Lisa Altieri is the founder and CEO of BrightAction, a company that creates software tools with the mission of empowering people on climate solutions. BrightAction’s platform helps people take action with carbon analytics, resources, and progress tracking and connects users to work together. She agreed to answer some of our questions before taking the stage at Aspen Ideas: Climate for the ‘Climate Solutions Investment Showcase.’ Register for the event here.
How did BrightAction go from idea to reality?
I started to spend my free time working on community organizing and policy advocacy on climate solutions about 15 years ago. Back then we all jumped in and thought “We have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report out now, we just need to go get the policy!” However, after 10 years of policy advocacy, solutions were not moving forward anywhere near the level we needed. So, I stepped back and put my strategy hat on, and thought, ‘What else can we do to move climate solutions forward?’
That’s when I did some research and learned that 40% of US greenhouse gas emissions come from five household activities that we do every day: using electricity, using heating fuels like natural gas, taking transportation, our food choices, and our waste or what we throw in the garbage. More importantly, I learned that we now have affordable solutions for all five. We all have the power to take action to reduce our environmental impact, save money, improve our health, and create local jobs.
Over 70% of Americans want to help and take action for the climate, but don’t know where to start. Meanwhile, there are also many cities, companies, and organizations setting bold climate goals and looking for innovative tools to take action. I had the opportunity to test this out by volunteering in my own community. Beginning in 2007, I led a team of volunteers that helped the city engage residents on climate solutions. We found that people wanted to help and participate, but that it was a challenge to run the program without tools to facilitate engagement and provide access to the information. That was when the idea for BrightAction was born.
I decided that this idea could really make an impact and generate solid revenue. I started looking for funding to build the platform. However, I found out quickly that I needed a minimal viable product or MVP to move the conversation forward. So I invested from my own savings and created one.
I started off with a model based on my experience working in my own city. I looked for three cities to partner with on the development that would provide input and beta testing. The first three cities I contacted instantly committed and played an active role in the development of our MVP. When the MVP was ready for a pilot, the Sustainability Manager from one of our three beta cities, Fremont, California, reached out to colleagues and we ended up with 10 cities in our initial launch. All were paying customers except for our beta cities.
With paying customers and live launches, I started to build investor connections and was able to bring in an initial seed investment to upgrade the platform and build out our company/employee engagement features. We have grown by word of mouth organically, including via some high-profile customers and channel partnerships with no money on marketing. Now we’re ready to add in sales and marketing and scale!
You have a unique background that blends data analytics, business management, and grassroots organizing. How do those skills contribute to the work you do?
This is my dream job. I’m able to bring my skills, experience, and the things I love doing all together for an issue I care deeply about. I am a data geek and have designed many custom data reporting and modeling programs for CEOs and CFOs in Silicon Valley. I always focused on providing high-level key data points for decision-makers to bring valuable insights and clarity for making business decisions.
When I decided to build BrightAction, having robust, high-quality data for users on impact and savings from actions was a must. Our goal is to help people not only learn about solutions but also to find actions right for them. Every household is unique and the actions that have the biggest impact for one household will be different from another’s. There are also considerations around cost and savings. We wanted to provide users with useful information to make decisions and create a custom pathway to going carbon-free.
I have also always loved the challenge of business strategy and management. I have occupied many different roles in business from operations to finance to team management to high-level strategy. I have a very bottom-line focus and always go back to the fundamentals. If the business model doesn’t work, nothing else will work. If the demand is not there, your product will sit on the shelf. With BrightAction I created a business model that provides two solid primary revenue streams. There is also room for expansion in a high-demand emerging market that we are helping pioneer and create.
BrightAction’s mission is to build a movement on climate solutions. We are integrating time-tested and history-proven organizing principles into our engagement approach and receiving strong interest and praise from both customers and end-users. But grassroots organizing is where my heart lies. I truly believe in the power of people coming together to take action on an issue they care about. It has been proven time and time again to have the ability to change the world.
Can you share an example of a community engagement initiative with successful results? How can local governments or communities replicate those strategies?
Our first direct engagement initiative with cities was a pilot in Fremont, CA. In the pilot, we had one community engagement coordinator working for 10 hours per week for 6 months. During that time, we engaged over 1,000 households to take nearly 2,000 actions which reduced 700 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and saved families over $250,000 through energy and water savings. That is an investment of just over $15 per ton by the city, with a net positive impact of over $200 per ton when including resident savings from actions.
We have developed plug-and-play engagement initiatives and strategies that can be replicated in any community. We work with each community to develop custom messaging and identify key community groups and organizations for outreach. Then we develop a plan that will reflect their unique local demographics, cultures, and goals using proven community engagement strategies.
How can activists and community leaders work with government and political leaders to take on climate solutions?
When community leaders and activists work with government and political leaders, it creates a powerful opportunity to create change. There can often be an adversarial environment for these two groups, however, there are many strategies that can create space for collaboration and foster positive dialogue.
For activists and community leaders, this often means starting with dialogue to create a connection around values and educate political leaders about the issues and impacts. Building broad coalitions in the community can bring about a strong community voice for change. For government and political leaders, it means being open to proposals from the community and seeking community input on policy options and goals. This opportunity is often most visible at the local level which is why we see some of the most forward-looking goals and policies coming from there. In some cases, there are even local political leaders ready to create strong goals and move policies forward. Community activists and leaders can help educate the community to raise support for these. The recent IPCC report findings—and the increasingly intense storms, fires, and other climate events the world is facing—lead me to believe that there will be more opportunities for dialogue and collaboration between community and political leaders on climate solutions in the near future.
The views and analysis expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Aspen Institute.
This piece is part of In Focus: Rising to the Climate Challenge, a multimedia informational campaign that draws on the expertise of Institute programs. We look at four main facets of the climate change issue—labor and the economy, youth and education, public health and safety, and communities. To get campaign updates and other news from the Aspen Institute in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.