Ed Thomas of Hazel: climate empowerment with a single click

Ed Thomas of Hazel: climate empowerment with a single click

Understory Team
Understory Team

What if you had the power to draw down carbon levels with the click of a button? Would it ease your worries about the state of our planet and the impact of climate change? Climate anxiety is a growing phenomenon where individuals feel overwhelmed, unempowered, and guilty about immensity of the climate change problem.

A new app by Hazel is empowering individuals to do their part by taking responsibility for their own carbon footprints. In this episode, we talk to Hazel’s Founder Ed Thomas about his quest to calm climate anxiety by making it fun and easy to make a direct impact on the planet. The Hazel app helps users offset their everyday activities on both a per transaction and monthly subscription basis, providing flexibility for its community. Join us to learn more about what we as individuals can do when we feel helpless about the climate crisis.

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Episode Transcript:

JJ (host of The Understory Podcast): Hello everybody, welcome to another episode of The Understory Podcast today. We're really excited to have Ed Thomas, who is the Founder and CEO of Hazel, to join us as our guest for this episode and welcome to The Understory Podcast.

Ed Thomas: Hey JJ, thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here.

JJ: Let's first talk about your background because you have an interesting background and then let's dive into Hazel.

Ed: Absolutely, that sounds great.

JJ: Do you want to tell audiences about more about your background and what brought you to build Hazel today?

Ed: My background is in consumer products. I worked at CNN in the mobile group for a while and then ran an innovation team at Stanley Black and Decker, always with a focus toward consumer products and experiences and a background in startups prior to that. What really drew me into the work that's now led into Hazel has just been a growing recognition of the severity of the climate crisis that we're all facing.

I had a kind of a personal epiphany moment about a year and a half ago. I was working with the guy who became my co-founder at the time. We were talking about doing stuff that matters and getting a chance to focus on something that’s actually really has an impact beyond just a simple bottom-line impact for an organization. We were talking about the fact that climate change is this massive problem. It's something that is literally an existential crisis for us as human beings on the planet. You can't get a much bigger and more profound issue or challenge.

And yet, if you look at the consumer landscape for products that are aimed at helping address that problem, there really weren't a good host of opportunities for folks. There weren't good products for people to use that could have a direct impact at the time and even still today. If you're in the in the market for luxury automobile, you've got the opportunity to buy an electric car. But at a $40,000 to $60,000 minimum price point, with many going over $100,000 that’s not something for most Americans. Most people around the world want to take part of home solar installation or some of these other products that have been touted as climate change solutions.

We set out saying what can we do as consumers and what product can we build as product people that would give an average consumer the ability to have an impact on climate change. That is what is culminating in Hazel.

JJ: Interesting. I think what you're saying about the climate crisis and how it's impacting individuals’ everyday lives and you're having this moment of wanting to build something that is impactful to the future and to the world is really inspiring.

Tell us more about Hazel. What is it? What does it do? Tell us more.

Ed: I could dive into some of the details and I'm excited about the product that we've recently launched. We're out there in the public market now, and I encourage all your all of your listeners to download us and give us a shot.

But first, JJ let me ask you a question when you think about climate change as an individual. How does that make you feel? What do you think about?

JJ: I think that as Understory we see that as a huge challenge on many different levels. Obviously as individuals we experience more and more dramatic changes in weather- and weather-related events. That's tangible. Beyond that - how things are being consumed and wasted. We see that from a circular economy lens and what can be put back into the system and conserve or preserve resources.

Ed: Do you feel very optimistic when you think about climate change right now?

JJ: I think it depends on the day and if you ask our audience, they probably will say the same. There’s lots of capital that going into innovation in renewable energy, in circular economy. So that's exciting. At the same time, there are problems that are really pressing, and lot of those technologies take a very long time to materialize and get implemented. How do we kind of make these small behavioral changes on daily basis that can effect bigger change? I think that's a bigger question. We hear a lot of the innovators and entrepreneurs on our podcast talking about that. But there isn't a silver bullet.

Ed: Absolutely. Let's come back to the behavioral change because that's actually a key issue that you bring up.

I've spent probably the last almost two years talking to consumers and the overwhelming reaction I get from folks is: “I feel anxiety. I am worried to the point of or I am absolutely panicked about what I see happening around me in the climate. I'm losing sleep over it literally.” To the point where a lot of folks in their 20s and 30s are delaying having families or even deciding not to have kids at all because they see the climate catastrophe happening around them and they're panicked about the future.

We're trying to address that. Hazel is a recognition that even if we do what we need to do about reducing our emissions - so we switch to electric vehicles, we switch to solar power, we start using wind, we draw down emissions, and we really get the emissions problem under wraps and get down to a manageable level or neutral level. We've still got way too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And it's not going away. It's a long-lived compound in the atmosphere.

We’re providing average consumers with the power, through a mobile app, to draw down global carbon levels directly themselves. Using Hazel, our users can fund specific carbon removal projects and have carbon pulled out of the atmosphere for a couple of bucks. And dialing down their level of anxiety and worry because they're actually able to finally do something. One of the key things that we kept hearing from folks is: “I'm on the world's worst roller coaster, and I don't know who's in charge. I've got elected leaders who aren't doing anything. I'm waiting for corporate America to do what they need to do and take charge. Nothing is working like it should and I can't do anything. I'm unempowered.”

We're trying to change that and flip that script and give people the ability to do something and give them back that sense of empowerment, because through Hazel you really can have a direct impact and you can have the ability to reduce the global carbon levels directly yourself.

We're trying to make it fun. So much about the climate change space, understandably, is incredibly negative and stressful. Anything you read in the news is just varying degrees of how awful things are going and how quickly things are going in a bad direction. We wanted to be a voice of calm and soothing and critically a voice of optimism.

When using a platform like ours, you can have a direct impact and you can help fix things and help turn that story around. We're trying to make it fun and easy to reduce global carbon levels and directly draw down atmospheric carbon and make it super simple and fun and easy for folks to do.

JJ: On that point, can you give the audience a few examples of what they can fund through the Hazel App?

Ed: One of the powers of Hazel is that we're trying to make it as easy for folks as possible, so there's other solutions out there that kind of require you to become a climate expert yourself so that you can vet what you want to do and pick the projects that you want to support. If you want to do that through Hazel, we provide you all the tools. We make it easy for you to do. We also recognize that for the vast majority of people, they want to know that you know they can click a button and directly impact things without having to be an expert themselves or go through a lot of tedious scientific information to understand what's going on. We've taken all that burden on.

We've identified about a half a dozen specific nature-based solutions that have an impact on global carbon levels - things like conservation work, forestry, work at regenerative farming, some different activities one can take in ocean environments.

Within each of those broad categories, we've scanned and worked through and met and talked to and vetted a couple of dozen different providers of carbon removal offsets from that category. We’ve picked the top one or maybe two in terms of impact per dollar and the most impactful way of reducing carbon. We've put all that in the Hazel app and we're adding new partners as we speak. We're launching one new strategic partner every month to every six weeks, and we'll be continuing to build out through 2022.

You as the user have the ability to fund not just one solution, and to not have to go out and vet everything yourself, but through a single click with Hazel fund, you can fund the entire portfolio of solutions, with one shot.

You can get all the best solutions out there and fund everything across the board and know that your dollar is being maximized and the amount of impact that you're having is being maximized on climate change.

JJ: For people who are not very familiar with these kinds of kind of activities, can you describe in more detail? Let's say if I'm a user and I like certain projects in certain organizations on the Hazel app. What do I do, pay a certain price to contribute to their program? How does the fund flow and how do they see the impact?

Ed: That's a great question. We give users two different paths they can follow. This is based on what users have been asking from us. For some people, they want to have an impact that is equal to or slightly greater than some negative action they've taken. We call those supplemental impacts. For instance, if you drive a Honda Accord sedan and you just filled up the tank of gas. The tank of gas is going to have a negative impact on the environment and on the climate through the carbon that it releases.

You don't have to be an expert on how much or calculate anything like that. You can just go into Hazel, and you can pick sedan tank of gas, pick that check out and for about $3 or less, you can remove that amount of carbon and a little bit more so that you can be part of the solution through purchasing that tank of gas. It’s an easy way people talk about offsetting. It's an offset option, but we don't really think of it as offsetting, we just think of that as having a positive impact on the environment.

The other path that we opened up recently back in November was based on user demand. It’s a variant on an easy button. Users kept telling us they don't even want to have to think what I did that I want to offset. Just tell me how much I should pay month, just give me a figure. I'll even set it on Autopilot, make a subscription so I don't have to worry about it in the future. That way I know that I'm being good, and I'm part of this solution.

We stepped back and we let's calculate. We know what the negative net growth of global carbon is every year. Let's add 20% to that. It's a huge number. Then let's divide that across all the different smartphone users on the planet. If everyone used Hazel, how much would everyone’s equal share be on reducing carbon and eliminating global warming. It’s like 13 bucks. If you just want an easy button, we also have that. You can pick that and give me the equivalent of 100% of an impact. I'll do that, but then I don't even have to worry about like specific actions I'm taking or anything.

We refer to that in our app as the baseline option. We see people now doing, you know 100% baseline. We see some people doing 1.5x or 2x or 3x baseline because they want to know that they're doing not just their share, but they're also picking up the tab for other people who aren't fortunate enough to be able to afford it.

And regardless of how much you're doing within our app, all of it is positive for the climate, whether you're doing the removal of a single tank of gas once a month, or you're doing a full 100% baseline or even doing more than that. It’s all positive. In our community and within our platform, we try to celebrate everyone who's doing any bit of work for positive climate change because you are part of the solution if you're using Hazel.

JJ: That's an interesting model, making it easier for people. What is the business model for Hazel?

Ed: We retail carbon offsets at the baseline. We add a small markup to what we saw from our partners. The vast majority of the money that you pay into Hazel goes to the specific projects that we're sponsoring, and that's what really drives the impact.

JJ: Very cool. How do users find out more about Hazel? How do they get the app and for projects and partners, how do they get in touch with Hazel so that Hazel continues to grow and continue to make the impact that you're speaking of?

Ed: We would love to chat with anyone who is involved with a carbon removal project. If you're doing something interesting and think that Hazel might be an interesting fit for you, or a way to get the word out about the work that you do. The easiest way would be to contact us through our website. The website is gethazelapp.com.

If you are a consumer and want to be part of a climate solution, the starting point would either be to find us on the web at gethazelapp.com or through social media. We're on Instagram or on LinkedIn or on Twitter. We're kind of everywhere.

If you just want to go directly and grab Hazel onto your phone, we're available both in the iOS store and on Google Play, where we are “Hazel-reverse climate change” to make it crystal clear for folks. We'd love to have you as part of our community.

I would like to throw out as a challenge to all your all of your listeners: You're listening to this podcast, because you're concerned about the environment. You're concerned about sustainability. You're concerned and probably worried and maybe even borderline panicked about climate change. Do something. We're a really easy way to be part of a solution.

We're fun. It's an exciting product to use where we're adding in a lot of exciting fun game experiences into the into the overall experience. We’re also young and growing and would love to have all your listeners as users. We would like to know what they think, where we can improve and just be part of our community. We would love to have all of you guys on board.

JJ: Thank you so much for coming on and telling us about Hazel. It's interesting and we'll share more with our community. We look forward to seeing continued impact from your company and our audience. Thank you so much again for joining The Understory Podcast.

Understory is a global platform for innovators and innovation that are trying to make our world and future more sustainable. You can also join us in other podcasts as well as at our December 1st showcase and we look to see everybody there.

Thank you so much for joining us today

Ed: Fantastic JJ. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Have a happy holidays.

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