Brighter Planet's blog
For almost seven years, Brighter Planet has been a constant source of inspiration for me and, I’m proud to say, for the broader sustainability community. This makes it all the more difficult to announce that the company and its Brighter Planet Visa cards and other services are coming to the end of the line.
We thank our customers, our partners, and all those with whom we’ve worked with over the years to move the needle on building a clean-energy future. It’s phenomenal how knowing what your carbon footprint is and what you can do about it or even what simple choices like which card to pull out of your wallet can do. Because of you, we offset over 350 million lbs. of CO2, supporting the development of 24 renewable energy and sustainable forestry projects across the US. This is the equivalent of over 20,000 homes being electrified by renewable energy for a year, removing over 10 million cars from the road for a day, or every cardholder turning off all the lights in their home for more than a year.
We also thank our investors, leadership boards, and experts who have supported and advised us over the years. As a business that came to be profitable with almost 200,000 customers, we hope that we have helped demonstrate, along with all of our compatriots in the social entrepreneurship world, that you can certainly do well while also doing good.
I must thank our team too, past and present, the soul of Brighter Planet. Andy, Seamus, Robbie, Ian H., Nancy, Matt K., Derek, Jon, Jake, Adam, Carolyn, Rich St., Daniel, Emily, Ashley, Bruce, David, Ian W., Kerry, Matt V., Rich Sa., Remy, and others. Some were with us for more than five years, others were interns for a few months, all played a role in our many successes.
You may be wondering why we are liquidating at this point. Having led businesses large and small, I can tell you that winding a company down is the toughest decision to make. It was not one that Brighter Planet’s Board or shareholders took lightly.
A perfect storm of regulatory upheaval made Brighter Planet’s business model increasingly challenging and financially non-sustainable going forward. The passage of the Durbin Act, intended as a plus for U.S. consumers and merchants, upended the card market, effectively precluding economically viable rewards cards that provide revenue for cause-based organizations including Brighter Planet. At the same time, the government’s inaction on meaningful cap-and-trade and the rise and fall of the U.S. carbon markets negated the need for and value of computational sustainability tools for businesses—tools that we pioneered in developing. Finally, the country’s economic meltdown these past few years naturally impacted discretionary spending by consumers and businesses, in turn impacting companies offering products and services like Brighter Planet.
Since getting our start in a Middlebury College classroom in 2005, so much has changed. The powerful call to action of An Inconvenient Truth came the year after Brighter Planet was created, and left millions of Americans searching for ways to make a difference in climate change, the most important challenge our world faces today. Back then, there weren’t many significant organizations devoted to the global warming challenge. Brighter Planet in partnership with the Bank of America and Visa offered a straightforward first step for people to reduce their impact on our planet’s atmosphere, and we appreciate the bold steps that these partners took along with us.
Now in 2013, I see a myriad of ways for people and businesses to take action. With organizations like 350.org building the largest climate movement the world has seen or CERES mobilizing business leadership for a sustainable world, I think it’s safe to say that while we certainly haven’t solved the climate problem, the community has made a serious dent in the participation problem. That you no longer need a credit or debit card to join the fight is cause for celebration.
So while Brighter Planet is wrapping up, I’m happy to count hundreds more capabilities that have sprung up from the ingenuity of the community as well as thousands of organizations both big and small that transformed themselves to embrace sustainability within their core businesses. Even several of Brighter Planet’s former employees, including one of its founders, have formed a new startup, Faraday, to apply Big Data technology to customer acquisition of energy efficiency solutions. What so many for-profits, not-for-profits, and individuals are doing today in 2013 is nothing short of amazing.
I’d like to close with some of my favorite Brighter Planet highlights from these past several years:
Managed the country’s largest consumer carbon offset program with almost 200,000 customers, outlasting every competitor in our space
Supported the development of 24 projects such as wind power in public school districts and open lands, cow power on family farms, and conservation of redwood forests, decreasing our dependence on carbon-emitting dirty energy sources like coal burning power plants and removing carbon from the atmosphere
Modeled over 27.5 million carbon, energy, and resource impacts of real-life carbon emissions sources, the most in the country
Conducted groundbreaking research in the aviation and hotel sectors, examining key drivers of energy efficiency and analyzing economic and environmental benefits
Assessed employee sustainability engagement in corporations and identified best practices
Provided grants to support community climate projects such as school gardens
Ran industry defining social media campaigns
Successfully built and sold a social giving platform
Named the country’s Best Small Business by Discovery Channel’s Treehugger
Won the Financial Times Social Innovation Award
Won the EPA’s Apps for the Environment Award
Recognized as thought leaders, presenting the company’s work to diverse audiences such as the technology, corporate travel, energy, and open government communities
Thank you all.