Sustainable subscription helps offset carbon footprints

(Left to right) Landon Brand, Mimi Tran Zambetti and Ben Stanfield designed an app that sense users a biweekly update about how their donations to environmental organizations are spent. (Courtesy of Project Wren)

After meeting through Spark SC in 2016, three  Iovine and Young Academy students came up with a plan. Senior Mimi Tran Zambetti and alumni Landon Brand and Benjamin Stanfield, who graduated in 2019, created Project Wren, a startup program aimed at helping consumers offset their carbon footprint. 

Changing directions from their plans to develop a company involving human resource software, they created the startup to help with current climate change movements. 

The app, which was created in June, has grown to a consumer base of more than 1,000 subscribers and has raised more than $1.6 million through fundraising in the seven months since its launch.

“[We wanted to focus] not on what we thought could make a good business but … what we really knew we could build and enjoy building,” Stanfield said. “That’s ultimately what brought us to climate change because it’s something we are really passionate about.”

Wren creators said the app aims to support consumers who are unsure about what steps to take to reduce their carbon footprint but wish to become active in conservation efforts. 

“[Our users are] busy people who have jobs that are really demanding, so they won’t necessarily have a ton of time [to volunteer],” Zambetti said. “Subscribing to Wren is an easy way to get started with acting on climate change for a lot of these people.”

Subscribers can offset emissions by making a monthly contribution to one of Wren’s three partnership programs that aim to make local climate impacts abroad. Partners include the International Small Group and Tree Planting Program, a community tree planting project in East Africa; Mandulis Energy, a small NGO in northern Uganda that provides clean energy to Ugandan refugees; and the Rainforest Foundation US, an organization that uses drones and satellite imagery to monitor deforestation in the Amazon rainforest for indigenous groups to report to local officials. 

“A lot of the solutions already exist — they’re just lacking funding,” Zambetti said. “The other side of it is that there’s a lot of individuals who have a lot of pent-up desire to do something about climate change, like change their lifestyle and become more active in the political spheres. We decided to connect the two.”

Once a user subscribes, Wren sends detailed updates to them every two weeks to delineate how the money is being spent. 

“One of the reasons offsets aren’t really mainstream is there’s sort of a lack of trust and transparency in the space,” Zambetti said. “You give money, and it’s almost like one of those black-box donations where you’re not really sure how your money is being spent or where it’s going. The thing we try to do at Wren is give a clear idea of where your money is going.”

Project Wren subscriber Derrick Morales said he began contributing to the company to help with the current climate crisis and donate to organizations that sequester greenhouse gas emissions. 

“I appreciate Wren because I know the money I give to the company is actually going toward some form of carbon sequestration — in this case, in the form of tropical rainforest preservation,” Morales said. 

Project Wren plans to expand its sustainability efforts and grow its audience, Zambetti said.

“We’d really like to become the one-stop shop for people to act on climate change, and basically growing from a simple calculation offset service to the easiest way for anyone tackling the climate crisis,” Zambetti said. “Whether that’s offsetting the carbon footprint, finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint, finding local chapters, we would support [them].”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the organization as Rainforest Foundation Fund. The name of the foundation is Rainforest Foundation US. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.