Startup NGOs

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Photo by Pars Sahin on Unsplash.

Read this story on Medium.


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.

Matcha Live!

Du willst dich gegen die Klimakrise engagieren? Matcha zeigt dir, wie. Wir haben das ganze Spektrum an Aktivitäten gesammelt, bewertet und kuratiert: Von den besten Newslettern und relevantesten Petitionen über Online-Schulungen, Lokalgruppen, deine eigene Kunst zu den wichtigsten Protesten, Praktika und Vollzeit-Positionen.

Nach drei Monaten Planung, Design, Entwicklung und Entwicklung der Inhalte ist damit unser erstes Projekt online. Es ist genial, zu sehen, was das Team abgeliefert hat. Viel Spaß beim Benutzen!


Der beste Weg um herauszufinden, was man tun kann, ist, denen zuzuhören, die schon aktiv sind. Wenn du weitere Quellen und Communities kennst, gib uns Bescheid!


My Climate Journey

Ein englischsprachiger Podcast von Jason Jacobs, Startup-Tech-Manager, und bei der Lösung der Klimakrise zu helfen. Er führt Interviews mit einer großen Bandbreite an Menschen, die voll dabei sind, das Problem anzugehen.

Let’s talk change

In diesem Podcast interviewen Doreen Rietentiet und David Wortmann Menschen, die sich für Nachhaltigkeit einsetzen und zeigen welche kleinen und großen Hebel wir in Unternehmen, Politik, Medien, Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft in Bewegung setzen können.

NPR’s Climate Cast

In diesem englischsprachigen Podcast präsentiert der Meteorologe Paul Huttner jede Woche die letzten wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnisse zum Klimawandel. Er versucht dabei, herauszuarbeiten, welche Folgen der Zusammenbruch des Klimas und unserer Ökosysteme hat.

Climate Tech

Milliarden werden verschoben, um in Klimawandelbekämpfung zu investieren. Dabei entsteht ein rasant wachsendes Ökosystem an Startups. Die beste Art, es zu erkunden sind verschiedene Slack-Gruppen:

  • (Englisch): Eine globale Community von Tech Professionals, die ihre Fähigkeiten, Erfahrung und Netzwerke nutzen, um Lösungen gegen die Klimakrise zu finden.
  • My Climate Journey (bezahlte Mitgliedschaft): Hunderte Menschen, die sich gegenseitig dabei unterstützen, herauszufinden, was sie gegen die Klimakrise tun können.
  • TeamClimate: Entstanden aus dem 2020 Climate Summit, entwickelt sich die Gruppe zu einer deutschen sustainability tech community.

Die Klimabewegung

Wir halten es für so wichtig, dir den Einstieg in die Klimabewegung zu erleichtern, dass eines unserer Projekte nur darum geht: Matcha gibt dir die besten personalisierten Empfehlungen, um etwas gegen die Klimakrise zu tun!

Dran bleiben?

Jeanette an Board

Heute schließen wir zum ersten Mal in unserer kurzen Geschichte eine offene Stelle, nämlich Copy Expert! 🎉

Jeanette hat in ihrer Karriere Großunternehmen, Agenturen und Startups durchlaufen, um 2019 Lead Copy bei FreeNow zu werden. Es ist inspirierend zu sehen, wie sie bereits die Qualität unserer Kommunikation in neue Höhen hebt. Jeanette liebt u.A. (Romane) zu schreiben, Zeichnen, und – sicher ist sicher – LARP und Bogenschießen. 😎

Und natürlich wird sie sichergehen, dass Heavy Metal in der Playlist ist, wenn es so weit ist und wir eine Sommer- (oder Weihnachts-)Party veranstalten können.

Für den Fall, dass dieser Post dich nicht dazu gebracht hat, auf der Stelle bei Imagine Zero mitmachen zu wollen: Kein Wunder – ich habe ihn ohne Jeanette’s Hilfe geschrieben.

Willkommen, Jeanette!

Nicht umgesetzte Projekte

Bei Imagine Zero nehmen wir ständig Ideen unter die Lupe. Es gibt unzählige Ideen, die wir nach einer ersten tieferen Untersuchung verwerfen. Manche schaffen es weiter. Dieses Dokument dokumentiert einige der Ideen, an denen wir anfangs weitergearbeitet haben, die dann aber doch verworfen wurden.


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

Already in the space are Climate Founders, Capsule Hack, Climate KIC and others.


The Idea

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.

Want to stay tuned?

Creative Brief

Wenn du digitale Künstler, Social-Media-Asse oder kreative Menschen kennst, die aktiv werden wollen, dann ist das hier für dich!

Wir ermutigen Kreativen, die Klimakrise mit ihrer Erfahrung und ihren Fähigkeiten zu bekämpfen: Mit der Hilfe großartiger Freunde aus der Kreativindustrie haben wir einen creative brief entwickelt. Er enthält alle Informationen, die wichtig sind, um wirksame Memes, Videos oder ganze Kampagnen zu bauen, die Menschen gegen die Klimakrise mobilisieren.

Was Kreative schon getan haben

Wir haben im creative brief mehrere beeindruckende Beispiele zusammengestellt. Diese beiden sind inspirierende Highlights, die wir dir nicht vorenthalten wollen.

Goliath von Woodkid, einem berühmten französischen Regisseur, Designer und Sänger.
The Call – Australia vom Builders Club, der großartigen Londoner Kreativagentur.

Website Online

Hallo Welt!

Nach einem langen Wochenende ist die erste, unvollständige Version unserer Website online. Über die nächsten Tage werden natürlich noch viele Kanten abgeschliffen. Aber wie cool, dass die ersten Strahlen Öffentlichkeit auf Imagine Zero fallen.


Green Radar Chart

🇩🇪 This text is in English.

English is our work language. Let us know, if we can help you!

Sustainability has become a poster child for brands and a status symbol for consumers. We create a fun and accessible tool that allows you to determine and show how green you are by answering a few questions. The responses are visible to encourage correct answers without complex control mechanisms. From the user’s responses, we calculate a green score and users can choose what areas they want to improve in with highly actionable suggestions provided by the platform. 

The primary interface element is a radar chart visualizing progress in different areas. Simple game mechanics push users to become more green and compete with their friends. The tool offers a long journey of possibilities but every step along the way is small, accessible and, most importantly, well explained with links to sources and further reading.

By balancing the rewards users get for each action, we can boost behavior that has the biggest direct or indirect impact on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Rewarded actions range from household and mobility decarbonization to engagement in the climate movement, referrals, trainings, and propagating sustainability in the workplace.


  • Users respond mostly truthfully to questions about themselves
  • Users share their results on social media
  • Users share their results via word of mouth
  • Users check out other users’ scores and detailed responses
  • Users compete over their green score.
  • Green scores roughly correlate to direct and indirect impact on the climate crisis
  • Users significantly reduce carbon emissions of themselves, their referrals or people the hold talks for.
  • Users trust the options and science we present them with.

Who else is in the space?

The market for information about improvement of personal behavior is diverse.

  • Media articles and listicles
    • They present options that range from impossible to easy and impactful to irrelevant. There are no rewards, no measures and no game mechanics. Often they also lack a realistic ‘how’.
  • Possible and Green Quarantine limit their suggestions and give context. Their presentation adds a tiny amount of gamification but they also lack rewards and visibility to others.


This project is on hold as our team at Imagine Zero focuses on our website, starting communication around Imagine Zero and Matcha and of course finishing the MVP for Matcha.

Reach out

  • To get to know the people behind Imagine Zero.
  • To dive into this project
  • To help or take this over.

Who’s on this?

Alexander Thiel

CTO, Angel Investor, Founder and daily contributor.

Lorenzo Fossati

Senior Product & project manager, Daily contributor.

How we work together

  • At Imagine Zero
    • We work full-time and are responsive to your needs
    • We have daily standups
    • We use issue tracking to organize our work
  • If you want to manage this project, we want you to
    • Define clear commitments and communication preferences you can reasonably stick to
    • Decide what cadence suits you and the the rest of the team
    • Measure impact of existing coaching relationships.
    • Create a concept on how to scale this project to have more impact.
  • We all work for free.
  • We have access to possible donors and funds, talk to us!
  • We have good access to marketing, sales, business, legal, communication, design and software engineering experts. Make the best use of our network!

You can help by connecting

Have you worked with amazing people in the past who could help us stop the climate crisis? Connect us!


Es gibt so viele Begriffe und Abkürzungen im Kampf gegen die Klimakrise, dass wir uns entschieden haben, sie zu sammeln.
Bitte schick uns eine Email, wenn noch etwas fehlt! 🙂

1.5CGlobally agreed-upon (in the Paris Agreement) goal to limit global heating to 1.5C (centigrade) as compared to pre-industrial levels. As of 2020 we’re already beyond 1.1C heating.
BiodiversityThe variety and variability of life on Earth. A measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Loss of biodiversity makes ecosystems more likely to catastrophically fail when put under stress.
AFOLUThe Agriculture, Forestry Other Land Use sector
CO2eTo assess warming impact of different Greenhouse Gases in a single number, they can be converted, for example Methane has 34x the impact of CO2 over a time of 100 years. Nitrous Oxide is 298 timess more powerful than CO2.
COP / COP25, …Usually refers to the yearly climate conferences organized by UNFCCC. In general a Conference of the Parties is the governing body of an international convention.
CRFThe Common Reporting Format is standard set by UNFCCC for the representation of quantitative data in tables.
DeforestationThe removal of a forest from land. Results in habitat damage, biodiversity loss, aridity, extinction, changes to climatic conditions, desertification, and displacement of populations.
DisclosureRefers to companies creating GHG Inventories and disclosing their inventory to investors as part of their regular reporting. Increasingly requested by investors, especially pension and souveraign wealth funds to Divest and reallocate money based on climate risk and impact.
ESGEnvironmental, Social, and Governance refers to the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company or business. They help to better determine the future financial performance of companies (return and risk).
FOLUStands for Forestry and other land use. Also referred to as Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF).
GHGGreenhouse Gas, causes the Greenhouse Effect. They include CO2, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Ozone
Greenhouse EffectThe process by which radiation from a planet’s atmosphere warms the planet’s surface.
GHG InventoryDetailed information on an entity’s emissions and removals of Greenhouse Gases. For example by a country, city or company.
INDC / NDCIntended nationally determined contributions under the UNFCCC
LCOEThe Levelized cost of energy measures the cost of electricity generation over a plant’s lifetime.
Marrakech PartnershipThe Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action is a network of governments, cities, regions, businesses and investors to support the Paris Agreement.
Net Zero
NFRDThe EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive states requirements for companies on how to report certain risks and their impact on e.g. the climate. It’s an instrument to enforce more Disclosure by companies.
NIRNational Inventory Reports are shared by countries with the UNFCC and a containing transparent and detailed information on the country’s GHG Inventory, that is detailed information on emissions and removals of greenhouse gases by that country.
LULUCFLand use, land-use change, and forestry, also refered to as Forestry and other land use (FOLU)
IPCCThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations that is dedicated to providing the world with objective, scientific information relevant to understanding the climate crisis, its impacts, risks, and possible responses. Established in 1988 by WMO and UNEP.
Paris AgreementAgreed upon during COP21 in Paris. Binding commitment by 189 countries to limit global heating to 1.5C
REDDA UN program to reduce forest emissions and enhance carbon stock in forests. It’s the basis of REDD+.
REDD+A voluntary initiative to allow emitting countries to balance out their emissions by supporting developing countries in protecting and expanding their forests.
SDGUN Sustainable Development Goal
TCFDTask Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures
UNEPThe United Nations Environment Programme
UNFCCCThe United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international treaty to stabilize Greenhouse Gas contentrations to prevent dangerous anthropocentic interference with the climate system.
Warming StripesCharts using only color to convey heating trends in global surface temperature. Make trends easier to grasp without distracting articacts or smoothing.
WMOWorld Meteorological Organization

Für die Neugierigen: Die BBC hat auch einen Glossar BBC, der wurde aber seit 2014 nicht mehr aktualisiert.

Dran bleiben?