Chat with Sanchali Pal — founder of Commons
A conversation between Eric Holthaus and Sanchali Pal, the founder of Commons — an app that helps us lower the collective emissions of our spending.
Outline of Chat:
What motivated you to start taking climate action in your own life?
The climate crisis requires systemic change, and this is intrinsically linked to personal action. How have you seen individual efforts being driven in Commons?
How can people stay motivated and sustain taking climate action?
How are your users using Commons to lower their emissions?
How do people get started using Commons?
Eric Holthaus: What motivated you to start taking climate action in your own life?
Sanchali Pal: In my first career doing international development, I wanted to better understand the throughline between my spending choices and my concerns for the planet, so I made a spreadsheet to start tracking the emissions of my purchases. With that information, I could start taking action to dramatically lower my carbon impact.
That idea led to Commons. I wanted to make it easy for everyone to realize that their everyday spending is a powerful tool for building a more sustainable world.
Holthaus: The climate crisis requires systemic change, and this is intrinsically linked to personal action. How have you seen individual efforts being driven in Commons?
Pal: Companies and governments are motivated by individuals acting together.
In fact, much of the reduction in global emissions over the next 30 years will be powered by consumer shifts. The UN projects that by 2050, 40-70% of global carbon reductions will come from changes in lifestyles and behaviors.
When consumers demand alternatives to environmental destruction and fossil fuels, policymakers and businesses are forced to act. And it’s already happening.
Plant-based eating has exploded, bringing down the emissions of our agricultural sector. Americans ate 19% less beef from 2005-2015. People demanding greener modes of transit led to France becoming the world’s first major economy to enact a nationwide ban on short-haul domestic flights on routes where train journeys of two and a half hours or less exist as an alternative.
Holthaus: How can people stay motivated and sustain taking climate action?
Pal: The climate crisis can feel overwhelming. At Commons we’ve found that one of the key motivators for people is making personal emissions measurable. When you can measure your emissions, you can see how you’re making progress toward your goals. It’s really powerful.
In 2022, people who used the app lowered their emissions by an average of 20% per year.
Building a climate practice to lower your footprint is an optimistic way of living because you’re building a better life right now. Practices like taking public transit, secondhand shopping, or composting have the benefit of lowering your footprint, while also saving you money.
Another way is to take climate action with others so you avoid exhaustion and don’t feel like you’re doing this alone. So we prioritize the collective action of the community as a way for people to see the change they’re a part of. Plus, many of the climate actions in the app provide opportunities to engage with your community.
Holthaus: How are your users using Commons to lower their emissions?
Pal: It starts with getting to know your own carbon footprint. After connecting your spending, you can see the emissions of each purchase in a free, automated and real-time dashboard. Once you understand the biggest emissions sources in your life, you can start taking steps towards more intentional spending.
Everybody’s climate practice will be a little different - for one user that might mean combining trips to lower their flight miles, and for another hang drying clothes to reduce their home energy usage - but we can all do something.
We’ve built climate practice guides into Commons that help our users navigate these choices with hands-on practical guidance. As you build your practice, you can track progress towards your emissions goals and work towards a lifestyle that’s more aligned with your values.
We also help our users offset the unavoidable emissions that we all have living in a fossil fuel based economy. Our users can choose to support carbon offset projects through the Climate Neutral subscription, which automatically offsets their footprint each month. The subscriptions fund a portfolio of carbon drawdown projects - including soil, ocean, forestry, bio-mass - that the Commons team regularly curates and evaluates for carbon integrity and transformative potential.
Offsetting isn’t a substitute for lowering our emissions, but funding these projects is also critical to meeting our 2050 net zero emission goals. The carbon markets are notoriously difficult to navigate and riddled with poor quality projects, so we created our managed portfolio to give everyday people a way to support climate solutions responsibly.
Holthaus: How do people get started using Commons?
Pal: You can download the mobile app from the App Store or Google Play, or visit us at thecommons.earth to learn more. It only takes about 5 minutes to set up your Commons account, and get your carbon footprint. From there, we’ll give you the insights and guidance you need to understand your footprint and build your climate practice.