Introducing Erik Blachford, the new TerraPass CEO

A note from Tom: I’m pleased to introduce Erik Blachford, the newest addition to the TerraPass team. Erik is a seasoned CEO (in this case, the “E” stands for executive) who will help take TerraPass through the next phase of our growth.

Erik is the former CEO of Expedia, although he left the company several years ago, long before Expedia’s partnership with TerraPass. I first met Erik in February and have been impressed with his authenticity, humility and desire to help us change the world for the better. But don’t take my word for it — let’s hear Erik kick it off with his first entry on TerraBlog.

. . .

I first heard about TerraPass last fall, when a friend from Expedia let me know people could now buy carbon offsets to go with their plane tickets. It sounded like a great idea, so I checked it out. I clicked through for more information, discovered TerraPass…and here I am!

OK, it wasn’t quite that simple. I met the team a few months later, in February, and since then have learned a lot more about the company and the carbon offset markets.

I’ve liked what I’ve learned. TerraPass is building a grassroots community of members who want to do something about climate change. And in the absence of a government solution to the problem, that strikes me as exactly the right way to go about having a positive impact. So instead of just buying TerraPass offsets to balance out my own carbon footprint, I’m joining the company to help spread the word about TerraPass to the hundreds of thousands of other people who could be taking responsibility for their own personal carbon emissions.

The way I see it, the goal of the voluntary carbon offset market is to achieve the greatest possible reduction in carbon emissions in the shortest possible period of time. If we at TerraPass are playing our part, that means growing the company on every level: letting more people know they can use the site to calculate their personal carbon impact, giving them more advice on what they can do to reduce it through conservation, and helping more people to balance out what isn’t practical to reduce.

Back in Internet pre-history, at the dawn of online travel, nobody knew you could even check airline ticket prices online, much less book tickets. Now almost half of all travel is booked online. I think we’re at the beginning of another explosion in consumer awareness, this time in the voluntary carbon markets. That means most people will eventually be able to tell you their carbon footprint in the same way that today they can tell you their weight (in both cases there may be a little incentive to undercount). Picking low-carbon alternatives in day to day life will seem as natural as picking low-fat or organic alternatives at the grocery store. And offsetting will become a habit as firmly ingrained as household recycling (now practiced by 35% of households nationwide).

I’ve never worked as a full time environmentalist, though I’ve supported some of the national environmental organizations in the US and Canada. So this is somewhat new territory for me. But I grew up outdoors, taking canoe trips deep into the lakes and woods of my home province of Quebec, and guiding cycling trips all over Europe. Now I’ve got three small children of my own who are getting ready to embrace the wider world. I know it’s a cliché, but like so many others, I ache at the thought that my kids or their kids might not be able to experience the world the way I have. Joining TerraPass is the most powerful way I can help preserve their natural inheritance.

My first few months here are mostly going to be spent expanding the team here in San Francisco (check out our job listings) and learning the ins and outs of the business. Tom and Adam and the team are enjoying concocting ways for me to reduce my footprint, which I’ll likely report on here as I ramp up.

Here’s my question for the broader TerraPass community: what would be your first priority in this job? I’ll look for answers in comments below.

Thank you all for your attention and business and commitment to date. I’m delighted to be on board.

Author Bio

erik

Comments Disabled

  1. David C. Brock - May 17, 2007

    My first priority as the new TerraPass CEO: advertising, especially of the free variety. We seem to be on the other side of an inflection point where it is now necessary for corporations to address climate change. Many companies will be looking for ways to show that they are doing something. Perhaps doing something for TerraPass would be just the easy solution that other firms are looking for. Imagine if there was a TerraPass advert on every (50%…10%?) Netflix mailer…on eBay Motors…on the UAL Website. Maybe there is a chance in that arena for something really big. I guess that goes to the more basic issue of letting people know about TerraPass: I’ve told several people about the company’s products, and they’ve purchased them. They had never heard of TerraPass. You might also think of a TerraPass Flight product that could be an impulse purchase at the magazine store in the airport. When people see that they are paying $15 for water and trashy magazines and that they could offset a roundtrip coast-to-coast flight for $10, I think you’d see some at-register-purchases. I keep to the mantra: make it easy. Best of luck to you.

  2. Anonymous - May 17, 2007

    To follow up on David’s comment, Terra Pass could work out a deal with Netflix to offset the carbon affiliated with its shipping costs per customer. It could be a Netflix + Terra Pass product. Probably only a dollar per customer per month, but the aggregate could be quite large.

  3. Alan Abramson - May 17, 2007

    My first prority would be to make sure there is tremendous tranparency in what your members are buying/investing in. TerraPass is a “feel good” product; however, with all the publicity about “additionality” lately, it’s really important that members/customers can and do “feel good” and are making a difference because TerraPass is investing in “great/real” offset projects.

  4. David H - May 17, 2007

    Build on your strengths. Terrapass has the advantage of branding, a name that fits. I agree with the comment on transparency and showing as plainly as possible how the offsets are being done. I debated about other “brands” of offsets before renewing my Terrapass recently, and transparency / avoidance of additionality was important to me. Terrapass has extra educational value to others when folks see the tag. This year we also got a home terrapass too. Can we get a yard sign like the alarm companies have, to help point the way for others? Expand the brand through partnerships to cover other things like offsets for routine ebay and Amazon shipping, etc. (Can you get on with Paypal to do this?) I first heard of Terrapass through the deal with Ford when the hybrid Escape came out. That was a coup. Sponsor a local environmental event in each state, to spread the awareness and support. My state has Green Energy Ohio (www.greenenergyohio.org) with its solar home tours. Establish/enhance partnerships with complementary groups like http://www.betterworldclub.com . Offer a sales fundraiser option for charities/churches or other nonprofits to link/sell Terrapasses to members for a modest complementary financial benefit. If the grocery stores can sell cards as fundraisers at my kid’s school and my church, Terrapass should be able to do so too. It’s all good.

  5. J. Mixell - May 17, 2007

    Partnering with companies like NetFlix realy makes sence to me. I would favor buying products that would not only help me reduce my carbon output at home, but it would also would feel great if I knew additional money was being contributed to terrapass to further reduce my carbon footprint. Imagine the impact… if many of the items I already buy in the grocery store contribute to terrapass. What a feeling… what a step forward.
    Purchasing compact floressent lights to replace incandesent nulbs in our homes, is a really big push now by many home owners. This outlet alone seems to me to be a huge and rewarding opportunity for Terrapass! … jm …

  6. jorrit - May 17, 2007

    certainly getting the word out is important. but, i’d also focus on making the site easier to use. give me one form where i can calculate my estimated annual carbon impact (versus multiple tabs) and then make the “add to cart” button a real button (see AMZN – i bet you know people who know that site well) so that it’s really easy an clear to me what the next step is. based on a few minutes of work, i can see that i’m a multiple hundred dollar a year carbon hog. congrats erik and good luck.

  7. Bill Greeno - May 17, 2007

    As the building market slows in the U.S. (especially Calif.) many developers are appealing to the public by advertising “Green building practices.” The building and construction industry are at the grass roots of consumerism. If they can be educated and ultimately participate in carbon offsetting, the impact could be exponential.

  8. Simon Tam - May 17, 2007

    I agree on getting the word out. However I would also focus on showing people how their TerraPass funds are being utilized. What projects are they being used to fund and what impact is being made. Perhaps a goal oriented approach to raising a certain amount in order to achieve funding of key projects. Would you ever allow people to select specifically where TerraPass funds go towards? How about partnering with corporations in a way similarly that corporate matching of charitable donations work. Target corporations thatcontribute a good chunk to global warming and needing to reduce that, employee contributes to TerraPass and company matches that.
    Erik, great to see that you landed in a job which does good and that you can feel passionate about.

  9. kristen steck - May 17, 2007

    Terrapass should be working toward standardized protocols and verification for voluntary carbon reduction projects. The voluntary carbon market has taken such a hit in the press of late (domestically and overseas) that it needs to regain some credibility. A set of standard project protocols with mandatory third party verification would help.

  10. Jordan Traverso - May 17, 2007

    RE: David’s comment on PayPal: Today’s San Jose Biz Journal has a story about PayPal taking on partners (http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2007/05/14/daily62.html?f=et79&hbx=e_du).
    I think the market is ripe for business partnerships, for example, instead of selling a $10 flight offset, have the airlines buy them for their passengers, then they can market themselves as the greenest airline and could split cost of commerical advertising. Cross marketing between the airline and TerraPass, literature in all the seatbacks, completely captive audience, this is just one teeny idea, the possibilities are endless.
    First priority though has to be to get the right team in place. I wish you enormous success at that task! ;)

  11. Ashish Pandey - May 17, 2007

    Probably not the first item but still an important one would be tax credit i.e. money spent buying carbon offsets could be tax deductible which would bring fantastic exposure for the industry plus every non-green (or ungreen…you know what I mean) person would want to do spend money towards a better environment as well.

    Erik, congratulations!

  12. Bob Schloss - May 17, 2007

    While I appreciate Terrapass products for individuals, I think to ramp this up you really must go after the commercial market. How about Terrapass for long-distance truckers and trucking companies? How about Terrapass for every UPS, DHL and Fed-Ex delivery truck? How about Terrpass for every vehicle of the US Postal Service? How about Terrapass for every vehicle operated by the municipal governments or state governments that have been having meetings about “carbon neutral/green” regional policies? How about approach school bus operators, school districts, bus companies about Terrapass for them? Maybe partner with the National PTA to have a program where Grandparents pay the cost for a Terrapass for their children’s school bus for a year. Once you finish commercial vehicles, move on to Terrapass for Movie Theaters and other energy intensive spaces, such as highly lit shopping malls, supermarkets, etc.
    The second priority would be more transparency versus your “competition”. I know of at least three other programs that sell consumers some kind of carbon offsets. I want to find information on your site on how you compare to them.
    The third priority would be more pro-active services to your customers. You knew that I drove a Hybrid vehicle and that I lived in New York State, but you did not tell me when NY EZPass introduced a special “Green EZPass” with reduced charges.
    The fourth priority would be to get more publicity by being creative. For example, donate carbon offsets for all the vehicles in the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade, or the Rose Bowl Parade, or some other event, and then make sure your logo is highly visible on every float.
    Best of luck in your new position.

  13. Sunil Veluvali - May 17, 2007

    My first priority would be to present a very clear and concise pitch on carbon offsets. Eyes roll when I try to explain to my friends about how Terrapass works.
    My second priority would be to work the alliances to get our government involved. I cannot see meaningful impact without government support and endorsement of the idea.
    My third priority would be to craft a message that is less “feel good” and more “urgent”. Take a page from Vice President Gore’s playbook?

  14. Anonymous - May 17, 2007

    Please focus on the quality of your offsets.

  15. Anonymous - May 18, 2007

    I agree with Ashish. Terra Pass should be tax deductible. So my first priority would be to restructure so that you are a 501c3. And if that happens, I’d love to throw my hat in the ring to be your director of development. :-) Seriously.

  16. Erik Blachford - May 18, 2007

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I’m having a great time getting up to speed, and these ideas are really helpful. There’s a lot to do.

    One idea I’ll address directly is our status as a regular company rather than a 501c3 non-profit company. The team made the decision long ago that the carbon offset market would only achieve its mission of reducing significant amounts of carbon if offset companies could attract investment to fund growth like any other businesses, and we’re happy with the way that is working out so far. In the long run, we believe that environmental change can and should be driven by market forces, and that means keeping our status as a regular business, aiming to make a profit down the road.

    Thanks again for all your comments. Keep them coming, please!

  17. Peter Han - May 20, 2007

    2 quick comments from an admittedly unsophisticated newcomer:
    a) A good excuse for viral marketing would be helpful. A contest, game, initiative, or something like it to help introduce TerraPass would give its supporters a convenient excuse to forward the URL around. The concept is still novel enough that it needs a lot of introduction to the masses.
    b) I’m agreed with the folks on the thread who argue for TerraPass maintaining an independent commercial rationale/engine, rather than depending on others’ altruism. Charity exists, sometimes in great quantities, but a problem as tough as climate change seems like it’ll be addressed best through systemic alignment with wallets!

  18. Stanley Holden - May 21, 2007

    I am curious why several posts regarding additionality and quality (including mine) were deleted? Can anyone shed some light on this?

    Thank you.

  19. Adam Stein - May 21, 2007

    Because the thread had wandered down an unproductive rabbit hole that seemed to be discouraging others from offering useful suggestions.
    I had posted a lengthy response (also deleted) about how the quality of our portfolio has always been and continues to be our main priority. The new financing will allow us to invest in further forms of project review and quality control, although it’s important to stress that these new investments represent an intensification of our efforts regarding additionality, not a shift in strategy.
    This is a very interesting topic that we’ve discussed at length on the blog. If you want to discuss it further, I recommend either one of the many posts devoted to the issue, or emailing me directly (adam at terrapass). Thanks.

  20. laura - July 1, 2007

    I forward Terrapass newsletter items to like-minded friends and family all the time. It seems like most of them are confused by what they read and therefore don’t read much that i send. I try to explain the business of Terrapass without much result. I might suggest expanding the ways Terrapass is presented to appeal to the different ways that people view/process/take in information. I’d love the word about Terrapass to get around and am doing what I can to spread it!

  21. geof - July 5, 2007

    I strongly suggest following Bill McKibben around, and getting on his bandwagon with your products and services.
    I heard him speak on July 4 and as he ended his excellent talk, the sponsorship by StonyField Farms was mentioned and you can be sure everyone knows who StonyField farms is and everyone who wanted to take home some free yogurt got to do so!
    There were no other “brands” mentioned that I recall.
    TerraPass very definitely needs to expand the brand. As other writers mention, I try to forward newsletters and explain the odd bumper sticker on my car – few people “get” it and even fewer sign up.
    I live in Cambridge, MA and have NEVER seen another TerraPass bumper sticker anywhere – and I go to a LOT of green events.
    Keep up the good work – you most certainly have my support!
    Geof Day
    http://www.mass4gore.com

  22. Sally Perkins - July 5, 2007

    Please do not become a 501 (c) (3). I’ve worked in the non-profit field for much of my career and to be honest, if we can use a market-driven approach to move this country forward on dealing with climate change, then that is FAR superior to the “beg for money” drill that most non-profits are trapped in. There are areas of our society where the market will never act…and those areas rquire a strong non-profit presence…but this is not one of them.
    Sally Perkins

  23. Mike - April 22, 2009

    What percentage of terrapass revenues are used to fund executive & staff salaries and administrative costs?
    Let’s say $375 is what I would have to pay in carbon offsets–What percentage of those proceeds will actually go to fund environmentally friendly carbon reduction projects?

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