I think you have to take chances in life. You probably get three, four or five chances in life to jump and see what’s going to happen. And if you don’t, you’ll always regret it. —Eric Carlson
Today marks Carbonfund.org’s 7th anniversary and its inspirational growth from a start-up nonprofit to a national leader in fighting climate change. Often, knowing how things began provides a great deal of insight about an organization. I had the opportunity to sit down with Carbonfund.org’s founders Eric and Lesley Carlson to talk about the beginning, where the organization is, and where it’s going. What was the biggest challenge of turning Carbonfund.org into a national leader? EC: We had a big hurdle to get over in convincing people that you can reduce your carbon footprint at an affordable price. Once we were able to do that, the entire market changed. There were groups charging $20 or so to offset a ton of carbon. We knew we could do it in the $5-$6 range, and that’s what we charged at that time. After we got over that initial hurdle of saying basically a certified ton is a certified ton, we were off to the races. It was that explanation that got our first large partners. Now we’re known for both our high-quality projects and our low cost-per-ton. Was it difficult to balance family with a shared work life? Did you take turns worrying about work and family? LC: Absolutely, and really when starting on a mission that has a great impact, one’s going to talk about it a lot. It’s hard to separate work and home. How we did it was deciding that Eric would take the lead on the organization, and I’d take more of a part time role so that someone would take care of the kids. Do you have advice for young families starting on an entrepreneurial path? EC: I think you have to take chances in life. You probably get three, four or five chances in life to jump and see what’s going to happen. And if you don’t, you’ll always regret it. So being an entrepreneur, taking that chance, leaving that job, hiking that mountain or doing whatever it is you decide—you should. It’s exciting and those opportunities almost always work out better, whether they are instantly successful or not. So I think young people should become entrepreneurs. Now, how you manage that within your family, within your relationships, is a challenge, and you need to work at that almost as hard as running your organization or business. LC: I think there have to be rules to ensure some balance. At some point the work discussion has to end so you have time for specific days or hours that are only family-oriented. Starting an organization takes a lot of work and time, a lot of thinking and conversation. But it’s nice because your family is then invested in something; our daughters definitely feel they’re part of the organization we’ve created. What are Carbonfund.org’s key priorities? LC: You hear people talk about some of the solutions. The Obama administration talks about green jobs, and just the other night Bill Clinton was talking with David Letterman about green jobs and how easily the transformation can be made. Carbonfund.org’s role needs to be helping make solutions easy and affordable, including keeping the message simple—that there are simple solutions out there, while building support for understanding and reducing one’s carbon footprint. What are Carbonfund.org’s biggest accomplishments from your perspective? EC: One of our biggest accomplishments is that we’ve been able to prove there’s a viable market for carbon. There were academic reports that said it would cost $50-$100 to reduce one ton of carbon. Those of us in the energy-efficiency sector and other industries knew that wasn’t the case. At $50-$100 ton, there is no climate legislation because it simply breaks the bank. We were able to show that you can reduce carbon for $10 or less a ton, and that these are the types of carbon reduction projects that people will support. Please click here to read more of this Q&A with Eric and Lesley Carlson.