By Zach Walker and Olivia Corriere
Brainstorming and building out the idea
For the past two years, we have served as co-chairs of the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee. As such, we often find ourselves in conversation about energy markets, and brainstorming ideas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at scale. As RESPC Co-Chairs, we are also regular attendees of the UNC Clean Tech Summit. In early January, we learned about the Strata Solar Clean Tech Award through the Institute for the Environment’s email list, and were excited by the challenge.
Huddled in a Campus Y conference room, we identified the challenge we wanted to tackle: individuals don’t have an easy way to mitigate their unique carbon footprints. We wanted to give individuals an opportunity to reduce their impact on carbon emissions, and at the same time, creatively raise capital so that individuals could contribute to investments in carbon-reducing projects. Zach drew from an idea he learned about at a conference he recently attended (Rare’s “Climate Change Needs Behavior Change” Conference): to raise capital for investment by allowing individuals to contribute based on their unique carbon footprint. We worked out the details, and soon Mother Earth Ventures was born. Check out the executive summary from our submission to the competition below.
“The growing impacts of climate change demand a resilient, decarbonized energy system. Unfortunately, both the United States as a whole, and states and municipalities individually, have been unable to pass sweeping carbon tax legislation. Further, large investments in renewable energy continue to disproportionately benefit the wealthiest individuals. The Mother Earth Fund is a non-profit revolving fund, financed by private, crowd-sourced donations. These donations come from a proprietary software that estimates individuals’ carbon footprints based on monthly purchases, and prompts banked adults to donate to offset their purchasing. The purpose of the Mother Earth Fund is to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency ventures that otherwise might not be executed. The Mother Earth fund will use aggressive, ambitious investment strategies to maximize its revenue, which will be reinvested into the fund. In this way, the Mother Earth Fund brings the horsepower of corporate investors and crowdsourcing to renewable energy development to ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.”
Nervously accepting the Strata Solar Clean Tech Award
At the Strata Solar Clean Tech Award ceremony at the 2020 Clean Tech Summit, we stood in the back of the large dining room against the wall with sweaty palms. We were shocked when Strata Solar CEO Markus Wilhelm called us on-stage as the winners of the competition.
We feel so lucky to have been recognized for the concept we developed, and are grateful for the feedback and support that we received after accepting the award. This platform led to a number of opportunities that have propelled Mother Earth Ventures forward.
This award stimulated innovation from everyone that participated in the competition, and Mother Earth Ventures could not have been developed without it. It was thanks to the push by Strata Solar, the opportunity to pitch and discuss the idea at Strata’s monthly Town Hall, and the encouragement of those who heard the idea and provided feedback that our idea blossomed. All in all, we are extremely grateful!
When we originally dreamt up the concept, we weren’t sure whether we would pursue it as a business venture. When we received the Strata Solar Clean Tech Award, and the support and suggestions that were prompted by it, we got the push we needed to bring the proposal to life. In the weeks since, we’ve started making progress. We are connecting with a number of students: fellow energy enthusiasts, professors, UNC-CH staff, and professionals to gather feedback and suggestions to improve the concept. We’re working with a student artist to develop our branding materials. We’re building out our team, and are preparing to work with people and companies that are as excited as we are. We’re conducting extensive market research, and designing a pilot program so that we can project scalability accurately.
As graduating seniors entering the workforce full-time, there’s a lot of instability and transition happening in our personal and professional lives. Even so, we have been excited to get Mother Earth Ventures off the ground.
Of course, we must acknowledge the monstrous wrench thrown into society: COVID-19. As we are social distancing, attending class remotely, watching the world’s hospitals try to meet the needs of so many sick people, and heading into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the world. These circumstances have dramatic implications related to Mother Earth Ventures’ next steps:
- (1) Individuals’ carbon footprints have changed overnight with the advent of social distancing and reduced travel. This makes it difficult to project average carbon footprints in the short-term, and therefore the amount of capital that Mother Earth Ventures could raise.
- (2) Even if we could accurately predict average carbon footprints, with unprecedented unemployment, many people will not have extra cash for GHG mitigation when they are struggling to pay rent and buy groceries, especially in underserved communities.
For now, we are assessing the feasibility of actualizing Mother Earth Ventures in the face of a global pandemic and extreme global uncertainty. We’re hopeful that global health and economic conditions will improve, and that we will be able to move forward soon.