Take small actions that add up to a big impact — Recycle and take kids to the recycling yard so they can see how items are processed. Participate in beach sweeps or community clean up days.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Kemper.
Chris is an Environmentalist, Capitalist and the Founder and CEO of Palmetto. An avid hiker, struggling fly fisherman, terrible golfer and writer. Chris undertakes a series of projects — educational books, film production and charitable activities — to help educate all types of people, young and old, about the importance of climate change and the environment. He is dually located in San Francisco, CA and Charleston, SC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I spent most of my childhood outdoors, in parks, fishing — I guess you could say I’ve always had a love for all things outdoors. I got bit by the entrepreneur bug early and started my first business at age 8 selling baseball cards. I eventually invented a gaming device to sell baseball cards. I ended up earning enough money to start a real estate venture. I grew up with a family that was really focused on social giveback in what you do professionally. They encouraged me to follow my passion and do something that would benefit society. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life!
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
I spent most of my early career overseas working with NGOs or really large organizations centered on climate change mitigation, where it really didn’t feel like we were moving the needle much or approaching the issues with much urgency. With climate change, we are facing a tipping point, necessitating that we take action with a high level of urgency. The more I studied that and became aware of that, I wanted to become a part of an organization that was going to lead that charge. I really felt that with the application of more creativity, tech and innovation, there was a reason to be optimistic.
That was 10 years ago when I decided to strike out on my own and found Palmetto, which at the time was focused on financing and building decentralized clean energy projects. My urgency is still here, and we keep pushing forward, innovating and evolving to a point where it’s working. What that manifested as after a couple of pivots is where Palmetto is today — an end-to-end platform where capital is one of the many tools at our disposal. Our project types are much smaller, but a lot of the same concepts are applied.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
By questioning, not settling, and educating, you can truly lead. I recently had a chance to meet a 9-year-old who reached out to me to discuss climate change and some questions he had. He had just finished writing a book report on climate change and was starting to build a website. Education has sparked a passion in him, much like it did for me, and there are a lot of things that can be done early on to become more aware of the issues and inspire the next generation.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Palmetto at its core is a software company focused on simplified energy savings for homeowners, and our mission is clear: to create a future powered by solar by making it easy for homeowners across the United States to access clean, solar energy solutions. We also live that mission through our giveback programs and by supporting other great organizations focused on sustainability.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
- Eat less meat — the carbon footprint of meat production is extremely high.
- Recycle — the more you reduce, reuse, the less the footprint for an industrious carbon footprint is required.
- Education — better educate your kids on climate change. There are a lot of resources available, from my own children’s book One Foggy Night In London: A Graham Adventureto educational websites like Greenmatters.com.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Lead by example — my father was an outdoorsman and I was fortunate to connect with nature at a young age, spending time outside fishing and gardening.
- Help kids appreciate nature — help them understand the connectivity of the ecosystem and why that’s valuable.
- Gain an understanding of diet — understand what you’re eating and where food comes from; start a new garden. I went to a camp as a kid in the Pisgah National Forest. It really helped connect the dots for me.
- Take small actions that add up to a big impact — Recycle and take kids to the recycling yard so they can see how items are processed. Participate in beach sweeps or community clean up days.
- Read to your children — be very prescriptive with what materials you’re reading to your children and match up what their areas of interest are.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The benefits of sustainability are multi-faceted and far-reaching beyond building a good public image and “doing the right thing.” In fact, when executed properly, a sustainability strategy can impact all areas of your business, from employee engagement and retention to reducing operating expenses and environmental impact, not to mention increased investment. And, yes, even driving more sales and positive press!
In Palmetto’s case, in a lot of our warehouse buildings, we buy used furniture. We recycle excess all the time. If there are extra equipment pieces, we’re constantly taking them back to the manufacturers so they can use them somewhere else for rebates/deductions. Another way to reduce your environmental impact and expense is to reduce your travel. Build a structure around Zoom calls and cut back your in-person meetings, which has become the norm during the pandemic. One of the immediate costs to become more profitable asap is to cut down on printers and paper. (Cutting back on the business cards/letterheads/printed sales materials/etc.) Another benefit of that is that digital is more trackable and there is less waste.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I credit my parents with instilling values and providing experiences and opportunities that helped me discover my passion for climate change. I did veer off the path a couple of times, but my parents always helped reinforce those values and I got back on track.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The number one thing that the world can do to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders is to educate kids about the environment early. To spark that curiosity that turns into passion and action.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.
I went to grad school in India, the home of Mahatma Gandhi. At the time, I was there studying clean energy and the environment and that quote really resonated with me and inspired me. It’s also the opus in my children’s book as well.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!