Our latest project at Imagine Zero went live today. Introducing: GiveZero- where each present to yourself or a loved one cleans the air. The lockdown(s) have given us a chance to catch up on our reading lists and we thought, why not give bookmarks that provide an additional benefit? Each bookmark supports a biomass project in Rajasthan, India, where the project has already reduced almost 50,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year! Instead of coal, local crops are used as fuel to create a direct and measurable effect on the climate and economy,
Each bookmark was carefully designed and printed on locally sourced, eco-friendly recycled paper using fossil free inks. Order yours here or like/share us on Instagram.
tldr; Green founders come up with ever more green goods and services. We’re not on track to stop climate change in time. Instead of increasing green supply, let’s use our brains to increase public pressure and change policy. Then, markets will solve the climate quickly. We have some ideas…
Can startups save the planet?
Thanks to ambitious founders, courageous companies and investors who plan ahead, the supply of climate-friendly products and services is growing fast. Activists and NGOs raise awareness and Project Drawdown documented in detail what actions are necessary to stop the climate crisis. So why is the problem not going away? Can startups save the day?
Probably, but not in the obvious way.
Shiny new green products distract from the substance: Almost everything to be consumed in the next decade will be carbon positive and push us to 3°C heating, with devastating consequences. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is incapacitated if non-renewable exploitation and pollution go unregulated.
More green supply will not make a difference in time …
… but more green demand can. How to stimulate demand? Regulation, incentivization and massive investment! That in turn requires public pressure on politics and the economy.
People drive politics and markets.
Regulation and economic incentivization allow markets to solve the problem. Even people who care little about the environment build green solutions if there’s money to be made. We’d hit zero emissions much faster. That means less lives, ecosystems and areas destroyed. The challenge: Digital forms of engagement are afterthoughts of offline activities: we can do more than online petitions, sharing posters on social media or webcam protests!
How to use startup tools to grow a movement?
Just like companies, NGOs have business models. Inputs are donations, talent and volunteer time. Output is (ideally measurable) impact: Better policies, reduced emissions, awareness, voting.
Just like good startups, some NGOs use network effects, lock in their inputs and use positive feedback loops to grow faster and become more efficient.
But unlike most industries, the NGO space has yet to be disrupted by startups.
Imagine digital movement NGOs with a startup mindset.
Three examples for scalable, impactful models we ideate and develop at Imagine Zero:
Imagine online campaigners targeting followers of a specific brand on social media via direct messages. Together, they pressure that brand into living up to its green marketing by pledging decarbonization. Successes turn followers into participants, fueling a campaign that empowers people to have measurable economic impact from their smartphone.
Imagine a digital self-service platform turning everybody into a campaigner: Activists convince airport travelers into offsetting their flights on the spot using an easy web interface. They get a margin to make a little money on the side. And they leverage travelers’ deeper pockets to channel money into high-quality offsetting projects and they raise awareness.
Imagine a teaching module allowing college students and climate refugees to chat to raise awareness, understanding and mutual respect while making global citizenship tangible.
What these projects have in common: They’re self-service, almost infinitely scalable, empower participants to invest their own time and they’re cheap.
Also, they illustrate the direction we’re taking at Imagine Zero. Now, how can we spark your imagination? Let’s develop ideas together!
Are you a founder?
We target startup talent and compete with NGOs for funding by scaling faster and being more efficient. Our projects leverage a huge, underdeveloped resource: People who want to make a difference but lack the opportunity.
Have you been a (co)founder before? Are you passionate about stopping the climate crisis and living a life of meaning? Do you deeply understand customer-centricity and have a product mindset? Let’s combine our startup skills to think outside the box without losing track of who we’re building things for: real people who want to make a difference.
Let’s tap into our rich network of startups, mentors, talent, accelerator programs, funding sources, and ideas. Let’s unfuck the world together! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last weeks I’ve been active in mentoring and coaching founders of for- and nonprofit ventures at ProjectTogether. It’s a Berlin-based incubator/accelerator with topical programs, each connecting nascent initiatives, existing businesses and politics. They want to get these players on a table to drive systemic change, i.e. connection and learning are more important than venture success.
Earlier in 2020 they became famous for running the WirVsVirus campaign aiming at medical innovation and directly supported by the German Chancellor’s office.
If you have experience with go-to-market, venture building or related topics, how about investing a few hours per month into mentoring ventures? Be advised that the program is in German. This is a great way to spread the startup mindset and move meaningful initiatives forward.
Want to engage against the climate crisis? Matcha can show you how. We collected, scored and curated the full spectrum of activities, from the best newsletters and most relevant petitions to online trainings, local groups, creating your own artwork, the most important protests to internships and full-time volunteering positions.
After 3 months of planning, designing, development and curating content our first project is online. It’s inspiring to see how the team pulled this off. Have fun using it!
We’re investigating running campaigns in which social media users directly reach out to consumer brands’ followers about gaps between sustainability image and reality as well as better-performing competitors. By attacking the bottom line we get companies to pledge to decarbonize their supply chains.
How it works
The big picture
The 100 consumer goods companies have a revenue of $1,730B. International regulatory pressure is building up far too slow to decarbonize that industry in time to keep Earth habitable. What’s necessary is consumer pressure.
Social is key
Advertising money is shifting to digital channels and direct customer interactions on social media are becoming key elements of brand communication. Modern social networks are designed to amplify paid voices and therefore have a chilling effect on social media campaigns that rely on posting and sharing.
The answer is C2C lobbying
Every social network user can become a friend/follower of any other user. Direct messages between friends/followers are unrestricted. Our campaigns identify industries with a high variety of sustainability commitments and single out players with the biggest gap between reality and brand communication. Everybody with a social media account can sign up to participate in a campaign. We provide campaigners with templates and target user account lists to become friends with and reach out to using their own social media account. Communication is always positive, helpful and non-judgmental.
Participants not only inform target users about gaps and alternatives but also encourage them to participate in the campaign. Our users’ effort is therefore invested in impact and growth to boost and maintain momentum
The first campaigns target small, easy targets to make sure that the majority of campaigns succeed. Every success contributes to the overall momentum of our effort.
The only piece of technology is a tiny tool that pulls follower lists and distributes them among participants.
We don’t have to reach all followers
There are limiting factors to how many people we reach:
Not every campaigner will actually execute their workload
Not every brand follower will accept a friend request
Not every brand follower will read the incoming message
Paid advertising campaigns on social media typically reach 10% of a brand’s followership. Considering these limiting factors our concept of distributed lobbying still has a much higher penetration of the target audience than what the target brand could achieve with money.
Where it hurts: The bottom line
Companies pay a lot of money to acquire and retain social media followers. Targeting that asset with objective information about gaps in sustainability and pointing them to better-performing competition can lower a company’s bottom line within days.
Seasoned professionals are willing to coach and consult professionals from climate NGOs a few hours per month.
This coaching and consulting generates long-lasting benefits for impact professionals.
New relationships can be established without central matchmaking.
Occasional surveys and a centralized 1on1 directory are enough to track the project.
Professionals from climate NGOs refer us to their networks.
This has been one of several discussed tactics. Among them victims of climate change sending postcards to executives’ families (working title Family Letters) and sales agents reaching out to SMEs with info material to decarbonize them. We did a comparison in 2020-06-04 Scalable Campaigning Tactics and decided to follow up on the concept outlined here in this document. There’s also an outdated document looking at both of them: 2020-04-14 First Concept Draft for Scalable Campaigning.
This is the first time in our short history that we’re closing a job posting, namely that of copy expert! 🎉
Jeanette built her career in corporates, agencies and startups to become Lead Copy at FreeNow in 2019. It’s inspiring to see how she already pushes the quality of our communication to new heights. Among other things, Jeanette loves writing (novels), painting, and – safety first – LARP and archery. 😎
Last but not least she will make sure there’s heavy metal in the playlist when the day comes for us to have an in-person summer (or Christmas) party.
Just in case this post doesn’t immediately make you want to join Imagine Zero as well: No wonder – I wrote it without her help.
If you know any digital artists, social media aces and creative people who want to fight, this is for you!
We encourage artists to fight the climate crisis with their own skills: With help from amazing friends in the creative industry, we came up with a creative brief. It has all information necessary to create impactful memes, videos or entire campaigns to raise awareness for the climate crisis.
What Creatives already did
There are plenty of amazing examples in the creative brief. These are two highlights we’d like to inspire you with.
English is our work language. Let us know, if we can help you!
At Imagine Zero we continuously research, collect, discuss and scrutinize ideas. There are countless ideas we discard after the first deeper session. Some make it further. Apart from the few that we then settle to work on, this page documents ideas we decided to not pursue after more than one session.
We explored organizing hackathons to enable software engineers to use their skills against the climate crisis. The possibilities are intriguing. Imagine Zero decided to not pursue these ideas because it’s unlikely that we can scale a concept in the space to global impact within 2 years. We worked on two flavors:
Software engineers team up in Hackathons to solve NGOs’ problems
A yearly league where a city’s software companies continuously score points on a ladder by having engineers solve NGOs’ problems
We can engage startups and corporations in a “20% time for own projects” framework, leading to higher and more purposeful employee engagement. This way, the tech scene can bring individuals or even “project teams” to NGOs which introduce a different mindset and skill set (tech-savvy, data-driven, iteration-oriented).
Why we abandoned it
We realized that in its current form this project is not sufficiently feasible for us to continue on. Quick overview on our reasons:
Targeting SMEs and startups is difficult because of high (perceived) day-to-day pressure
Large corporations already have similar programs inhouse. Either self-organized like Tata’s ProEngage (now rebranded WakeUpWeekends), or using existing providers like Alaya. There’s a market but it comes with long sales cycles, board involvement and far less than 10% of working time involved.
The only feasible direct revenue stream seemed like education budgets. A little draft calculation showed that in order to hire one full-time senior staff member (70k€ including employer contributions), we’d need 80 employees enrolled at any given time assuming a willingness to spend 1k€/y from their education budget. If we assume renting out ~8 person-teams, it becomes impossible for that single person to do things like assessment, placement, coaching and acquisition.
A second revenue stream is having donors pay for gigs. We didn’t explore this further because the additional scalability constraints of situational acquisition of funds put it outside scope for what projects Imagine Zero incubates.
After a long weekend the first, incomplete version of our new website is online. The next few days will see a lot of work to smoothen the edges. But what a delight to see the first glimpses of public light shine on Imagine Zero.