so that people taking on climate action can more quickly accrue the benefits. We say yes because working on it will get us closer to what’s ideal for the planet, while still within the bounds of acceptability and profitability. We do our part to provide detailed recommendations and new ideas to key stakeholders in the position to waste less time and money — like our recent letter to the USDA’s request for information on climate smart agriculture. Beyond every project we choose to work on, there is something greater. We are pollinators, conveners, and architects of new market instruments and standards. This puts us at the edge of change, pulling what’s real into the ideal.
We don’t want any credit if your project was successful. Seriously. The more selfless we are, the more successful we become in our mission. We honor the leaders and visionaries of the past who have laid out the foundation and all of the ideas we need to get the job done. The folks doing the hard work are the people adopting the interventions and the enabling players (hardware store tools) that make getting the job done possible. Unless we launch it ourselves, we are a level removed. We work best behind the scenes, instigating, pollinating, seeding ideas, delivering the utmost possible value, and working to make the type of work we have to do today obsolete. If it doesn’t work, we’ll take responsibility and share the learnings so that the world can take steps to waste less time and money.
If, after reading this, you think you identify as a potential customer (or know one), please get in touch for jobs we might be able to help you with in 2022. It’s going to be a big year. And if you’re a so-called competitor who is doing work in the arena, especially one who uses open source tools, has tools they’d like in our store, or wants to collaborate, please get in touch. The world needs more hardware stores!