Five cash-free alternatives for businesses to help themselves while helping See Through projects speed up carbon drawdown
One of three linked articles on money and climate change. Money, It’s a Gaslight examines why problems caused by money may not always be best solved by money, and Bartering for Carbon Drawdown lays out the theory behind See Through’s zero-budget model. This article describes five ways the money-free model works in practice.
Money-free Model 1: Stone Soup
Many different cultures tell the story of the stone soup as a fable of collaboration, mutual benefit and win-win.
Some substitute axes, nails and buttons, but the basics don’t change.
- Travellers arrive in a village with nothing but a pot
- They fill the pot with water, place a stone in it, and light a fire beneath it
- They tell curious locals they’re making ‘stone soup’, which they’re happy to share
- Stone soup tastes even better, however, with a bit of garnish, they explain
- One villager adds a few potatoes, anticipating a share of the soup
- Others soon add other ingredients and seasonings
- The (inedible) stone removed, everyone enjoys a delicious, nourishing soup
This is less a technical model for collaboration than a metaphor for creating mutual benefit in a non-transactional manner, or one where the transaction is (once the ‘trick’ is understood) clear.
Stone soup making is the opposite of a zero-sum game, where one party must lose in order for another to benefit. With stone soup, everyone works towards a common goal.
This story is so pervasive, it has its own classification (number 1548) in the Aarne-Thomson-Uther folklore catalogue.
In this model, See Through provides the pot and the stone, and collaborators contribute non-cash donations to mutual benefit.
See Through volunteers donate their skills and other resources, applying See Through’s storytelling methodology for effective climate action to a particular project, which is appealing enough to attract the attention of passing villagers.
- Villagers win, of they walk on by
- See Through volunteers win, or they lose motivation and do something else
- Human civilization wins, as a bit more carbon is drawn down
It’s win-win-win engineering, based on a shared goal of measurable carbon drawdown. No money changes hands.
In the absence of money as an incentive, See Through projects can only work if all parties gain by sharing the soup.
As a network with no bank account, all See Through projects operate on this model.
Donated ingredients are commonly an individual’s time and skills, or donations-in-kind of specific resources.
Stone Soup Case Study – The See Through Carbon Competition
The See Through Carbon Competition started with a donation of a voucher for half a million dollars worth of supercomputer-grade cloud computing.
That’s a lot of potatoes. Within five months a village of other contributors had added their own ingredients and cooked up two unique collaborations to nourish sustainability in the Global South.
The See Through News Podcast – another stone soup collaboration naturally – tells this remarkable story over ten cliff-hanging, true-life episodes, in AI’s Dirty Secret, or How To Spend Half A Million Dollars of Supercomputing.
This story might sound like a fable, like those told in the The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, from See Through News podcast (‘fictionalised stories that are entirely true, largely’), but this one’s 100% true.
So much for the storytelling. How about more specific commercial models that can satisfy shareholders, regulators, auditors and investors?
Money-free Model 2: Y-shaped Joint Venture
A simple joint venture (JV) contract, with a clearly-defined scope and specified point of divergence. The two contracting partners are:
- A See Through legal entity
- A Commercial, government or NGO partner
Like any JV, the key points of the contract are:
- The Stem: Descriptions of the contributions of each partner, and their role in the joint creation of a shared product/IP in the bottom stem of the ‘Y’
- The Split: A definition of the split point beyond which each party can exploit their joint IP independently. This could be a deadline or limited time period, or particular milestone, or a combination of both
- The appropriate See Through legal entity, e.g.:
- See Through News Limited
- See Through Carbon
- See Through News Enterprises
- The See Through Newspaper Review Project
- The collective creativity, skills, organisation, data, reach etc. of its global volunteer network. This could include:
- World expert volunteers with highly specific individual skills
- Access to donated resources
- Exploitation of See Through’s exponentially-growing social media network of ordinary citizens
- Access to unique databases exclusive to See Through
- Output metric:
- Whatever the project, the post-split output for See Through’s investment in this joint venture is measured in tonnes of CO2e, i.e. greenhouse gases avoided or sequestered
- The other JV party could be:
- a commercial business with a responsibility to shareholders or investors
- a charity/NGO/government body with statutory or charter requirements to perform public service
- Commercial business contributions could include in-house resources, funding paid to third-parties, existing IP, or co-developing new IP
- Charity/NGO/Government contributions could include co-developing IP, access to social media reach, projects or event management, policy research, volunteers etc.
- Output Metric:
- For commercial businesses, their post-split output could be measured in dollars.
- For non-commercial partners, their post-split output could be measured in social impact, legislative outcomes, meeting external and internal targets, winning grants, awards, prizes etc.
Note: pursuant to See Through’s principle of radical transparency and in order to maintain its public integrity, See Through will publish all Joint Venture contracts.
JV Case Study: TBA
See Through Carbon is in multiple negotiations with various AI start-ups in the field of carbon accounting.
Money-free Model 3: Pro/Free Versions
This is a variation of the JV model commonly used for IP development, especially software engineering, platform development, games and other forms of computer coding IP creation.
There are many different flavours of this model, but the basic principle is that a commercial partner:
- Co-develops new IP with See Through
- Donates existing IP to See Through
- Adapts existing IP for See Through
Per its principle of radical transparency, See Through will make any such IP open source.
The commercial partner can then use this co-developed open source platform as a foundation on which to add bespoke, proprietary modules for commercial profit.
Commercial examples of this approach abound, such as:
- Adobe creating a free standard for the .pdf file format to create a demand from which it could offer for-profit services
- Da Vinci Resolve making nearly all of its high-end video editing software available for free, in the process creating larger demand for the bells and whistles it kept back for its pro ‘Studio’ version
Benefits for See Through and commercial partners
- See Through
- Gains bespoke IP developed to further its Goal of carbon reduction
- Maintains its independence and integrity
- Remains transparent
- Commercial businesses
- Benefit from the broader uptake granted by open source platforms
- Can access any open source data generated
- Have first-mover advantage, having developed the IP
- Reputational gain from contributing to a non-greenwashing project that measurably reduces carbon
Pro/Free Source Case Study: TBA
See Through Carbon is in multiple negotiations with various AI start-ups in the field of carbon accounting.
Money-free Model 4: CSR/ESG Contribution
Most large businesses have voluntary or statutory requirements to contribute to society, or somehow ‘do good in the world’ in a way that doesn’t directly contribute to their bottom lines.
Some do this through non-profit subsidiaries devoted to public good, but increasingly companies are reaping the many rewards of integrating not-for-profit activities into their regular businesses.
These can be entirely voluntary, regulated to some degree, or imposed by shareholders, but are commonly badged as one of:
Smaller companies have internal volunteer teams to coordinate such work, while larger companies have entire CSR/ESG departments, with dedicated staff and budgets.
In addition to any altruistic purpose and external reputational gain, HR departments are familiar with the large body of research proving the employee recruitment, retention, motivation and productivity boosts created by voluntary/community/charitable work.
Many large corporations pay their staff up to 3 days a year to do voluntary work.
Commercial businesses with formal or informal CSR/ESG capacity can use their existing infrastructure to contribute to, and collaborate on, See Through projects, all of which in some form measurably reduce carbon.
This could take various forms, including:
- Unskilled volunteers using their paid CSR/ESG days for See Through projects
- Skills-based contributions, where volunteers offer their professional services (e.g. coding, legal, creative) as part of their CSR/ESG days
- Using CSR/ESG budgets to fund specific See Through projects or events
ESG Case Study: Finastra & GRIT
The world’s 3rd-biggest fintech company, Finastra asked See Through to use its See Through Global Reporter Intensive Training (GRIT) scheme to mentor Kenyan schoolchildren for its award-winning global ‘Junior Hackathon’ competition.
Within days, a team of See Through News TV professional volunteers had conceived, planned, coordinated and started delivering a bespoke 5-day remote mentoring programme for 100 10-15-year-old students at 2 schools in the Nairobi slum area of Mathare. Two of the resulting 2-minute videos, in which teams of children described their business plans to improve their community by meeting net-zero targets, won awards. The See Through News YouTube channel has a playlist of these inspiring videos.
Money-free Model 5: Facilitator
A less formal model, in which See Through plays the role of a facilitator or honest broker.
This works best in situations where commercial companies stand to directly benefit from the development of See Through open source projects, as follows:
- Making profit, if they sell carbon reduction services
- Reducing costs, if they have regulatory requirements to comply with carbon reduction measurement or reduction targets
- Reputational gain of association with a zero-budget, greenwash-free, altruistic project that can’t make money as it has no bank account, but which measurably reduces carbon
Since the announcement of the See Through Carbon Pilot 1 scheme, various businesses, charities and government bodies have approached See Through Carbon to participate, and contribute.
They give the same reason – See Through Carbon is the only realistic tool available for the responsible upstream entities to calculate the emissions from their downstream ‘Scope 3’ suppliers, composed of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
Despite producing up to 70% of global emissions, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are neglected by current carbon accounting and consultancy services because they can’t afford their fees.
This is a problem for the big businesses higher in the supply chain, who now have to include their Scope 3 (i.e. the SMEs in their supply chain) in calculating their own carbon footprints.
It is extremely expensive and complicated for any one upstream big business to do this unilaterally.
By offering free carbon auditing and carbon reduction plans to SMEs, See Through Carbon solves this problem for their upstream customers, saving them a huge amount of money in the process.
Even though it saves big businesses a lot of money by providing this service. In order to maintain its integrity as a non-greenwashing, accurate carbon auditing standard (‘If you can’t buy integrity, why should you be able to sell it?’), See Through Carbon can’t accept direct payment for helping them address their Scope 3 reporting requirements.
STC’s declining to accept a fee, however willingly paid, comes as a surprise to many commercial enterprises accustomed to transactions being policed and measured in dollars, but as the Bartering For Carbon Drawdown companion article explains, this is simply an older, more reliable ‘business model’.
Even the appearance of being paid opens STC to the charge of ‘commerce by stealth’ or external influence, diminishing its unique market characteristic. People are right to be sceptical about ‘no strings attached’ money. Rightly, Follow the Money is every investigative journalist’s mantra.
Scepticism is hard to justify when a volunteer organisation has no bank account. Harder, but not, we’ve found, impossible. Sometimes gift horse distribution can be a surprisingly tough business.
This is not just in See Through Carbon’s interest. It’s in the interest of big business too:
- Business needs See Through Carbon to be a credible imprimatur of accurate reporting, to avoid the risk of reputational damage
- To guarantee this integrity, See Through Carbon in turn can’t risk even the appearance of being influenced by paying customers
For both parties, the best way to avoid accusations of money coming with strings attached is logically not to accept any money, and to publish all donations and contracts for public scrutiny.
This is how the Facilitator model resolves this tension between commercial and integrity to mutual benefit:
- A Business and See Through entity identify a specific project (e.g. software engineering or database design) that benefits both parties
- The Business agrees to pay a third party to do the work
- See Through oversees and manages the project, incorporating (but unconstrained by) the input of the Business.
- The Business pays the third party directly for the agreed work
- The resulting IP is open source, helping the See Through service
Facilitator Case Study
Various businesses and local governments have approached See Through Carbon, asking what role they can play in developing the pilot, and are in different stages of considering or scoping this model.