Will Bachman and Nicholas Eisenberger discuss his career path since graduating from Harvard. Nicholas explains that he was always interested in the environment, but there was no real outlet for his interest in school or business at the time. After graduating, he took a year off and a friend of his from Princeton called him from Budapest, Hungary and told him that action around environmental issues were happening there, so he made his way to Hungary where he and his friend started the Environmental Management Law Association in Eastern Europe. The company was a hybrid between a nonprofit and consulting organization. Within a couple of months Nicholas and Peter Kellner were advising the Environmental Minister of Hungary.
They wanted to help the locals catch up to the West in terms of environmental management. They won a contract from the EPA, in conjunction with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in California, to train regional mayors outside of Budapest on environmental management. Nicholas traveled to California from Hungary to meet with the International Director of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund where they talked about how to implement the EPA contract. At the end of the meeting, Nicholas was offered an environmental legal job with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which he knew he should have been elated about since he was accepted into Law school and had planned a career as an environmental lawyer, but he felt deflated.
Inspired to Create Solutions to Environmental Problems
However, he had an epiphany and realized he did not want to be a lawyer and sue people, but rather that he wanted to use the tools of business to create solutions that addressed environmental problems. This became his journey. He was inspired by the post cold war zeitgeist of harnessing the tools of business to solve problems, and he wanted to combine business and environment in a way that was impactful, profitable, and good for people.
Nicholas went back to Cambridge for law school where he learned a lot and could apply it in several ways. He found the professors who had an environmental intersections, including environmental management, environmental economics, and spent his time studying the intersection between environment and business, and in an exchange program, he took an entrepreneurship class at The Business School in Berkeley. At that time in California the Internet was exploding. So, he started an internet company called MyPoints.com, an email marketing company that encouraged people to accept spam. It went public and Nicholas had to make the decision to become an advisor instead of taking a full time position and went back to law and for two years worked in environmental law at a large San Francisco law firm where his goal was to bring together cleantech businesses and investors. He convinced the law firm to sponsor a CleanTech pitch event for companies starting to come up with business concepts to solve environmental problems. After a few positions where he was bringing together business and environmental solutions, he
Businesses Focused on Environmental Solutions
After a few years and positions where he was bringing together business and environmental solutions, he was asked to partner at a small consulting company called Green Water, which focused on helping business institute greener practices and products. They helped to develop a strategy for GE’s Ecomagination campaign, the success of which inspired other corporate leaders, who wanted to compete in this space. Ultimately, the company was sold and this led to a new chapter where Nicholas began doing more work in sustainability, including starting the non profit DACCoalition.Org, CircularCarbon.Org, and PureEnergyPartners.Com.
Global Thermostat, a company founded by his father and a partner from Columbia, was created to be a game-changing company that could help with the effects of greenhouse gas. Nicholas was an early investor and advisor. It was realized that simply limiting what we put into the atmosphere is not enough, and that we need to extract billions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere on top of stopping the emission of it. This needs to be done in the next 70-70 plus years, which means tens of billions of tonnes a year need to be extracted.
Reducing CO2 Emissions on Global Level
Will and Nicholas discussed ways to reduce CO2 emissions on a global level. Biological methods such as planting trees and mangroves, restoring natural ecosystems, and stopping deforestation are important, but they are not sufficient to address the amount of emissions that have been produced in the last 150 years. Direct Air Capture, a technology developed by Global Thermostat can extract more carbon dioxide than trees can in a single year, per square meter. This technology works like a sponge, using an ultra high surface area material to attract and bind CO2 molecules. Industrial fans are used to suck the air through the material, and then low temperature heat is used to drive the molecules off the contactor and collect them so they can be sequestered or used in products. This technology is helpful in removing billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
Inspirational Professors and Courses
Professors and courses that had an impact on Nicholas include Stephen Jay Gould, and the History of Earth and Life, and the scientific magic of our existence; Michael Sandel’s course on justice, and Bob Stevens at the Kennedy School who taught about the discipline of economics.
Nicholas Eisenberger, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Nicholas Eisenberger. We’re going to talk all about climate. Nick, welcome to the show.
Nicholas Eisenberger 00:18
Thanks so much. Well, it’s great to be here.
Will Bachman 00:20
So Nick, let’s start by telling me about your journey since Harvard.
Nicholas Eisenberger 00:26
So somewhere, you know, in early childhood, something that, you know, happened to me oriented me, you know, early on to the environment to focus on the environment. And I sort of felt that, I don’t know, whether it was, you know, my father dragging me out into the woods to you know, sort of work on VR, essentially, when I was a kid, or, you know, the, the leanings of my parents, or, you know, some early camping trips I had as a, you know, a teenager or what it was, but by the time I got to Harvard, I felt that pole, but I didn’t really know, there was no real outlet for it. I mean, of course, there was some environmental intersections, but there was no degree you could get that was non scientific. And I’ve never been a stem guy per se. So I didn’t really know what to do with it, but I felt it. And so, you know, after graduating, I decided to take a year off. And a friend of mine from Princeton actually called me the day after our graduation party and said, he called me from Budapest, Hungary. And he said, you know, what, this environmental stuff that you’re always talking about? It’s happening here, it’s happening in Eastern Europe. This is where the action is, are you coming to Europe this summer? If so, you gotta you gotta check it out. And I was I was doing a backpacking things around Europe. And I intended to just go say, Hello for a week, and I ended up staying for a year. And together, we started something called the environmental management Law Association, which still exists, which was a little bit of a hybrid between a nonprofit, a consulting organization, and I don’t know what else but basically, at that time, if you could speak English, if you had a little bit of hutzpah or, you know, if you were a little, you know, over your skis in believing in yourself, you could do almost anything in Eastern Europe, there was just such an openness to new ideas and wanting to, to advance into catch up. And so within a couple of months of, of being in the country, my friend and I, Peter Kellner from Princeton, we’re sitting there advising the quote, unquote, the environmental Minister of Hungary, and it made no sense we were 22 years old, but there was this environment of you know, communism had failed, central economies had failed. And a capitalism was ascendant democracy was ascendant, obviously, in hindsight, it wasn’t a fully completed battle. But what that that sense of, of opportunity really inspired us to work with local Hungarians, whom had been able to be, you know, environment was one source in which you could complain in under the communist regime, because it was all around you, you couldn’t deny that the skies were polluted, the rivers are polluted, that there was, you know, there was grime and dust and pollution on everything. And so that actually had been a catalyst for a protest against the regime. And we, we, it was very natural for Americans to sort of do civic organizing. And what we helped to do was to bring the Hungarians together into a group to say, you know, how do we catch up with the west on environment, and we actually won a contract by the EPA, to go train regional mayors outside of Budapest or other regional cities. And I traveled, we won that contract with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in California. And over the holidays, I traveled to California from Hungary, to meet with the international director of the spherical legal defense net fund now called Earth justice. And we talked about how we were going to implement this EPA contract in these regional cities. And at the end of the meeting, she said to me, you know, Hey, Nick, you’re just the kind of guy that we’d love to, you know, come work here. And I know you’re going to law school. I was, you know, I had already been accepted to Harvard Law School. It took a year off. And you know, you should really think about coming here and I walked out of her office, and I should have been elated because I wanted to work in environment. I was going to law school, I seemingly wanted to be an environmental lawyer. And yet I felt deflated. And I was just this is the strangest thing. I was just offered one of the best environmental legal jobs that you can get, and I’m the fleet Hey, what’s going on and I had an epiphany, literally bolt of lightning changed my life, I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer, I didn’t want to sue people, definitely role for somebody to play, definitely important. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to use the tools of business to try to, you know, create solutions that would address the environmental problems we had. And I think one of the lessons I took away from Eastern Europe was, and sort of that whole zeitgeist of the, of the post cold war moment was, you know, if you’re trying to solve anything, without at least the, you know, harnessing in a smart, sustainable, equitable way, which is, you know, some of the lessons we’re learning now, but if you’re not harnessing the market, you’re going about the fight with one or two hands tied behind your back. And that moment, has inspired me ever since then, to to try to figure out what does it mean, to be an environmental entrepreneur? How do you? How do you combine business and environment in a way that ultimately results in outcomes that are impactful, and profitable, and good for people? And, you know, that’s the journey I’ve been on ever since.
Will Bachman 06:08
Okay, so there is so much to cover in your career, but I do want to just pause here and ask a question. So, you know, after college, or during college, I spent whatever, you know, a week or two traveling around Europe, I did not end up meeting with like an environmental minister, how does that happen? So you’re sitting there, you have a room in a hostel or an apartment, and you’re 22 years old? What was the path that got you to connected to the environmental Minister of Hungary, we thought that, you know, some recent Harvard grads would be helpful. Well,
Nicholas Eisenberger 06:42
all the all the all the credit to you know, getting sending off setting us off in this direction. Peter, who had you know, he’s a Hungarian American, his father had escaped from Hungary, in 56. And he got a Fulbright, he graduated a year ahead of us, in 91, from Princeton, and he was sort of on the ground and sort of seeing this and, and, and he started, you know, meeting all these people saying, you know, it’s really something exciting here. And he called me because he knew I was really interested in it. And, and, you know, I ended up, I ended up, you know, stopping and staying. And then from there together, we just, you know, literally the first two months, and I was in country, and he had already been doing this, we would go we would we basically spend the entire day, taxing around the city, we go to a meeting, and we’d sit down with someone, and we’d say before the end of the meeting, Well, who else should we meet with? And they’d say, you know, so and so and so and so I say, we’d say can you call them now and see if they’re available. And, and it’s this sort of this chain of old, where we would just go from meeting to meeting to meeting. And you know, some of them didn’t work out, or some of them weren’t available. But like, a remarkable, there was just this energy in the air. And just over time, we created this community of diverse professionals, journalists, scientists, technologists, incipient business people, policy people. And that became EMLA, and the environmental management Law Association, and we’ll just grew from there.
Will Bachman 08:22
Amazing. So you were building this community? Not necessarily sure where it was going to head but just figuring, okay, let’s connect these people that have similar concerns about the environment about pollution, and kind of just keep learning more. I love that.
Nicholas Eisenberger 08:39
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the I didn’t know it, but one of the things that I guess I inspired me to do was, is just lean in, you know, and take take risks be entrepreneurial. It’s easy for me to say in hindsight, and I, you know, I wasn’t, and I guess, you know, everybody has their own personality, and I guess mine is prone to the entrepreneurial sort of bets. And just the comfort with risk. Although I you know, I don’t I’m not, you know, saying that to pat myself on the back. It’s just like, it’s just like any inclination, but I think, because I had that reinforcement in Hungary of like, this openness to people who wanted to be engaged with that has informed it just became normal and sort of as informed. I guess every step of my career from them. I’ve just been had that. A level of comfort. You know, there’s others who have been, you know, there’s others out there who are better at it and, you know, even more risk taking than I am, I’m not, I’m not saying, you know, I certainly am not the world’s best entrepreneur, but it has come naturally to me and has been reinforced by my experience.
Will Bachman 09:44
I love this tip, though. Okay, who shall Should we meet? Oh, can you just call them right now, while we’re sitting here? I love that. Yeah. Okay. So let’s, let’s keep going. So, you know, there’s so much that you’ve done, walk us and I want to make sure that we get At the present moment where you’re working on some carbon capture, walk us through some of the, you know, businesses you’ve been involved in, and some of the ventures, you’ve invested in so forth.
Nicholas Eisenberger 10:09
Yeah, great. So I did returned from Hungary to go back to law school, notwithstanding my, my epiphany, I felt like, at the time, he really couldn’t get much of a business, there wasn’t much of a sort of discipline, intersection between business school and environment. I felt like you know, legal degrees, a classic degree that you learn a lot, you can apply in a lot of ways. And so I did decide to go back to Cambridge for law school. And there was a couple of metal courses and there, I basically had to construct my own path. And I did that by both trying to find some the professors at the law school who had an a, an environmental intersection and sort of lean into that. Plus, I did take courses that the business school, I took one of the first environmental management courses with a professor named forest Reinhart, who wrote a book called down to earth. I, you know, I took a course at the Kennedy School with Professor Robert Stevens, who was teaching environmental economics and sort of gave that economic discipline behind it. So long and short of it, I tried to sort of spend some time studying up to, you know, to be as smart as I could about that business and environmental intersection. And I ultimately actually took an opportunity to do a exchange with Berkeley, so Harvard Law School, and Boalt Hall, at UC Berkeley, have an exchange in the last year you spend in the other institution, you graduate from your home institution. And I thought it wasn’t a bad idea, you know, spend my February under, fundraise in the Bay Area. And there, I took an entrepreneurship call class at the, at the business school at Berkeley, I took more environmental, they had much more environmental courses at bolts. So, you know, ended up trying to bone up on how to be smart here. And then as I, as I, you know, at that moment in California, just by happenstance, you know, another revolution was, was exploding the internet, right? This is, in 1995, I’m in the Bay Area, and I’m taking an entrepreneurship course at Haas. And our job is to start a business. So what do we do, of course, we start an internet company. We’re the concept for one. And this thing was called my points.com. The concept was opt in email marketing, you know, how do you get people to accept spam, it’s not particularly impactful, or change the world for the better. But it was taking advantage of that sort of environmental science or that that internet explosion moment, and it ended up, you know, we ended up actually starting the business, and it ended up going public. And, you know, when the moment came for me to decide whether I wanted to go on the management team of this, this this sort of school project, or or do something else, I decided to sort of become an advisor to the to the startup and not do it full time. And instead, I went and practiced law for two years environmental law and a large San Francisco law firm, just to kind of get the legal bones under my belt, legal chops under my belt, and but even there, you know, I sort of was plotting my escape. And I convinced my my law firm to sponsor one of the first sort of cleantech pitch events for companies that were starting to come up with business concepts to, you know, use the tools of business to, you know, to solve our problems. And at that time, this is 1997, let’s call it you know, just after law school at the, at the law firm, Hellerman bite McAuliffe. And it took me nine months to get about 10, clean, quote, unquote, clean tech businesses in a room. And, and the hardest, as hard was to get any investors who are interested in that theme in the room. But, you know, after about almost a year, we did that, and we and you know, out of that actually, one of the folks that I was working with, ended up coining the term clean tech. And it became it became the clean tech group. And Nick Parker was the guy and and so we, I met one of one of the investors who came to this forum, this pitch event was from a company called Churchill capital, and they saw the trend of interest, you know, at this intersection of business environment, and they were raising a fund for, you know, quote unquote, environmental opportunities. It was been called Clean ticket. And I, they hired me, someone who seems to know something about this theme. And I spent about a year helping, they had one of the largest clean tech pureplay funds ever at the time was about $130 million. And it was mostly when I would call today brown tech, sort of industrial efficiency, waste management, that kind of stuff, not necessarily green yet. And I helped them deploy about half of their capital. And then I saw an opportunity to combine my internet experience with my points, and sort of what was going on in the world, the internet, and my environmental passion. And I started a company I left and I started a company called ecos technologies, which was be essentially like, imagine a sales force for a large corporation to measure and manage their energy and environmental kind of performance, you know, an online system to really have a dashboard, if you will, for how are we doing in energy consumption? How are we doing in waste production? How are we doing in efficiency, and started that company raised 10s of millions of dollars, built a whole team. And him at the end of the day, it was the right idea, but it was too early. And this is this is in 2000 to 2004. And I ended up it actually today, there’s a broad number of very large companies that are doing this. But at the time, it was just a little too early. So I ended up having to sell that company at a loss and find something else to do. And I landed with a an acquaintance who had had started a small consulting company called Green odor, a guy named Andrew Shapiro who, who unfortunately went to Brown, and also Yale Law School, I think. And, but he had landed a couple early clients, again, at this interface of business environment, and one of three clients he had was GE, and he said, you know, look, I think we’ve got a big fish here. And you know, you know, maybe you can help. And so we, what GE ones do is one of the first large corporates that was really not just trying to be kind of internally greener, right, you know, pollute less, but actually was trying to build its business by by, by, by offering products that were more sustainable, that were that were higher performing, or less polluting. And they wanted to put a rubric around this, and we help them kind of figure out, you know, we helped them develop the whole strategy for this something as a campaign, ultimately called Eco imagination. And we were working straight with Jeff Immelt and his senior leadership team worldwide. And they put $100 million marketing budget behind this, and they had a $25 billion revenue objective. And what we ended up doing was putting kind of a standard or a process for certifying products that they offered, whether it was a jet engine or a wind turbine, or water processing system or whatever. We ended up putting a process around what products in their portfolio existing and new, could you call Ecomagination products. And ultimately, what we ended up finding was, you know, when GE started going in, on trying to advance their business use a competitive tool. Other major corporate leaders saw that and they gave them permission to say, hey, I want that too. We need to do that, too. And so we ended up getting hired by, you know, GM and BP and DuPont and other leaders at the senior level, to say, how can we compete in the space. So for example, with GM, they saw that Toyota had the Prius, right and was doing was, you know, it was doing really well with the Prius in the early days, this is like early 2000s. They didn’t have anything. And so we help them identify the opportunity for the Chevy Volt. Not we didn’t create the car, we didn’t design the car, but we just saw this niche that they could fill. And it was a it was differentiated. It was a plug in car that, you know, hybrid was not, and so on. And we built that business and ultimately got a lot of people who were interested as clients and then ultimately people who wanted to buy us. So we after about a dozen offers. We finally said, you know, okay, well listen, and we ended up selling the company. And so just fast forward quickly, or maybe I’ll pause there Google whole new chapter that kind of leads into more what I’m doing today.
Will Bachman 20:04
Keep going, keep going. This is great.
Nicholas Eisenberger 20:07
Okay, great. So after selling green odor, you know, handing it off and sort of segwaying out.
Will Bachman 20:16
It was basically a consulting practice that you, greener. Yeah. Imagine
Nicholas Eisenberger 20:19
a boutique management consulting focused on sustainability, how to use the tools of business to how do you use sustainability as a lens to drive innovation and value creation.
Will Bachman 20:31
And this was not you and Andrew, at this point, you had, like, multiple consultants that you admired, right?
Nicholas Eisenberger 20:38
Exactly, was a multimillion dollar business, we had, you know, we had staff and multiple offices, it was, it was no McKinsey. But you know, that was our model in terms of hiring some of the smartest people from around, you know, from the best for the top schools and topic business experience, who had a passion for this and a skill set relevant to this. And yeah, we built build a good team. In fact, I would say, looking back, that the green order team, and you know, one or two other teams that I’ve built, you know, of all the things that are most satisfying, to me, having a team of people who are super capable, super smart, and super passionate, and on top of that, really, like trust and respect each other, like working with each other. Like that is that is gold like that is and I don’t mean money, gold, I mean, like, that’s psychic, you know, psychically rewarding in a way that, you know, few other things are, and we had that, and it was just really terrific. And in fact, we still are very connected as a network, we get we do regular reunions, and all that stirs up anyway, that’s a, that’s another topic. But so I, I we, we sold green order, a couple of days after the Lehman crash, and, you know, the buyer made good on on on the deal. And but, you know, it was no time to try to raise a fund, you know, the world was in a reverse being crushed with the great recession. And so as I looked around, said, Well, what do I do next, I wasn’t going to raise a fund that was seemed like a fool’s errand. But I didn’t want to stop this journey. And so I ended up starting something called Pure Energy Partners, which I styled a venture capitalist firm. So wasn’t a venture capital firm, because it didn’t have a big fund. But what I did have the opportunity to do is I could find potential game changing companies and help figure out how across capital formation, strategy and marketing, you know, building on experiences I’d had as an entrepreneur, and as a, as a strategic adviser, how we could use those various tools to help potentially game changing management companies, the management teams, or these companies scale. And so that’s really what we were and for the first several years, we were, you know, pretty omnivorous, had a small team, partner, Samir Rashid, I had, you know, a small crack team that we would, you know, selectively pick these companies to work with. And as I said, we were pretty omnivorous, you know, solar wind, you know, up and coming digital tools that would help make the sort of clean economy accelerate, and all that, but something happened in 2011, where that sort of really drove me increasingly, you know, to live in my, my sort of electron focus, which was, you know, we had this notion of the clean web where the digital tools were driving, you know, new opportunities to drive efficiency in the economy, with a more molecular focus on carbon and climate specifically. And so, the founder of something called an organization called the XPrize Foundation, which you may have heard of digital space XPrize initially. So, Peter Diamandis founded that and he, you know, he, you know, amazing entrepreneur, classic, sort of, you know, focus, you know, just sort of single minded focus on how do we use these, these are global competitions to drive solutions to the challenges we have and they wanted to do their first environmental prize, and it was called the carbon XPRIZE. And they knew they needed to raise a lot of money because you know, you needed a carbon capture carbon utilization solutions are quite expensive. So you needed a big prize purse to attract competitors, right because they needed to win something big enough that would accelerate Their journey. And then they also needed test centers? How could these? How could these competitors, they couldn’t just sort of sit in front of a computer and design a, you know, a new Facebook or what have you, they needed to actually build a gizmo that was quite expensive and had specific conditions that need to be tested under. So we needed a lot of money, we need like 100 million dollars to do all this. And so Peter asked me, you know, you seem to know stuff about this field. You know, would, could you help us raise this money? And I said, Yes, and I thought it would take six months. And it ultimately took three years and was close to dying several times. But ultimately, we raised the money for the prize purse, and we raised the money from a series of different governments, Wyoming, Alberta, federal, Canadian federal government. And we launched two test centers, one in Alberta, and one in Wyoming. And, and, and the $20 million carbon XPrize plus a $20 million budget. So the whole thing ended up to about $100 million. And we launched that in in 2015. And it was awarded in 2020. And, and that, I guess, I would say, you know, that journey, just the process. And in fact, the challenge of going around the world and saying, Hey, there’s this big need to capture carbon, and there’s this big need to do something with it. Right? Well, how do we turn it into some value, and talking to people, I was really forced to go and like, sort of have a broad funnel for who I talked to corporate leaders, you know, high net worth individuals, NGO leaders, investors, and say, you know, this is a challenge, it’s really important, like we need, you know, this is a tool, a prize tool, that that can be really valuable in solving it. And I found that there was a lot of people who were starting to kind of have an interest in sort of get it, but they weren’t connected at all. And so as a part of that, I launched something called a circular carbon network, which you can find at Circular carbon dot o RG. And its goal, it was an outgrowth of the carbon XPrize was to use data about what’s out there, who’s out there, who are the innovators? Who are the investors, who are the corporates, who are the catalysts, and provide that data in a very, in a very user friendly way, to this community to this growing ecosystem, so that they could see who they could partner with, who could they invest in where they can get capital. And so that was sort of one of the things I’ve found over the course of my career and trying to sort of carve this path of being an environmental entrepreneurs, like, it’s not always building a business that has a pure profit mechanism in the short term that gets you to where you want to go. So even if ultimately, you want to build businesses, and you want to, you know, demonstrate that you can, you know, harness the economy to, to drive solutions. Sometimes you have to use other tools. And one, you know, some of those tools I have found have been sort of these market catalytic, you know, efforts like the circular carbon network. Another one is the Creo syndicate. So Creo stands for clean tech renewables environment opportunities, and it’s a family office network that I and others co founded around the same time that I started building the carbon XPRIZE, around 2011. And this, again, was in the wake of the global recession. And Waxman Markey, I don’t know, if you remember, was this big push in the in the US Congress to put a price on carbon, it failed under Obama. So, you know, capital, you know, the original clean tech, sort of boom in venture capital, was was injured both by a misalignment between the capital intensity of sort of hard tech, clean tech businesses and the global recession. So clean tech, venture capital had sort of been injured and was in the sidelines, the government failed to put a price on carbon, it was injured in the sidelines. And we looked at a bunch of people who share this interest in how do we fuel the clean economy? We sat around and said, well, where’s the capital going to come from to move forward? And a lot of a bunch of us had worked with, worked for family offices, and we said, you know, there’s this growing wealth out there. And the interesting thing about it, you know, is that a lot of these folks have built businesses over multiple generations, and they had intersected in those generations. With environmental issues. If you have a real estate business, you’re intersecting with environmental issues. If you have an industrial business, good, bad or ugly, you might be polluting, but you’re intersecting environmental issues, and the younger Generation of some of these families, you know, they’re sitting there looking at, you know, the future and saying, Hey, this is really important. Like, we have to devote a meaningful portion of our effort, our wealth, our, you know, our businesses, to these environmental themes. And so that longer term, and that sort of waxing poetic, they’re just human beings and good, bad and ugly, and these businesses are, you know, have profit motive and all that sort of stuff. But like, it was becoming increasingly evident, to this longer term view capital, that actually, you make more money in the long term by being smarter, and being more sustainable. And so we something that started as just a around a conference room, but just a 710 11 people, has exploded into a community of about 2000 people about 200 global families. And it’s been, you know, I mentioned the green order team, and how how wonderful that was, like, weirdly, it’s been one of the joyous, most joyous professional experiences that we get together on a regular basis, at least twice annually, of these families and outside folks, and you know, civic society, civil society leaders, business leaders, you know, contrarians, it’s, it’s, we get together to say, how can we align these values with our capital, and it’s not just a navel gazing exercise, you’re looking at specific deals and opportunities, but the, the, you know, the, the sense of pulling people who feel like, they might feel a little bit lonely journey, maybe they’re a little isolated in their family, or they’ve got this perspective, or they’ve been their families fully aligned, but they feel like they’re alone. They don’t know, you know, as everyone else, just looking to bring those together, has been really joyous. And, and, and I hope, kind of impactful, because, you know, we’re starting to really see, deal momentum, this, this, this concept of aligning capital, you know, impact investing, which maybe in 2011, was the idea of, well, maybe we can make a little less money, but but, you know, be, you know, positive in the world. That idea AI has evolved into, as I said, and it’s this not this battle is not fully won. But we’ve we’ve come a long way. So that now there is a whole cohort cohort in the public markets in the private markets, whether family offices or venture, and I think it just in sort of anyone who’s thinking about how they deploy their capital, I think there’s at least a percentage, a meaningful percentage of anybody who’s doing that today, who thinks, you know, the way I need to, you know, invest my money is, is aligned, but not only with my values and the desire to do something good, or quote, unquote, change the world. But like, that’s how I make more money. Like, it’s just like, we can’t, it’s unsustainable. I’m gonna lose money by not thinking about that. So I think that we’ve come a long way in that. And that’s really gratifying. Because again, if you think about when I had this, you know, this sort of Epiphany, this compulsion to be an environmental entrepreneur. That concept felt a far stretch at that time.
Will Bachman 33:41
There are so many directions I want to go and explore here. One is just tell us a little bit about what’s going on in the world of carbon capture maybe what won the prize and what are some of the promising technologies that you’re excited about?
Nicholas Eisenberger 33:56
So in the days of Greenwater, I, actually we had a little fund underneath Greenwater, called Go ventures, and a number of companies came to us and one of them happened to be started by my father, Dr. Peter Eisenberger, who was visiting, did his PhD at Harvard, and early days at Bell Labs. You know, he was at the time teaching. He actually was the founding director of the Columbia Earth Institute. And he had a number of courses he was he was teaching, including the carbon cycle and how to how to manage the planet. And he was looking at this challenge of, of, of climate change. And another Columbia professor, there was toying with this idea of extracting co2 from the atmosphere. And my dad came up with this concept of how to do it. And it was sort of at the time it was just Well, we know the greenhouse gas is In the atmosphere, sorry, the greenhouse gas effect is in the atmosphere like, you just, you know, you put, you put a bunch of windows when wet, you know where the light goes into the thermal can’t get out over any plot of land and warms up. And that’s exactly what we’re doing by putting co2 in our atmosphere, the solar radiation comes in, and the heat, the thermal radiation has difficulty getting out. And so maybe is people’s first impulse is to just like, let’s stop putting co2 in the atmosphere, which is really important. And, and that was, you know, where a lot of focus is. So solar or wind, all that sort of stuff, efficiency. But maybe we can also take co2 out of the atmosphere and attack the greenhouse gas effects directly there. And at the time, it was a concept that people thought well, that’s, that’s kind of silly and far fetched and sounds really efficient, because like, it’s really dilute, it’s like 400 parts per million in the atmosphere. Whereas you could go to a factory that spewing co2 and capture it right there, it’s much more concentrated, you know, 4% 9% 12%. So, my father and a partner from Columbia came up with this concept. And they started a company called Global thermostat and a green water, we put, you know, a little bit of our time and money into it. It was exactly the kind of game changing, quote unquote, company that we thought, you know, we could help. And they trend along, I was an early investor and advisor. You know, my dad had started a company, it was in, quote, unquote, in my space. And, you know, for the first 10 years of that company, it was a really hostile environment, I would even almost put the analogy, like, you’re living in a bomb shelter, your bomb shelters, your startup lab, your garage, and every time you open the door, or the lid, you know, people lob grenades at you, and you’re like, oh, shit, I gotta close the door. Because it just felt far fetched, like, why would you do that it’s got to be hopelessly costly, even if you can even do it. But something started to happen, I would say about three to five years ago, where the evidence of that, you know, where what trajectory, we’re on the evidence of everyday climate change the math around what we need to do to solve it, it became clear that just limiting what we’re putting the atmosphere is not sufficient, that we in fact, need to do that. And we need to remove billions of tonnes hundreds of billions of tonnes some estimate even a trillion tonnes of co2 from the atmosphere on top of stopping to spew it into the atmosphere in before the end of the century. So in the next 7070 plus years, we need to extract 10s of billions of tonnes a year, let’s call it from the atmosphere. And there’s a variety of ways to do that. Just for comparison, well, we, you know, on a global basis, we’re meeting around 40 billion tonnes a year, today, obviously, co2, or greenhouse gases writ large. And so we need to basically stop that and reverse that at that scale, which is a gargantuan task. And there’s a bunch of different ways to do it. There’s biological ways we can plant trees, mangroves, soils, you know, all that stuff, stuff, but the, and I’m a tree hugger, and I, I love biology, and I’m all for it. 100% 1,000%, we need to do all that and restore our natural ecosystems worldwide, stop deforestation, etc, etc. That’s super important. Unfortunately, it’s not sufficient. What we’ve done is we’ve taken eons, literally eons of natural carbon cycle processing hundreds of millions of years, if not billions of years of the earth, you know, harnessing the sky for co2, creating organic matter of plants and animals, and then ultimately, they die and they get buried into the earth, they create, they create hydrocarbons, right. And we’ve extracted hundreds of millions of years, if not more of that natural processing in about 150 years, in fossil fuels, and we burned it, and just no way that you could use the surface of the planet to, you know, to reprocess all that co2 and embed it back in in the Geosphere. Again, so just
Will Bachman 39:16
like an order of magnitude, order magnitude, let’s say we plant trees everywhere we can and we have mangroves and, you know, grass. What, how much carbon? Would that extract round numbers?
Nicholas Eisenberger 39:32
You that’s a great question. I don’t know the exact answer to that. What I will say and again, this is not a I’m a tree hugger. You know, literally I will hug trees. I love them. But direct air capture which you know, sort of the the global thermostats, the company that my father co founded that I you know now and the president of I went in house about a year ago. I’ll tell you that quickly, but global thermostat is technology, which is a mechanic, a human technology, we estimate, we don’t have precise figures on this, but we estimate that it can in one year, per square meter, it can extract more than 10,000 times the amount that a tree that trees and that square meter could extract. So it’s 10s of 1000s of x per square meter per time. So it’s just trees are slow growing, right, and they die. And some of that carbon goes back into the soil and some it goes out in the atmosphere. Whereas with a mechanical with a with a human technology, which I can tell you about. We can precisely measure, we know chemistry, we know moles, you know, we can we can we can we can we can measure the molecules that are passing through a technology and being sequestered underground or in a product very precisely.
Will Bachman 40:58
Yeah. So yeah, I’m curious if the technical details.
Nicholas Eisenberger 41:02
Okay. So people have realized that director of capture needs to be one of the tools amongst geological OSHA grant oceanic biological strategies, but there’s a reason to believe that direct air capture these mechanical sponges that I’ll tell you about, need to play a prominent role because of some of the factors I’ve just told you, in doing this carbon removal these billions of tons a year. So our technology, essentially think about it like a sponge. And you take a high surface area, material, you know, sponge, and you you have a spill on your counter, you put the sponge, a dry sponge in it, it sucks up the water, right? It all those all that surface area is it attracts the the water, and then it’s full, and then you take your sponge over the sink and you squeeze it and the water comes tumbling out. And then you have a relatively dry sponge to go finish, you know gathering the water on the counter. Very similar process here where we take a very high surface area to ultra high surface area material. And we use industrial high efficiency industrial fans to suck air through this, this contactor this this, we call it a honeycomb contactor. And it’s coated this contactor is coated with a substance that naturally attracts co2 binds with co2. And so you saturate the sponge or the contactor and then you use low temperature heat sub 100 degree with sub boiling heat, which is you can produce it for salts naturally abundant, we waste a lot of heat in everything we do in industrial processes, you can you can generate heat from various renewable sources. And even if you use like natural gas, you can actually capture more co2 than you’re producing by significant amount. So you can produce this low energy heat. And that drives the co2 off of the contactor. And you can collect it and then sequester it under the ground or as I said, you know, put it into a product. We have carbon based products all around us, right, our iPhones, plastics, chemicals, building materials, fuels, fertilizers, food, right? Carbon is ever present in our economy. And some of them are more durable forums, right, you know, a concrete or building material or polymer. And some of them are less durable, like a synthetic fuel that you create from co2 from air and hydrogen from water. You know, once it’s burned, it goes back in the atmosphere. But you’re at least you’re not extracting more fossil hydrocarbon from the Earth’s crust. So circular, but so there’s a variety of forms what you can do it, but that’s basically how it works. And, you know, what we’ve designed is, is how do you do that in the most efficient fashion. And we, you know, in the last couple of years, it became clear that the world was catching up on this concept, and was interested in it finally, you know, that hostile environment that I talked about has has dramatically changed people seeing that director capture needs to be a part of the solution. And we have started last year or two, I went in, in house really to convert this from a technology development organization to help create a business that could deploy and grow. And that’s the journey. That’s the moment we’re in right now. And we’re just, we have some exciting announcements coming up in a month or two, about, you know, where we are on scaling our technology. And, you know, where that read the bottom of that curve of hope and think might be the beginning of something like the solar revolution, where you know, in the coming years, you’re just gonna see an explosion of this. And of course, we’re thinking about how do you do this smartly. How do you do it equitably? How is it good for people? How is it sustainable because you can’t create an industry as large as this needs to be? without without thinking and people are fundamentally skeptical of, you know, of techno economic technocratic solutions. Rightly so we haven’t, you know, technology has not always served humanity. So we’re very mindful of that. And I think it’s really important that we that we continue to figure out how to do that in a way that is ultimately good for people on the planet.
Will Bachman 45:22
So since you mentioned that the Congress did not pass and put a price on carbon in the near term, like who would pay a company like that to sequester carbon?
Nicholas Eisenberger 45:36
Yeah, great question. In actual fact, Congress has put a price on carbon they’ve created in the the inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure bill under Biden. And, and remarkably, in a bipartisan fashion, you know, a couple of laws that are very, you know, helpful. One of them is that Congress created a put $3.5 billion aside for to create for direct air capture regional hubs in the United States designed to capture over a million tons in the next five years. And so we’re participating. So the EU is basically putting out money to bring together consortiums of director capture companies, engineering companies, sequestration companies, and others, to create these regional hubs, so we’re participating in it. But then they’ve also created something, there’s under the tax code, there’s various tax incentives that solar renewable has benefit solar and wind have benefited from, and they created $180 per ton tax credit for direct air capture sequestration. So that’s an incentive for investors to go and invest in director of capital projects, because they can get that that tax credit. And so that’s just coming online now. But again, you know, atmospherically or directionally it is really focused people’s attention saying, Yes, this can be viable. A lot of people ask, well, what are the costs of director capture? Well, the reality is that they’re quite high. Now, there are over $180 per ton, but we’re, I mean, think about solar, when it had done its first, you know, rooftop of a big business, you know, its first WalMart roof, which must have been 15 years ago, right? It was expensive, right? And people focused on the cost of solar that and say, Oh, it’ll never replace conventional, right? Well, every, every technology in human history basically, has gone down in cost as you as you scaled up. And so we’re the very, we’ve, we’ve done less than 10,000 tons of direct air capture where that early stage the costs are going to come down. And, and we’re on that we’re starting that journey today.
Will Bachman 47:58
Where if you, I’ve always been curious about this, because you hear, like, if you sequester it, and you pump it way underground, does the carbon dioxide not kind of bubble up and escape at some point? Or what keeps it underground? I know, silly, silly technical question.
Nicholas Eisenberger 48:14
No, no, no, it’s a really legitimate concern. You know, basically, I think geologists will tell you that there’s a more than enough pore space on the planet to, to, you know, several times, you know, those trillions of times that we need to extract over the over the rest of the century. Like, there’s more than enough to accommodate that, and more, you know, to be redundant. So it’s not a question of the geology, the space is there. And they would also add that, you know, that it can be done safely, like, there’s more than enough pore space that has really, you know, really will lock in the co2. That said, the process of like, where precisely that can happen, what safeguards need to be put in place, who holds that liability, all of that needs to be worked out. And that is something that, you know, that both the government and NGOs and, you know, everyone involved here is is focusing on it’s not really a technical question, it’s certainly a real concern and a perceptual question, and it can’t be taken lightly. You know, if we take it lightly, then Accidents will happen. But But I think if you look at it and do the research, there is plenty of places to do it safely, safely.
Will Bachman 49:38
And what would you do you would you’d like use an existing or a sort of a used up kind of oil drilling place where
Nicholas Eisenberger 49:47
Yeah, I mean, that gets Yeah, that well, not fracking, but that gets into you know, you know, some of the things that people ask about here is, you know, what, Why should the oil companies, you know, who created this problem? In large part, you know, should they benefit or participate in this? And it’s a really another really important question. I think if you take a step back, there’s a couple things I would say really quickly. One is, who on the planet knows the most about the Earth geology? Right? You know, we’re carbon based molecules are found or can be found or put, you know, who has that? Who has the infrastructure to put it, put it back? Unfortunately, you know, fortunately, or unfortunately, it’s, it’s the energy companies, they, they, they have been dealing with carbon based molecules for a century plus, and they have the capabilities and you know, how to have the Earth’s geology better than anyone? It does raise the question, you know, if you’re solving this problem, you know, are you encouraging more fossil fuels to be extracted? Certainly, the tax code doesn’t allow you to do that, like you can’t, like extract, and we as a company would, we’re not going to get involved in something called an enhanced oil recovery where you, you really are extracting more, even if it’s, you know, less carbon burden, because you’ve put co2 under the ground. You know, that’s not something that we’re we’re looking at, but and there are, you know, different you don’t get carbon credits or whatever for that. So, I think there’s, there’s that, but on top of that, it is a legitimate question. People ask it all the time. I saw I, I feel it’s sort of like saying, Should we not cure cancer, because it might encourage people to smoke, right? We have to call it we have to solve the problem. We have to, we have to address it’s existential, the world that we’re gonna pass on to our children and grandchildren is threatened, it is really threatened, we can see all around us, we have to solve it, we have a variety of tools and cooling, including director capture to do so. And it can be done ultimately, in a way it must be done in a way that is good for people and planet and sustainable. Whether it has whether some oil companies take advantage of that to squeeze a little bit more profit, I think it’s something that needs to be looked up and continually monitored. But it’s not an excuse for not doing this. I just there’s just I don’t think we have
Will Bachman 52:30
a choice. Versus I was basically the question was like, you would use an existing hole that’s been drilled in the ground, you know, to say, Okay, well, we have a hole drilled in the ground. So we’re going to put like a big, high pressure co2 and shove it down in there somehow. And then it would the carbon dioxide, finds its own way down there and then goes into the pores of the rock, and then it kind of gets trapped. So it doesn’t easily bubble up back into the atmosphere.
Nicholas Eisenberger 52:58
Yep, that’s exactly right. Okay. All right.
Will Bachman 53:01
Amazing. I want to turn to you’ve already reflect on a bit. So talking about some important courses you had and law school at Harvard, were there any courses or professors that you had that continue to resonate with you?
Nicholas Eisenberger 53:22
You know, yeah, from undergrad, you know, I would say, Stephen Jay Gould, and the history of Earth and life, you know, that was sort of that big systems thinking and, you know, the scientific magic of our existence, you know, that the series of completely, you know, remarkable mistakes that had to happen, or mistakes, but, you know, this these sort of these unbelievable things that had to happen to be true and the way the laws of the universe work the way you know, the sun, you know, its size, its age, you know, the asteroid hit the Earth and gave mammals. I mean, there’s so many different things that led to our existence being possible that, you know, I guess that that inspired me to sort of cherish that I’m not alone in that obviously, every every living creature, hopefully has some sense of wonder, but but that systems thinking about it and how that happened and what what’s, how fragile it is. I guess that inspired me till today. You know, the Michael Sandel course on justice that you know, a lot of us took that continues to resonate in terms of like our How do you think about our responsibility to each other our rights our you know, our we just did dividuals Are we a community? How do you define, you know, morality visa vie each other visa vie the planet. Those, that concept really continues to resonate with me, I mentioned the professor I had at the Kennedy School, who, you know, Bob Stevens who I think was one of the first folks who, who really inspired me that you could take sort of a discipline of economics, which is sort of a harder social science and, quote, unquote, and combine that with something that maybe I perceived as more touchy feely, which is like the environment, you know, tree huggers, etc. And you could, you could wrap that discipline around it, and really think about how you could use the tools of numbers to drive performance into Drive benefits and on the environment or drive improvements. So those are some of the professors that you know, from, from the Harvard community that really stand out for me.
Will Bachman 56:10
For listeners, who are interested in really bet reading the best to get up to date on climate, carbon sequestration, price of carbon world of carbon, what are the newsletters or books or other forms of media, magazines, car, podcasts, whatever that you that you would recommend to us?
Nicholas Eisenberger 56:36
Wow. Good question. You know, I think over time was with Kuvera, New Yorker has done a good job. You know. I’m surrounded I’m, I swim in a soup of literature. So it’s, it’s weird for me not to come up with, with something right off the top of my head. But I feel like if you, I would encourage you to think about what are the ways in which you know, carbon removal, intersects with your organization, your job, your life, it’s still a little bit far from the household level, I hope we can get there. But certainly, I think every organization today should should understand where it stands, like, for example, you know, Microsoft is a big consumer of energy. And they’ve realized that they, you know, they, they can’t just continue to consume energy, because they have these huge servers, right? Google’s the same metas the same. And they have, Microsoft, in particular has set a target of removing all the co2 from the atmosphere that they’ve ever contributed to putting in there. And, you know, like, that’s a particularly ambitious and I think, appropriate approach. But like, I think every organization is it’s no longer okay to just not know about this topic, in my view, obviously, I’m close to it and passionate about it, but just start to get educated. And I think, you know, just a Google search will take people down roads that, you know, if you’re in publishing might be interested to you, if you’re in medicine, it might be interesting to you. I’m in climate tech, you know, I’m at the worlds of finance and technology. And so I have my channels there, but I would just say you know, it, take a moment and be curious and find out where in this, this, this part of the world intersects with yours and just stay informed and try to figure out what it means to you and how you want to get engaged in ways that are, you know, that work for you,
Will Bachman 59:08
Nick, for listeners who want to follow you find out more what you’re working on. At your current company, where would you point them online?
Nicholas Eisenberger 59:19
You can find us at global thermostat.com You can go to circular carbon dot o RG. You can go the direct air capture coalition. So D AC coalition dot o RG it’s another nonprofit that I co founded that’s focused on the director of capture piece specifically. You can find me on LinkedIn. I’d love to engage. You know, I would just wrap up by saying yesterday, I I had two meals with Harvard classmates. I had lunch with Richard Nash, which was a real pleasure. I had dinner with David de Monaco Crispin Roven and Eric Pitt. And it was a Harvard rich day Just like our 25th reunion, it just reminded me how meaningful and inspiring and just this really important to me. The our Harvard experience was and, and the continued connection is, and I’d love to connect with anyone who for whom this topic is interested or otherwise. Love, love our class, love what the journeys we’ve been on and I look forward to continuing with everyone.
Will Bachman 1:00:31
Amazing. Classmates reach out to Nick, especially if you want to capture some carbon. It’s been great having you on the show, Nick, thank you so much.
Nicholas Eisenberger 1:00:39
Thanks. Well, it’s been super fun and we’ll talk again soon