While environmental strikers rallied and screamed protest chants on the Commons last Friday, six equally energetic — albeit quieter — activists gathered on the Engineering Quad to promote their own vision of ecological sustainability.
That vision? GreenClub, a Cornell-based startup where students buy carbon offsets in exchange for benefits from environmentally friendly businesses. “Offsets” are projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions or absorb existing greenhouse gases to reduce total atmospheric carbon levels.
Since its founding last March, the organization has funded the removal of over 130 tons of atmospheric CO2; equal to the emissions from 28 cars in one year.
“People are accepting climate change as a reality,” co-founder Alex Li ’19 told The Sun. “We’ve done a great job growing awareness for the problem, but we need to shift our focus to action.”
“That,” Li said, “is where GreenClub comes in.”
Like a “Netflix service for sustainability,” the startup charges members $10 per month and donates $9.50 of that sum to GreenTrees, a company dedicated to reforesting the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, according to Li. With each of these monthly payments, GreenTrees plants enough saplings to suck up approximately one ton of atmospheric CO2.
Because this sum is roughly equivalent to the average college student’s monthly carbon footprint, GreenClub effectively allows subscribers to “go carbon neutral,” Li said.
Offsets aside, members receive additional perks through exclusive discounts at environmentally conscious companies. Benefits include 20% off unlimited purchases from S’well and LifeStraw, as well as a one-time offer of 15 free TCAT rides.
TCAT, which this year is expanding its fleet of electric buses, was enthusiastic about the partnership.
“GreenClub would have to be a pretty incredible initiative for us to back it like that,” TCAT general manager Scot Vanderpool told The Sun over the phone. “It’s unusual for us to partner with student groups.”
For its part, GreenClub aims to be “more transparent” than competing environmental organizations, Li said. While other online carbon offset programs exist, “they often lack personalization for individuals”— users don’t always know exactly where their donation went, or the total amount of CO2 they offset over time, according to Li.
GreenClub, on the other hand, offers users an interactive dashboard tracking their emissions-reducing progress.
At its launch on Friday, the startup tried to stress this personalized approach. The effort paid off. In the days following the event, membership ticked up by 15 users, for a total of about 50 subscribers.
“Seeing the reaction our mission generated in people at the launch gave me hope for GreenClub’s future,” said member Anyi Qian ’22, who manages the organization’s sponsor relationships.
Qian, who joined the GreenClub team this summer, says the energy of the startup is “frenetic but exciting,” driven by what she called Li’s “infectious” enthusiasm.
Looking toward the future, both Qian and Li hope to expand the startup’s reach beyond the bounds of the Ithaca community, considering partnerships with other universities.
“We believe in our mission,” Li said. “But regardless of success or failure, creating a startup has been a great learning opportunity.”