I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa de Belloy, CEO of Cool Effect — a non-profit organization that empowers individuals and organizations (large and small) to take tangible action to fight climate change by supporting world-class carbon reduction projects. Marisa’s expertise spans a multitude of fields, including non-profit management, investment banking, strategy consulting, and international entrepreneurial ventures. Marisa couples her extensive background in international business and finance with her dedication to human rights to bring a unique approach to her position as CEO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began my career in the for-profit sector with companies like Goldman Sachs and the L.E.K. Partnership and an MBA at Stanford. But after spending a majority of that time working for someone, I decided to try the entrepreneurial route and co-founded Fotango, an online photo-sharing site which was later acquired by Canon, Inc.
During my time working in the for-profit sector, the issue of human rights remained a major passion for me, and eventually I took those for-profit skills into the non-profit sector. Prior to my role at Cool Effect, I joined Made In A Free World, a San Francisco-based anti-slavery non-profit that created a software program to help businesses understand the risk of slavery in their supply chains. Human rights has always been an important issue for me, and so when I was introduced to the founders of Cool Effect and learned about the mission of the organization, I knew I wanted to join and help accelerate growth. Overwhelmingly, the world’s poorest are being impacted by climate change and the work I do helps to fund impoverished and low-income communities, improving their livelihood while also mitigating the impacts of climate change. I believe that climate change is the greatest human rights issue of our time.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Cool Effect is a San Francisco Bay Area 501(c)(3) non-profit that allows individuals, corporations, and organizations to create a tangible impact on climate change by supporting the highest-quality carbon reducing projects around the world. Combining science, expertise, and transparency, we are creating a community built around one simple vision: give people the power, education and resources to band together and reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Cool Effect is trying to solve the global issue of climate change — however, we understand we are just one part of the solution and support the efforts of other likeminded organizations and tangible efforts that are helping in this same fight.
Can you tell us about the initiatives that your company is taking to tackle climate change? Can you give an example for each?
Cool Effect’s carbon reduction projects are a tangible, verified way to reduce your carbon footprint and fight climate change. From wind energy to clean-burning cookstoves, our projects are hand selected and make it easy to reduce carbon pollution and improve the lives of people around the world.
Each project is thoroughly vetted to ensure they are scientifically and financially strong and ethically sound. It also guarantees that our projects are 100% additional — which means that the reduction in carbon emissions would not have happened under any other circumstances. Beyond providing carbon-reduction options to individuals, we partner with companies of all sizes — one of our recent notable partnerships is with Salesforce. By supporting Cool Effect’s efficient cookstove project, Proyecto Mirador, Salesforce was able to reach net zero emissions ahead of schedule. We’re constantly working on new partnerships, educational campaigns, and vetting new potential carbon reducing projects.
What was the most difficult thing you faced when you first started your company/organization? Can you share how you overcame that. This might give insight to founders who face a similar situation.
One of the most difficult challenges Cool Effect faced was getting people to understand that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed now, as opposed to a looming threat on the horizon. We addressed that challenge by making the process for the consumer easy to understand and accomplish. All of the language on the Cool Effect platform is educational and approachable; we understand climate change isn’t necessarily a fun topic to talk about, but we do our best to engage in relatable ways with our audiences. We also strive to educate our base on the most current, pressing news stories in the industry with a weekly newsletter and our social presence.
Many people want to start a company to tackle environmental issues, but they face challenges when it comes to raising enough money to actually make it happen. Can you share how were you able to raise the funding necessary to start your organization? Do you have any advice?
Cool Effect is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, however, is fortunate to have the funding support from a private foundation that is focused on providing funding to organizations with a measurable impact on climate change mitigation. Over 90 percent of contributions to Cool Effect go directly to the projects — the additional funding helps us support educational and marketing initiatives to help broaden awareness of the solution. For organizations looking for funding, I’d encourage you to do research specifically related to your mission for foundations that may be accepting proposals for funding.
Do you think entrepreneurs/businesses can do a better job than governments to solve the climate change and global warming issues? Please explain why or why not.
The global climate crisis is not an issue that can be solved by one person or one entity. It will take everyone — we all have to do what we can. In this environment, we can’t count solely on the government to solve the issue, but at some point they will come back into the game to be an important part of the solution.
What are some practical things that both people and governments can do help you address the climate change and global warming problem?
Individuals can be more conscious of their everyday decisions and daily choices overall, making best efforts to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. This includes actions like eating less red meat, using public transportation, minimizing air travel, recycling, using solar power and supporting projects — like the ones Cool Effect features — to offset the remainder of their carbon footprint.
Government organizations should make their best effort to listen to what people are asking for when it comes to mitigating climate change and help enable policies that make it easier for individuals and organizations to reduce carbon emissions.
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?
There are so many people around my that have helped me succeed over the years, but throughout my career my husband has always been there for me. He’s headstrong and determined and he wants to see everyone around him succeed. We’ve always been extremely supportive of one another through every endeavor and my career growth wouldn’t have been the same without him by my side.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
i. Work-Life Balance Is Possible. I think that people are reluctant to start their own businesses because they think it will cut into time with family and loved ones or take away from their personal passions. In my experience though, establishing a work-life balance is possible. Not easy, but possible.
ii. Failures Are More Important Than Successes. That may sound counter intuitive because without success a company wouldn’t be able to exist long. But remember, we’re talking about CEOs and for a leader, failures are the greatest learning experience you will have in your career.
iii. Trust Your Gut. There have been times in my career where I knew in my gut that something was not right and unfortunately, most of those times that feeling is on the nose. I think it’s important to learn how to trust your own instincts while balancing that with input from your team and advisors.
iv. Establish Yourself As A Thought Leader. You may be the CEO of a company that is at the forefront of innovation, or perhaps is doing something especially impactful, but if you aren’t actively playing a role in the market then you need to change that. Not only should you strive to establish yourself as a leader, but increasing your own visibility will also lend credence to your company and bolster its image. Remember, people want to work with and trust people, not companies.
v. Create A Culture And Know Your Employees. At the end of the day, no company can be successful without the team that’s working day in and day out to make sure the gears keep turning. It’s critical that you establish a supportive culture that prides itself on the sharing of ideas and open communication. Of course, each employee is going to be different and depending on the size of your company, you may not have a chance to get to know each one individually. Regardless, you should be aware that people think and react differently and it’s important for management to understand that what may work for one employee does not necessarily apply to all of them.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the world, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The most important influential learning comes right from the mission of Cool Effect. We are grounded in the idea that small actions can ignite planet sized change. The name of the organization itself stems from the butterfly effect and the ripple effect — a single action can have a global impact. And that is the type of movement I hope to inspire on a personal level and on an organizational level.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!