What are you working on now?
I’m working to grow our GRITS platform (gogrits.org) for helping institutions manage, share and celebrate their energy efficiency and other sustainability projects. We just celebrated GRITS’s 5th anniversary on Earth Day. Historically, we’ve worked primarily with universities but more recently, we’ve been engaging with other industries to expand access to a range of sectors including airports, city/county/state governments, companies, cultural institutions, hospitals and K-12 schools. It has been both exciting and really challenging building sales/marketing/engagement processes and experimenting with what works well and what flops. We’ve also grown organically without taking any external capital or spending any money on advertising, so it has been an adventure!
What led you to the work you’re doing now?
Our work on GRITS is the third major evolution in the 14 years since I founded the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) as a nonprofit under Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in 2005. I’ve cared about environmental/sustainability issues since I was a little kid in the ’80s when I watched my parents spend years painstakingly build a green, eco-friendly and nontoxic home for our family in the woods in western mass where I grew up. When I started SEI we decided to focus on the sustainability practices of universities since I was a very active sustainability advocate when I was a student at Williams College and was frustrated with the lack of action on sustainability at most colleges. So, we created the first Green Report Card and started grading hundreds of universities annually on their sustainability practice. After doing that for five years we wound it down and changed our focus to our work on green revolving funds as an innovative way to systematically increase funding/investment in energy efficiency and sustainability projects by institutions which led us to launch the Billion Dollar Green Challenge in 2012 And then in 2014 we finally were able to launch GRITS after spending 2+ years raising money and building the beta version of the tool. We now work with 700+ institutions across a variety of sectors all across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with plans to expand into Europe starting next month. I’m really passionate about using data and better tools to help accelerate the implementation of climate solutions from cutting edge to technology to even basic upgrades like LED efficient lightbulbs or low-flow bathroom fixtures. GRITS helps track and make the business case for all of these types of projects and more and our GRITS Library of 2,700 completed projects shows a median ROI of 16%.
If you could go back and give yourself three pieces of advice when you started your project/organization/business, what would that advice be?
1) Be ready and flexible enough to pivot and change directions when the winds are blowing a different way. But also don’t give up! Dig as deep as you can to persevere in face of funding challenges or other adversity because you can often make it through if you don’t give up. There’s been at least three times in our 14-year history that we’ve come up to the precipice and looked down into the abyss but have been able to find a path forward that has led to the point where we are now which is that we’re financially self-sufficient through earned revenue as an organization and don’t need to rely on grants or other types of support to keep going.
2) Keep up with friends/colleagues and always explore different clever ways to partner because partnerships that really leverage each partner’s strengths can be trans-formative. We wouldn’t exist as an organization without a few key partnerships and funding agencies over.
3) Try not to take rejection personally or let the feeling of rejection linger. When you’re work and life are so intertwined as a founder it can be easy to take “no” responses or being ignored personally. I definitely have had and still have many difficult moments when you/what you’ve built is being rejected either by a potential funding source, user or partner. It stings. I wish I had better advice for my younger self on this one but it isn’t easy and I’ve found the best I can do is try to learn more about the “why” behind the no and then also to move on and focus on what’s next. If others have ideas on this one I’m also all ears!
Visit the Organization’s Website: www.gogrits.org