A nonprofit crowd-sourced and member-financed initiative seeks to take the pain —and anxieties — out of carbon pollution reduction programs, making the process ‘fun and simple,’ transparent, and verifiable.
Yale Climate Connections recently asked Cool Effect Chief Executive Officer Marisa de Belloy about the organization’s approach to reducing carbon pollution through the participation of its more than 35,000 members.
What are the fundamental underlying objectives of the Cool Effect initiative?
de Belloy: Cool Effect set out to create a place to unite the 130 million Americans who are alarmed or concerned about climate change by allowing them to fund the world’s most effective carbon pollution reduction programs. Many of these individuals already take steps to minimize their impacts on the environment, but they are looking to take further measurable action.
We created a platform through which climate action is simple, verified, and transparent.
Cool Effect also believes in Carbon Done Correctly. By that, we are referring specifically to carbon reduction projects that efficiently reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and accurately report on the results. [Emphasis added throughout.]
In addition to reducing carbon pollution, these projects also tend to benefit the communities in which they operate by helping provide better jobs, improved health, and more time and independence for women and children. To find these projects, Cool Effect conducts a lengthy due diligence process, investigating everything from the science to the financials and the community benefits. Those steps help individuals feel confident in the projects they choose to support through CoolEffect.org.
In short, we’ve done the scientific work so our supporters don’t have to—they can fund our projects as they want when they want and rest assured that they are making a tangible impact on the planet.
What factors gave rise to your launch of this project? Was there a specific gap or void that you sought to fill? And, if so, what were the factors that contributed to formation of that gap?
de Belloy: Survey evidence indicates that more than one-third of Americans want to do more to combat climate change, but their options are limited. We want to provide an easy way for individuals to support local and international entrepreneurs with proven technologies that are reducing carbon pollution right now.
We also wanted to bring transparency to the murky financial world of carbon credits. Carbon credits have been misused and obfuscated since their inception. That’s why Cool Effect chooses only the most scientifically and socially beneficial projects and provides a detailed breakdown of the pricing and impact of each project. This information is available at all times on our site.
What qualities make the Cool Effect initiative and its projects different from other carbon-removal efforts?
de Belloy: Fun and simple aren’t always words people associate with the complex topic of climate change! One differentiator from existing climate change conversation is our method of communication.
To explain how each project works, Cool Effect features animated videos that draw people in and, in under a minute, explain how the project reduces CO2 emissions. Cool Effect explains every project quickly so viewers can either contribute to the project immediately, or look further into its challenges, benefits, the local community it’s helping, and all its scientific documentation.
The platform also creates a way for supporters to feel the impact of their dollar contributions. It sets a project emission reduction goal, displays the percentage of support, and then stays in contact with supporters with reports and ongoing project updates.
Individuals, organizations, and other groups can either make a one-time purchase or support projects on a recurring, monthly basis. Continuing this flexibility of support, Cool Effect recently announced “Coollection” giving individuals the ability to fund a portfolio of projects at a price they choose.
Lastly, the projects themselves are extraordinary. Cool Effect’s featured projects were selected from more than 10,000 currently verified in the carbon market, and they then go through extensive due diligence to ensure that each verifiably reduces the amount of greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere.
One requirement for all chosen projects is that there must be a direct positive impact for the community, from health benefits to employing locals. For example, the Efficient Cookstoves Project in Uganda not only reduces carbon emissions by 58 percent per household, but also saves lives by lowering the number of deaths from toxic smoke and by creating jobs in an impoverished area.
Through Cool Effect’s unique design and engaging platform, individuals can learn about and fund some of the world’s best carbon reduction projects in a simple, fun experience.
Please explain precisely what you mean by the claim that your projects are “100 percent additional.”
de Belloy: Most of the projects registered against internationally recognized greenhouse gas project standards follow the guidelines for assessment and demonstration of additionality prescribed by the respective GHG program (United Nations, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate Action Reserve, etc.). However, many of these projects have been criticized for having weak additionality arguments.
In other words, some projects would have proceeded even if climate change funding had not been available to them. Examples of projects that are not additional include those that are legally required to meet emission reduction obligations, those that are profitable without revenue from carbon offsets, and those that use technologies already in common use.
At Cool Effect, we support only those projects that have undergone an extra layer of scrutiny on additionality claims. We refer to this as triple verification. Our global offset research staff conducts a detailed assessment well beyond the GHG standards. (For instance, would the project have started operations even if carbon funding were not available? Are there similar projects operating within the sector without having received carbon funding?)
Can you point to some projects you have decided NOT to undertake because they do not meet your “absolute additionality” threshold?
de Belloy: Yes, we have rejected many projects which applied for support from Cool Effect but did not pass our assessment criteria.
For example, we have rejected several wind energy generation projects that were claiming carbon credits while they were also receiving support through Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). We also rejected several landfill gas projects that regulators had already required to manage and collect landfill gas. That requirement, of course, makes them lose their additionality. We’ve rejected hydro projects where there was opposition to siting, or other concerns about additionality.
Can you point to one or two projects you have that are representative of your portfolio, and identify specific qualities that make them representative?
de Belloy: Of course. Let’s look at two of the American projects we’re particularly proud of:
1) Southern Ute Indian Tribe Westside CBM Seep Capture & Use Project: We all know that emissions from the burning of coal contribute significantly to global warming. However, not as many people know that even when coal emerges from the ground naturally, the seams allow methane to sneak into our atmosphere. This volume of leakage is too low for conventional methods used to capture natural gas, but methane is so dangerous to our planet, that the Southern Ute Tribe in Colorado was committed to finding a way to curb these releases.
The tribe does not and will not mine the coal on its land, so it looked for a solution to use this natural capital. Together with a team of scientists, the tribe engineered a system of wells that naturally captures the methane from the seams and funnels it to existing gas pipelines.
Several methodologies have earned United Nations approval to use captive methane in coal seams, but few have succeeded in claiming climate change funds because of the methodological complexities and uncertainties associated with the quantity and quality of methane gas present in the coal seams. The Southern Ute project is a pilot initiative and a model for using methane from many more thousands of coal fields across the world that continue to emit large amounts of methane with fugitive emissions.
At the same time, this project generates income and employment for members of the Southern Ute Tribe, and it helps them to preserve their reservation. Environmental preservation is such a core value for the Southern Ute that they now are running this project at a loss and could really benefit from additional support.
Just this past September, the Cool Effect team visited the project. We found that despite its having been expertly implemented and monitored, the project desperately needs funds to continue its operations. Regrettably, not enough carbon credits have yet been sold, and the current price of natural gas is too low to make this project financially sustainable on a long-term basis.
2) Terra Yazoo City #9, Nitrous Oxide Abatement Project: There are no regulations for the abatement of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere despite its high global warming potential — 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
While a lot of the fertilizer-producing companies had begun to destroy the N2O before 2012, those efforts were later discontinued when the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) stopped accepting the carbon credits from industrial gas projects. In the absence of national and international emission regulations, there was very little financial incentive for companies to install abatement technologies.
Yazoo City N2O abatement is an impressive project because the project owner has invested a great deal of time and money for a social good, tackling the issue of climate change.
Moreover, the Yazoo City N2O abatement project is unique because there is a commitment from the project owners to donate most of the proceeds (a minimum of 80 percent) from the sale of carbon credits to charity, in this case to The Nature Conservancy. So all funds our members direct to this project both reduce N2O and also help The Nature Conservancy continue its work.
Please explain how the projects and supporting background scientific and administrative work are funded, and by whom.
de Belloy: Cool Effect projects and our research efforts are crowdfunded through one-time purchases or monthly subscriptions.
Cool Effect adds a fee of 9.87 percent to each transaction, so 90.13 percent of all financial support goes directly to the carbon reduction projects. This fee covers credit card transaction fees of 2 to 4 percent; registry fees where applicable; a research fee of 1.5 percent; and some Cool Effect transaction fees.
Cool Effect’s operating costs are covered separately by private foundations, so the vast majority of member donations directly support and expand projects that reduce the global warming gases that pose such serious risks to our planet.