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October 09, 2007


Barbara Lamont

This article was especially helpful. We are a large government contractor and quite interested in the new "green setaside" for green contractors to the Federal government. Cooler will probably be able to help us establish policies and get an edge on the competition. As a service company, we need a way to measure our economic impact on the environment. This is very exciting!

Mark McElroy


Assuming the Cooler methodology is reliable, I have a question. If a product is climate neutral (according to Cooler), is it OK to buy as much of it as we want, even though it may not be neutral in terms of impacts on other natural resources?

Which part of this ostensible solution to our broader and unsustainable ecological impacts on earth, grounded in the view that our rising levels of consumption are "inevitable," as you put it, are we supposed to feel good about in light of Cooler? And when did we agree on the "inevitable" part?



Linda Walsh


Is Cooler's business model sustainable?
I'm curious about the types of deals they strike with the manufacturers. Where does contribution to carbon offsets fit in the P&L? Are they investing with their profits?

What's missing from your article and from their website is any mention of the relationship between the cost of an item (or average cost for that item's category) and the percent of the sale going to carbon offsets. In other words, is the total carbon footprint for that item covered with Cooler's contribution to renewable energy?

Asher Miller

"All told, Cooler is a compelling business. I've poked and prodded a bit to find the greenwash potential, the thing that critics will zero in on to show that it isn't all it's cracked up to be. I haven't found it, though I'm sure others will; they always do."

First, let me say that I was really pleased to hear about LEAPS. Our program is designed to help people reduce their impact and one of the four major areas we're helping people address is lifestyle choices. But it's been exceedingly difficult to get concrete data about the impact of consumer choices (shopping bags, bottled water, etc.). It would be great if Berkeley would share the specific data with the public.

Now my problems with Cooler:
1. The website doesn't even make a nominal effort towards education. It's great for Gelobter to say: "We don't want people to have any excuse for buying. We don't want to help people absolve their sins. We actually want to solve this problem." But what is Climate Cooler actually doing to educate people about the impacts of climate change and the three Rs?

2. Is Cooler going to put any effort into getting the companies they work with to reduce the environmental impacts of their products or are they just going to slap an "offset" band-aid on the problem? I had the opportunity to speak with a member of the Cooler team recently and was disappointed to hear little if any interest in this. I asked him point-blank about this and got the sense that this is not part of their vision.

If, as Joel states, "inevitably, we'll still end up buying more (and more) stuff," shouldn't this be a MAJOR priority for Gelobter and his team, if they are indeed deeply concerned about addressing this crisis?

I am not opposed to carbon offset programs and see a role that they could play in bringing both consumers and consumer product companies into the mix. But I would be far more intrigued and supportive of Cooler if its long-term vision was to help partners shift from providing offsets to developing more sustainable products. They have a real opportunity to play this key role.

Mark McElroy


I really like the way this discussion is going. Unfortunately, not all other sustainability blogs are as open as this one to dissenting and hard-hitting points of view.

Regarding the LEAPS model, I downloaded and read the underlying theoretical paper by Chris Jones after reading yesterday's posting from Joel. I guess I came away unimpressed. On the one hand, the theory behind LEAPS suggests that consumers are responsible for all impacts of products up and down the supply chain, while on the other it simultaneously suggests that consumers ought not to be. Which is it? These contradictory statements are made no less than two paragraphs apart from one another on the same page -- page 1 in fact.

Of even more concern to me is the mistaken and seemingly pervasive idea that products, per se, can be sustainable or not. To be clear, an inanimate object, a widget, can be toxic, non-toxic, biodegradable, non-biodegradable, undesirable, etc., but it cannot be sustainable or unsustainable, per se. Sustainability is a property of processes and/or living systems, not inanimate or static objects.

Ideed, to refer to a product as unsustainable is merely to shift the blame for the unwanted impacts of an unsustainable (manufacturing or business) process to the artefactual outcome that follows, and then on to the consumer of the outcome. It is the act of making an offensive product that should be deemed unsustainable, not the product itself. The same is true with the effects of its use and disposal. This perspective paves the way for a more effective means of measuring and reporting sustainability, which I think the LEAPS model manages to completely miss.



James Murray

I'd agree Cooler's business model looks very impressive and the combination of the LEAPs calculations and the third party endorsed offsets minimises the greenwash risk.

However, one of the key questions has to be what their stance is on standards?

I've seen the embedded carbon calculations described as proprietary and if this is the case they could end up doing more harm than good.

Unless this methodology becomes a globally recognised standard other offsetting companies and retailers will inevitably launch their own similar services based on their own calculations which will allow them to compete on price.

Customers meanwhile will be left hugely confused - just as they are with conventional offset schemes - over which calculations to believe and which provider to go with, rapidly undermining the effectiveness of the whole model.

We already have the LEAPS model and the Carbon Trust's proposed methodology for measuring embedded carbon and it is only a matter of time before more emerge further confusing things.

A willingness to embrace one clear standard for offsetting and measuring embedded carbon is the only way to make Cooler's model work.

Mark McElroy

Hello James:

I disagree.....in a sense. As you say, the "willingness to embrace one clear standard for offsetting and measuring embedded carbon" may be the only way to make carbon Cooler's model work, but the premise behind Cooler's model is deeply flawed, so who cares what it takes to make it work?

The flaw behind Cooler is the view that manufacturers have no responsibility for the environmental consequences of their operations, not to mention their products. The "embedded carbon" approach implicitly absolves manufacturers of such responsibility, and shifts the blame, or duty to act, to consumers. It's as if to say, producers can produce whatever they like; it is up to consumers to approve or disapprove of such actions with their purchases.

Sorry. Producers cannot produce whatever they like. The assessment of carbon impacts should not be product-centric; rather, they should be action-centric, including both the act of production and consumption, and also disposal. Stop absolving producers, and the upstream supply chain! What we need are sustainability measurement and reporting systems that hold producers accountable for their acts of production, not just consumers accountable for their acts of consumption.



Michel Gelobter

First of all, on behalf of all of us at Cooler, let me say thanks for this good feedback and great questions. I’ve been out of the loop for a couple of days at a retreat convened by Yale aimed at crafting a new vision of a world in harmony with nature. (The results will be posted over the next few months, so check it out at http://www.environment.yale.edu/newconsciousness/)

Let me try to catch up a little bit. I’ll start with the questions about Cooler’s overall purpose and then dive down to the questions about our business model.

Cooler’s goal is to connect every purchase to a solution for global warming. One way we do that is to eliminate the global warming impact of any product sold through our website or directly by one of our retail or manufacturing clients. After calculating the global warming impact of products and helping our partners understand and reduce that footprint, Cooler offsets the entire carbon footprint to the point-of-sale of making, transporting, and retailing products and services. So, are we part of the solution or part of the problem?

1. On Consumption: Almost 40% of the average American’s global warming impact comes from purchases of everyday goods and services. Shopping, as we do it now, is part of the climate crisis. But trading goods for money has been part of existence for a long time. What Cooler does is start to repair the fabric of commerce by connecting the purchases you make to knowledge of and a solution for their negative impact on climate.

2. On Production: Cooler was designed to help businesses produce more sustainable products. We do this in three ways. First, our business clients get a robust assessment of the carbon footprint of their products in a matter of days, as well as a detailed analysis of the major contributors to that footprint for each and every product. They can start driving carbon out of their production immediately with this data. Second, our business clients have a financial incentive to reduce because many of them are paying for our offsets, so their efforts to reduce pay off in reduced offset costs. Third, Cooler gives our business clients a platform to let consumers know the stuff they’re doing to reduce their impact so they can grow consumer recognition for their good work in addition to bottom line savings.

On our business model: Cooler’s revenue comes from the fees our business clients pay for our whole service: information on knowing, reducing, and offsetting the global warming impact of consumer goods and services. Cooler makes no money on the purchase or sale of offsets. All the offset funding flows into a non-profit Impact Fund that buys offsets according to guidelines set by our environmental partners. Our business clients pay the straight cost of offsets, invoiced directly back to them.

Is our business model sustainable?

Yes, because we give our consumer and business customers something they vitally want – a way to act now on climate change. Yes, because we charge a fair price for what we do. And yes, because we work hard to repair the fabric of commerce and our planet so that all of us can lead richer, more fulfilling lives.

Thanks again to Joel and to all those who posted for a great dialogue and for sharing in the work to solve global warming...

Mark McElroy

Hello Michel:

Thanks for chiming in. I think we could all benefit from a case of where a producer has, in fact, taken steps to drive carbon out of their production as a result of Cooler's influence. Or perhaps it is too soon for that, since Cooler is rather new.

Also, what proportion of a product's purchase price on Cooler is invoiced back to producers for related offsets? What's the range?



Eco Interactive

Eco Interactive in partnership with Kids Saving the Rain forest offers Carbon Neutral Travel Program for travel to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is an incredible destination for your next family vacation. The philosophy behind Eco Interactive Tours extends beyond creating a minimal ecological footprint. The Eco Interactive Tours base philosophy is to leverage revenues from Eco Tourism into positive outcomes. In other words we strive for maximum impact through our reforestation and awareness programs. In partnership with Kids Saving the Rain forest, The Eco Preservation Society and Rainmaker Conservation Project, the Eco Interactive Family Vacation Experience offers a travel experience that your family will never forget. Eco Interactive is a unique Eco Tour company that gives 85% to philanthropic projects in Costa Rica. Our current project is the Saving Mono Titi documentary about the endangered Mono Titi Squirrel monkeys in Manuel Antonio.


Clifford Waldeck

Hi Joel--I'm no expert on carbon neutral shopping but a simple, low hanging fruit, solution would be to walk from your home or office and buy environmentally friendly products at a local retailer.


Kit Stolz

I'm really intrigued...but can't learn more, because the Cooler domain has been "parked."

Guess it's not up and running...yet.


I'm a little confused - can you clarify: is the CO2 calculation for any given specific product, or a product line from a particular brand, or simply a product line?

In other words, is the calculation by product category eg. all T-shirts, all LCD TVs etc. Or a particular brand of eg. Diesel T-shirts, SONY LCD TVs etc? Or a particular/specific product?

On one hand I seem to be hearing 'product categories' and on the other hand 'individual products'...

Many Thanks,


Travel Guy

Good information here. What do you think it'll take to change the habits of those going on vacation or planning travel. Do you think carbon neutral themes will catch on in the tour and tourism industry? Anyway, good info, thanks!

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