- Founder and current CEO of Pono Home, an award winning energy efficiency company
- Founder and former CEO of CleanTechnica
- Author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill)
- Author of Green Living Ideas
- Former project manager at Saatchi & Saatchi S, managing sustainability programs for multiple Fortune 500 companies
- Former Professor of sustainable business in the MBA program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa
Describe your journey to where you are today.
I started getting interested in environmental issues in high school. My school required a physical exam to play sports, and it found my cholesterol was way over 300. They wanted to put me on a cholesterol drug at age 17 that I would have to take every day. Thankfully I had a good friend who showed me there was another way – his quote, best I can paraphrase from back then was, “Sure, you could take a pill every day for the rest of your life…or you could eat oatmeal.”
It began my connection from my health to the health of our planet – as I dove deeper into how toxic my diet was to that point, I realized just how toxic producing that food was for our planet. I started eliminating processed chemical food, along with switching to organics and fresh, local foods.
I’ve always been an entrepreneurial type. I started an eco-friendly lawn care company in 2004, then in the winters when there was no landscape work to do, I started my first media company that same year. It was a green business directory that served as a yellow pages for Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. I sold advertising to green builders, LEED architects, sustainable retail stores, health food businesses, farmers markets, nonprofits, eco-friendly dry cleaners…basically all the healthier alternatives in our area. I sold the lawn care business in 2007 and the directory in 2006. With the knowledge of how to start and succeed in all these types of green businesses (after interviewing each business owner to suss out whether their business would qualify for our directory), I got an advance from McGraw-Hill to write Build a Green Small Business, a book on how to start an eco-friendly for profit company. After writing the manuscript, I got a job in San Francisco working for a sustainability consulting firm, where I was a project manager on sustainability projects for some big companies who need a lot of help – including Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, and Duke Energy.
Managing the project with Duke Energy (our country’s 3rd largest emitter of carbon pollution) taught me a lot about the energy ecosystem. It was then I realized the enormity of the issue that confronts us around global climate disruption. I figured the world needed more of a bullhorn around these issues, so I started my second media company in 2010, and by 2012, had acquired the assets of several other media companies, including what would later become the world’s largest clean energy news site, CleanTechnica. In 2014, I submitted an application to the Elemental Excelerator, the world’s biggest clean tech incubator, for a spinoff idea in home energy efficiency, called Pono Home. Pono is a Hawaiian word that means righteous, or doing the right thing. The Excelerator selected my application and funded Pono Home for a year to help me get started. 6 years later, we’ve served over 13,000 homes and small businesses with energy and water efficiency retrofits, and offset more than 300 million gallons of water use per year and 15 million pounds of carbon eliminated per year.
In this time, I also recognized my intrinsic racism. Part of it is using the name Pono Home. Having culturally appropriated a name and profited by it, I have now recognized this and am making a commitment to giving that name back to the people of Hawaii. I am actively seeking new owners of Pono Home’s energy efficiency services here in Hawaii who are born and raised in Hawaii, preferably with a strong connection to native Hawaiian heritage.
We’re all on a journey!
Who are the clean techies you follow and / or who you think are making real things happen, and why?
Brenden Millstein, co-founder and CEO of Carbon Lighthouse. Amazing human and skilled entrepreneur whose business has already eliminated enough energy to effectively take multiple coal power plants offline.
Dawn Lippert, CEO of the Elemental Excelerator. Another amazing and brilliant human.
Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, who led one of the world’s biggest companies on a sustainability journey.
Ray Anderson, former CEO of Interface, another large company that changed an industry.
Paul Hawken, co-author of several books and brilliant speaker on climate issues.
Do you have a motto or personal quote you love? Something you feel is so powerful and yet simple you’d use it in your email signature?
Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Nothing is perfect, so if we wait for perfection, we will never get anything done. Start with the good, support and nurture it, and help it move toward perfect.
What do you wish you could tell the younger you – what would’ve been incredibly helpful to you ten years ago?
Listen more, learn emotional intelligence, and respect that everyone’s on a journey. Recognize that if you meet people where they are on that journey, you’ll be more effective in nudging them in the right direction.