2014 Grants Challenge

Climate Cents

Climate Cents is an online platform that connects Angelenos to local projects that improve LA’s environment and reduce greenhouse gases.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Climate Cents is an online platform that connects Angelenos to local projects that improve LA’s environment and reduce greenhouse gases.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay


What is your idea/project in more detail?

Climate Cents provides a way for Angelenos to improve LA’s environment and connect with their neighbors across the city while helping to prevent climate change. When Angelenos go to the CC website, they sign up to support environmental projects of their choosing with a small monthly contribution. These projects, run by partner organizations, include restoring kelp forests, planting trees and urban gardens, and upgrading the energy-efficiency of low-income houses. CC collects data on the amount of carbon-reduction impact of each project per dollar spent. CC then presents supporters with that information in user-friendly form, including a stream of photos, videos, and data visualizations that show the impact of their contribution.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Climate Cents is in the process of launching. We are in the beta-phase now, creating a website and testing the user-experience of it with a group of beta-users, while also experimenting with organizational partnerships and data-collection. During the beta phase, the test group will be donating to the Kelp Restoration Project at The Bay Foundation. Since nearly 40% of the CO2 in our atmosphere is absorbed by our oceans, kelp forests have been identified as effective carbon sinks that can sequester carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change. Climate Cents has already formed a relationship with the Bay Foundation for this purpose. As users follow the project they have funded, we will track how they experience the interactive process.

Once the beta phase ends in September, we will take what we have learned and refine the concept and execution. We will hire a digital designer to create a full-fledged, robust website by December. We will also sign partnership agreements with three additional environmental groups, including TreePeople, LAANE’s Repower LA (a partnership with LADWP’s Utility Pre-Craft Trainee (UPCT) program), and Harbor Community Benefit Foundation. We will refine data and photo-gathering procedures, and iron out organizational kinks. In preparation for a January 2015 public launch, we will hire a marketing team and work with them to garner significant publicity. We also plan to hold a series of Climate Cents parties across LA in January, February, and March 2014 to build support and secure a large number of initial sign-ups. Through 2015, we will be conducting extensive outreach to neighborhood councils, religious institutions, schools, housing associations, environmental symposiums and events, and other community-based groups to gain new supporters.

Climate Cents will allow individuals to broadcast their carbon reduction notifications to their friends and networks. Through the power of social media, we will constantly demonstrate that we are not powerless in our fight against climate change, and that something can be done. This positive feedback feature is crucial to Climate Cents. Many of the strategies to combat climate change do not engage people on a personal level. We will encourage residents to take pride and invest in their city, while also cleaning our air and bringing people together for a common cause.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LIVE today? In 2050?

The most measurable pay-off from Climate Cents, both now and in 2050, is increased funding for tree planting, urban farms, ocean revitalization, and energy efficiency projects that will make LA a healthier, more pleasant, and more connected place to live. These will contribute to a city in which people don’t face environmental health hazards, where they can breathe clean air, drink clean water, relax and exercise among ample greenery and in the oceans, and eat good local food.

But the truth is that no single project can make LA the healthiest place to live — it will take a collective effort. So Climate Cents works to improve L.A.’s environment and to counter climate change in ways that complement existing efforts. We amplify funding for effective local environmental initiatives and helps them to more carefully measure, track, and broadcast their outcomes.

LA has long been a city seemingly separate and definitely unequal, especially on matters of health, environment, and livability. What makes Climate Cents unique is to catalyze a city-wide collaboration to tackle the problems we ultimately all share. We will drive funding from more affluent areas toward remedies for some of the city’s worst environmental hotspots. Residents from across LA will be able to invest in tree-planting and energy efficiency projects in their own neighborhoods. The result is a renewed sense of civic pride and purpose.

No place, especially LA, will be able to remain even as healthy and livable as they are today without tackling climate change. Rapid climate change has already begun to harm ecosystems globally. It’s contributing to rising sea levels, intensifying droughts, and rapidly melting snowpacks across California. In LA, rising temperatures will lead to “adverse effects on human health, including increases in heat stress, respiratory diseases, and infectious diseases.” (C-Change.LA.)

It’s important to take on this challenge locally. So many of the efforts to fight climate change are distant from people’s ordinary lives and will start working only over the long-term. Before policy reforms and technological transformation become a reality, we need to make incremental efforts that get regular people engaged. While there are programs that fight climate change, there’s no comprehensive organization that groups these efforts, develops a central hub to fund them and to track progress in reducing carbon emissions. That’s the special role Climate Cents can and will play.

Whom will your project benefit?

Climate Cents will help people and neighborhoods all over Los Angeles, with specific benefits in low-income and disadvantaged communities that have suffered the worst effects of environmental injustice. LA’s environmental problems are severe. Our area has some of the worst air quality in the nation, which results from a combination of industrial production and automobile exhaust, especially from the port/trucking sector. And the brunt of pollution falls disproportionately on low-income neighborhoods, in predominantly Latino and Black communities. Since these communities are three times more likely to live close to hazardous facilities, their exposure to air toxins is fifty percent greater than other Angelenos.

We aim to concentrate our partnerships and environmental projects will be concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. Planting trees across South LA, the Eastside, and the Northeast Valley will be vital to making those places healthier and more livable. The removal of particulate matter and toxins from the air is vital. Urban gardens can help provide quality food. And increasing the percentage of tree canopy cover can make the city more beautiful and more walkable, leading to fitter, more resilient communities, with more opportunities to reduce the mental and physical stresses of urban living.

The project will benefit those in other neighborhoods because pollution doesn’t stop the boundaries of zip codes. Trees in South LA help clean the air of toxins, particulate matter, and carbon that would soon spread elsewhere. Kelp forests in the Santa Monica Bay clean the water that circulates among all the region’s beaches. Energy efficiency upgrades reduce costs and free up capacity for everyone on the network.

The city as whole will benefit from Climate Cents too. Mitigating climate change is important on its own and by galvanizing the city’s population into cross-neighborhood collaboration, we will create a sense of civic purpose and pride. Residents from across LA will be investing in one another and their shared future. And Climate Cents members will gain personally too, as they gain a sense of agency and connection, seeing the benefits their projects all around the city they live in, creating a virtuous cycle of publicity, excitement, and greater investment.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We have confirmed a partnership with the Bay Foundation to fund their Kelp Restoration Project as part of our beta-test. We are in talks with three more groups, listed below, for the January 2015 launch of Climate Cents. There’s a standard relationship between Climate Cents and its partners. We provide funding for the partners to amplify the impact of their environmental projects and in return, the partners facilitate CC’s calculation of carbon reduction per dollar invested and the visual documentation of the project’s impact.

1. The Bay Foundation will expand its work of restoring kelp forests in waters off of LA. Reversing the 75% decline in these forests over the past century will help our local ecosystems, clean the water, and sequester a significant amount of carbon from the ocean, which absorbs nearly 30-40% of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide.

2. TreePeople will expand its work of planting tens of thousands of trees across LA, sequestering many tons of carbon and creating better environment for Angelenos.

3. LAANE’s Repower LA program, in partnership with LADWP’s Utility Pre-Craft Trainee (UPCT) program, will expand its work, which offers free home energy-efficiency retrofits and trains low-income Angelenos in electrical work.

4. Harbor Community Benefit Foundation will expand its tree planting initiatives to counter abysmal air quality for communities near the Port of LA.

We are exploring partnerships with other groups for the future: Urban Food Gardens, the National Forest Foundation, Tree Musketeers, and Northeast Trees.

The success of our collaborations will depend on a trusting relationship and clear expectations about each party’s responsibilities and deliverables. We are creating a standard memorandum of understanding, which will minimize the risk of miscommunication and divergent expectations. For Climate Cents, we must have guarantees that our funding contributions will flow directly and completely to the pre-set projects, and not be diverted to other programs or administrative costs. We must also regularly receive updated information about the results of the funding, with specific metrics such as trees planted and pounds of carbon reduced. We will also need to access to the partner’s project sites so we can document them with photo and videos. In return, partners should have a clear expectation of how roughly much funding they can expect from Climate Cents and on what basis and conceivable schedule it will be provided.

How will your project impact the LA2050 LIVE metrics?

Access to healthy food

Exposure to air toxins

Percent of imported water

Obesity rates

Walk/bike/transit score

Acres and miles of polluted waterways

Rates of mental illnesses

Prevalence of adverse childhood experience (Dream Metric)

Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Percentage of tree canopy cover (Dream Metric)

Carbon dioxide emissions per capita

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Climate Cents works by collaborating with environmental groups that are already making a difference on these metrics and using its platform to supercharge their impact through data transparency, public awareness, and crowdsourced funding.

Planting more trees is the only way to achieve the dream metric of greater tree canopy cover, and it also is vital to accomplishing other metrics as well. According to a research study published this week, “trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S.” Trees clean the air of toxins, remove carbon, cool surrounding areas, conserve energy, save water, prevent water pollution, reduce UV exposure, provide food, alleviate mental and physical fatigue, bring people together, provide a space for wildlife, beautify neighborhoods, and increase local business traffic.

Trees very effectively scrub air toxins and remove particulate matter from the air. Energy efficiency upgrades and the installation of solar panels reduce negative emissions at the source.

Trees slow the evaporation of water, making sure that what rains in LA, stay in LA. Trees help prevent water pollution by reducing erosion and stormwater run-off. Kelp forests help to filter ocean water. The presence of more trees has been documented to increase the walkability of neighborhoods. The shade and beauty they furnish lead people to feel more comfortable moving through the streets on foot.

By increasing walkability and providing more hospitable outdoors spaces for exercise and other physical activity, trees have been shown to help lower obesity rates.

Likewise, multiple studies have demonstrated that the powerful psychological benefits of proximity to trees. Being in a tree-filled environment relieves stress and mental fatigue, helping people to concentrate and even to heal faster from surgeries and illnesses.

Trees can play a part in improving childhood experiences through their positive effects on mental and physical health. Children find space and inspiration under the cover of trees. Events to plant trees offer opportunities for fun, accessible community projects.

Trees are crucial to community resilience through better air quality, improved mental and physical health, more connections among the community, and increased local business traffic. Energy efficiency upgrades economically advance disadvantaged communities by saving money and creating good jobs.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Evaluation and measurement are central to the concept of Climate Cents. We intend for Climate Cents to become the premier public clearinghouse for local, crowd-sourced investment in local carbon reduction projects through careful tracking and transparent broadcasting of data. We will be scientifically measuring the carbon reduction achieved by each project we invest in, calculating the payoff per dollar, and reporting the results, with a high level of granularity, back to the Climate Cents members. For that reason, there are many metrics we will be able to use as we evaluate the success of Climate Cents.

1. We believe that engaging people with practical, constructive solutions will help build momentum for far-reaching approaches to climate change and civic mobilization. To achieve overall reduction and to engage the most people possible, we will pay close attention to the number of individuals who commit to monthly membership in Climate Cents. The more people we can involve, the more we will galvanize a civic conversation and a movement. Our goal is a cumulative total of 8,800 monthly members by September 2015, with a cumulative investment of $1,125,000.

2. We seek to efficiently converting financial support into carbon reduction. To that end, we will carefully track and strive to maximize the number of pounds of carbon reduced per dollar. Our current estimate is that every dollar removes 100 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere over the life of the project. To put it differently, it will cost us $20 to remove one ton of carbon from the atmosphere.

3. We thus expect to achieve a cumulative reduction of 56,250 tons of carbon from the atmosphere with the year’s investment of $1,125,000, which is the equivalent of negating the emissions of nearly 4,700 households.

4. We aim to convert 100% of online membership support into carbon reduction projects, with all overhead and administrative costs covered by major donor gifts and grants from foundations, corporations and government agencies.

5. We seek to maximize the benefits of Climate Cents’ projects in disadvantaged communities. Our aim is to have at least 65 percent of project dollars go to work in these areas.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Climate Cents starts from the premise that people would like to take action on critical environmental problems like LA’s poor air quality and the rising tide of global climate change, but feel too overwhelmed and powerless to actually do something. It can be difficult to engage people about a seemingly insurmountable problem, especially when their lives are busy and most strategies don’t engage them personally.

The lesson behind Climate Cents is that if we make it local, easy, fun, and social enough, people will gladly take a little bit of action to make a difference. We’ve seen time and again how the Internet has facilitated participation and lowered barriers to involvement. You can get a lot of people to “Like,” “Share,” “Favorite” and “Retweet” on social media if a post is catchy enough. And you can even get people to hand over real money to play games with strangers.

At the same time, we’ve learned about successful local environmental projects which improve the lives of ordinary Angelenos and contribute to the fight against climate change, but which haven’t been curated in one place for non-experts to compare and support.

And we know that solutions to environmental problems require collective action and yet Angelenos are especially disconnected from each other

So the key is to marry the ease and fun of digital participation with real-world projects.

The Climate Cents platform is the culmination of these insights into the nature of collective action in today’s digital yet disconnected Los Angeles.

By establishing the world’s first responsive and transparent system for investing in, tracking, and viewing the impact of leading climate change mitigation projects, we will create a new form of collective action for the unique collective challenges we face in this time and this place. We think there is a good possibility of creating the go-to clearinghouse for local-to-local funding of carbon reduction and climate change mitigation projects.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

It is feasible to implement the Climate Cents project within the next twelve months. Nick Karno, the founder of Climate Cents has extensively thought through the project’s execution. He has received enthusiastic responses among a wide range of potential stakeholders and constituents when he’s raised the idea. Partner organizations are very interested. One is committed for the beta phase and several want to join for the full launch. Part of the reason Climate Cents is well-positioned to launch is that Karno has a long record of community involvement and environmental activism. He brings the relationships, knowledge, and skills necessary for Climate Cents’ partnerships and community outreach.

To get a quick start and to avoid “building castles in the sky,” Climate Cents is already moving to implement the essentials of the project in a beta phase launching August 2014. It will be overseen by Dylan Fergus, an experienced designer and technologist. For the beta, we are creating a website as a user-facing platform, gauging beta-testers’ experience of using it, and experimenting with organizational partnership by engaging the Kelp Restoration Project at The Bay Foundation. The beta will operate as a microcosm of the fully-fledged final product. It will be a responsive website, where users can interact with the Kelp Restoration Project, contribute financially and receive updates on the environmental good they’re accomplishing, with scientific data on carbon reduction, appealing visualizations, and powerful images. The quickly created beta implementation of Climate Cents will be a powerful proof of concept for potential supporters of all kinds, including major donors. Also, crucially, it will enable us to surface significant problems related to the user experience, organizational partnership, data collection, and other critical aspects of the Climate Cents project, so that we can create better solutions for the full public launch. The refined public site will go live in January 2015.

For the public launch, we already have other environmental partners. For the January launch, we will hire a marketing team and work with them to garner significant publicity. We also plan to hold a series of Climates Cents parties across LA, January-April 2015, to build support and secure a large number of sign-ups. Through 2015, we will then conduct extensive outreach to neighborhood councils, schools, housing associations, and environmental events to gain supporters.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

The central challenge of Climate Cents is to engage supporters in such a powerful way that they donate monthly. We have a three-part strategy to succeed.

1. An online interface that’s elegant, easy-to-use and emotionally compelling is central to Climate Cents. We’ll provide stunning photography to make every visit a treat. With the help of gamification experts, we’ll make it fun to compete and connect with other members on their carbon-cutting successes. People spend millions on games like FarmVille—imagine if they decided to play CC and improve the real-world in the process. It’s possible with the right design.

2. We have a community-based strategy for getting people involved, unlike web-only platforms such as Kiva. We know that people give to other people and to causes where they can see a tangible impact. Our leadership is very involved in the community. As a local organization, we’ll do outreach in person. We’ll start with easy prospects: environmentalists, local businesses interested in being green, and groups with budgets for neighborhood improvement. Supporters will be able to see the benefits of their projects around our city, creating a cycle of excitement, publicity, and investment.

3. Third, we’ll tap into the appeal of connecting communities. Our aim is also to connect Angelenos and to educate on our shared challenges. Los Angeles is divided, especially on environmental issues. Westsiders talk of “sustainability,” Eastsiders talk of “environmental justice.” The bulk of money donated to environmental causes comes from the Westside and often stays there, while communities in the Eastside decry the fact that suffer the most severe consequences of industrial pollution, poor air quality, and lack of green space. Climate Cents seeks to bridge this gap. It will direct funding and attention to LA’s environmental hotspots from more affluent areas with the promise of both local improvement and impact on global climate change.

The need to raise funds to cover the expense of building the Climate Cents’ world-class digital interface is another major challenge. We are reaching out now to our friends and contacts for seed funding. We intend to gain support from foundations which want to get on the ground floor of a project that has both a huge local impact potential and the possibility of being scaled up and replicated in many other cities. We have a skilled development professional working on these options.

What resources does your project need?

Network/relationship support

Money (financial capital)

Volunteers/staff (human capital)

Publicity/awareness (social capital)

Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)


Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)

Community outreach

Quality improvement research