NIB Career Q&A: Eric Zimmerman, Founder, TripZero (Speed Networking VIP 2014)

Eric ZimmermanWe are so excited that Eric Zimmerman, Founder, TripZero is joining us as a VIP for our 7th annual Speed Networking evening on June 25th, 2014. We caught up with him to ask a few questions and find out more about his journey as an impact professional.

How do you introduce yourself at a networking event (your personal elevator pitch)?
At TripZero, we enable people to travel with zero carbon footprint—for free.

(At which point I’m always asked: “How does that work?”)

When you book travel through our site, we calculate the carbon footprint created by your trip. We include both the impact of our transportation (air, train, car or bus) and your hotel stay. Then we offset that footprint through the purchase of certified carbon offsets. These purchases fund great forestry and renewable energy projects that remove CO2 from the atmosphere (and create a lot of other benefits).

All you have to do is book your hotel through our site, which is powered by Expedia. So you’re guaranteed to get the lowest price for your room. And there’s no charge for the carbon offsets, really.

What inspired you to pursue a career with positive social or environmental impact?
I was listening to a great talk being given by Eric Corey Fried, an architect and the author of Green Building for Dummies. At the end of his talk he said, “My biggest fear is that my daughter’s generation will be living on a destroyed planet. And they will look back on my generation and say, “you knew, and you didn’t do anything about it. What was wrong with you?”

The audience had at least 300 people, but I was certain he was talking to me. It was something of an “aha” moment. It led me to begin living what Yvon Chouinard (the founder of Patagonia) calls an “examined” life. I set the publishing business I was responsible for on a much more sustainable course. My wife and I started a zero-energy retrofit to our home. I sold the sports car. I thought we were almost done.

And then I discovered my “travel problem.” The biggest part of my personal carbon footprint wasn’t my house; it was my travel—by far. And this goes for almost everyone I know who travels for business, or takes her family on vacation. This isn’t a problem that’s likely to be solved anytime soon by a clean energy source or conservation measures. This is a big problem and it’s getting bigger, fast.

When I stumbled upon the idea of combining travel booking with free carbon offsets, I realized we had the opportunity to solve a huge problem without charity, subsidy or substantial behavioral change. That was all the inspiration required to start TripZero. That, and the story I’ll get to tell my kids.

What’s the most interesting/most fun/most challenging aspect of your job?
Let’s start with fun—our customers are incredible. They’re a remarkably intelligent, passionate and pragmatic group. Many come from companies on the leading edge of their markets. Others come from families or communities that feel a personal responsibility to act on the underlying causes of climate change, now. Our customers energize us on a daily basis. They make it a real pleasure to look for new customers. And the more of them we find, the more carbon we can offset.

Interesting? That’s a toss-up. I have a soft spot for technology development and creating a world-class travel App requires a team of incredibly talented designers, system architects and developers. These folks have really big brains and they challenge us continually.

On the other hand, I’ve recently had the opportunity to get to know another really interesting crowd: carbon offset developers. These are the folks who look at big, root-cause climate problems (like deforestation) and then bring market-based solutions to the table. Looking for a big challenge? Try putting together a carbon-offset program that halts the destruction of ancient forest, creates economic opportunity for the local population, gets the support of the local government and sustains itself economically. We get to work with the people who do this.

Challenging? That’s easy. We’re a young company and we’re constantly presented with new opportunities or uncovering new markets for our service. We can’t possibly find the time or money to focus on all of them—nor should we. So prioritizing opportunities—and executing really well against the best ones—is an ongoing challenge.

What advice would you give to those looking for a career with a positive social or environmental impact?
First find a market that’s big, growing and interesting to you. Then find the leaders in that market. At this intersection you’re likely to find organizations addressing both the long-term environmental and societal impacts of their business model. They’re focused on problems at scale. Which means that if you’re working there and solve one of these problems, you’ll have a global impact.

Then, get into one of these organizations any way you can. Work hard. Build a track record. And as your influence grows find ways to incorporate sustainability into your product, your process or your organization. You don’t have to have “Sustainability” in your title to have a big impact. And, with rare exception, you can’t bring big sustainability into a business until you really understand the business. Few of the top Sustainability Officers I’ve met started out on that track. They earned their stripes in the business first.

What’s the best networking tip you’ve ever been given?
Don’t network, make friends.  And then find ways to help them.  The rest will take care of itself.

Places for Speed Networking 2014 are going fast! Sign up today and join us on June 25th to meet an amazing line up of VIPs and make connections with fellow Net Impact members – you never know where it could lead.

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