Guest: Landon Brand
Eric chats with Landon Brand, founder of Wren, a startup that helps individuals fight climate change by offsetting their carbon footprint with a monthly subscription.
Outline of the chat:
Landon's motivation behind starting Wren.
What is the most urgent thing Wren is working on to stop climate change?
Whats Wren’s opinion on carbon offsets?
What are some of the personal actions that Wren feels are valuable?
What is the Wren community doing to effect larger systemic change?
What new projects are you the most passionate about?
Look out for an invite to a live discussion with Eric and Landon soon!
(All discussion is paraphrased unless it's in direct quotes)
Eric Holthaus: I’d love to get some of your motivation behind Wren and how it came into being.
Landon Brand: For my whole life, I've cared about climate change and sustainability. I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, which is actually where some of the people who started Earth Day are from.
When I was a kid, my mom sat me down to watch An Inconvenient Truth. I was like, oh wow, okay, this is a big problem, I’m glad we're doing something about this. I kind of figured that by the time I became an adult that we'd be well on our way, and maybe, I wouldn't have to worry about it, because there are so many solutions.
I thought — we have solar panels, windmills, and even electric cars. But by the time I was about to graduate college, the IPCC report came out about the importance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, basically showing how we're pretty far from making that happen.
My co-founders and I said, “Hey, maybe we could build something that helps with the climate crisis.” We came across this amazing resource Drawdown, which basically listed out a hundred solutions to the climate crisis that are ready to go that just needed funding.
For me seeing that it was like, oh my gosh like we can do this we just need to actually do it. That initial idea for Wren was about crowdfunding a bunch of these solutions. We also thought, what if we could show people what their carbon footprint is and give some suggestions on how they can reduce it?
Since then, we have expanded and now we're looking more into recommending actions that people take on the climate crisis — everything from getting more involved in activism to switching to a green bank.
Eric: What do you think the most urgent thing is that you're working on that would prevent climate change?
Landon: There are a lot of things that fit into that question of urgency — One part is, what do people have the capability for? So at Wren, when we think of what we should fund urgently, a lot of it comes down to cost-effectiveness.
Another part is irreversibility. For instance, if we lose the whole Amazon rainforest, that's very hard to replace. It is better to prevent that loss in the first place.
Then the third part is funding those longer-term solutions that might take time. It is good to give certain solutions a little bit of funding today so we can figure out how they will fit into the picture 10 or 20 years from now. Something like carbon removal technologies fit into that bucket. Where it's probably not going to be a big part of the picture right now, but it's still worth it to have some folks thinking about this for the long term.
Eric: It sounds like you are focusing on meaningful emission reduction. What’s Wren’s opinion on carbon offsets?
Landon: So a lot of our projects are either very literally carbon offset projects that operate in the carbon offset market or we make them them to fit into that mold — where we're estimating the CO2 impact and try to be fairly accurate with that estimate.
The carbon offset market in general is fraught with lots of problems. Everything from some uncertainty to some downright fraud, or projects that very clearly are not going to have the impact that they were supposed to. As a whole, the market has major issues.
If we're talking about a system like cap and trade — where a company could either reduce their emissions or buy offsets, it's really a problem if they are buying these offsets that aren't having the promised impact.
There's a ton of work that needs to be done in the space. But from Wren's perspective, if we're thinking about sending our dollars to some good climate solutions, often working in the carbon offset market makes it a lot easier to do these projects and understand their carbon impact.
Eric: I know that you also talked about encouraging personal action. What are some of the actions that y'all feel are valuable?
Landon: I think an important thing to mention here is that there's no right way or wrong way to start having an impact. From the perspective of someone who's just scared about the climate crisis and wants to help however they can — just help, whatever that means to you is amazing.
Personally, I feel really connected to food, so I'm happy to experiment with my diet right now. I've been going full vegan for a few months now and besides just being good for the environment, that's been a really cool experience for me to have and try out all these different foods.
Another one that I feel like is not talked about enough is switching your bank account. It's hard to do if you're later in life, and maybe have a mortgage, it can take a while to switch your bank account to a bank that's not investing in fossil fuels. But for me, where I'm kind of younger in life and don't have much attachment to my bank account, it was pretty easy.
And lastly voting, getting involved in politics, and staying up to date. Especially if you have friends who maybe are a little bit less political, but who still care, giving them a little extra nudge now and then to make sure they vote.
Eric: Because elections only happen every so often, what have people done in the Wren community to do that kind of that larger systemic change, when it's not time to vote?
Landon: So right now, there aren't as many community organizing features. We'd like to build out a lot of what we call, our ‘collective action component.’ This is where we get people talking about Wren and talking about the solutions that they're funding.
We do our best to make it feel like really tangible progress by giving these detailed updates about what's going on on the ground. For instance, the rainforest protection project — that's something that people can talk about and see this exciting positive bit of news in the climate crisis. It's nice to be able to share with your friends some of the good news and progress that can be made when we start actually funding some of these solutions on the individual funding level.
We're talking about a few thousand people funding these different projects, but I think that also shows how these solutions are out there, and governments can be funding them as well. It's absolutely necessary to push for that action too. But this is like a stepping stone or a positive milestone that people can point to and talk about.
Eric: Right, so this is like that activism or involvement escalator, where all it takes is literally anything to just get involved. Once you see that positive change, then the narrative starts to change in your head from a doom and gloom problem to we have such an amazing future ahead of us if we all do this together. Then it becomes this mission that you're on with other people.
That's where I see Wren coming in and saying — here are all the ways that you can help if you want to.
Landon: That's exactly it.
Everyone's gonna start with their own first step and however small that is, it should be absolutely celebrated. Yes, everyone can always do more, but you have to be doing it in a sustainable way to make that happen, celebrating your progress no matter how small it is, is important.
Meeting people where they are at has been both a challenge and an opportunity for Wren. We try to tailor the experience to what you would be interested in and show people their impact in a way that makes sense to them. We have a lot more work to do to make it even more personalized. We want people to feel like they're learning exactly the best ways to have an impact, that's the dream.
Eric: What's coming up that you are most passionate about?
Landon: We are launching a new version of what we call our ‘actions feature’. It's recommendations of what you can do about the climate crisis. Everything from; maybe you could try going vegetarian on weekdays to here's more information about buying a heat pump.
We're launching a new version of that very soon. So far it's mostly been a feature deep in the site but we're hoping to bring it more to the forefront.
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