Michael Crabb [00:10:34] Welcome to another episode of the Energy Impact Podcast. Our guest today is Rachel Kropa, Managing Director at the FootPrint Coalition. Rachel, welcome.
Rachel Kropa [00:10:46] Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to chat with you for the next 45 odd minutes.
Michael Crabb [00:10:52] Can't wait. Yeah, we've got a lot to cover, and I know you're working on a lot of different stuff. But before we get into what's on your plate today, tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from?
Rachel Kropa [00:11:03] I'm from Massachusetts, actually, and a great education system. Psyched to have grown up learning about the sciences. My parents are both dentists, actually, so there's a lot of dinner table conversation about procedures, what people were doing in a very minute setting. So, it was only later that I sort of discovered, "Oh, current events, the news..." that sort of thing.
Michael Crabb [00:11:28] Did you have dental journals out everywhere?
Rachel Kropa [00:11:30] Oh my God, nameless. Just countless things where you had... There were always these tiny boxes coming to the house with like mouth models and all sorts of things scattered around that, you know, equipment. It was good for the thing where, you know, if you go to the dentist you always get one of those little toys from a machine when you're a kid. So, I had access to like the key to those things. I could go in and pick one out. Don't let them know that I told you that.
Rachel Kropa [00:12:00] But yeah, there was a lot of technical and analytical stuff going on in my household when I was little, especially when I was... I have a sister, but I was an only child for like six years. And so, by the time she came around, I was pretty much an adult.
Michael Crabb [00:12:21] Yeah, I don't know if that math works out, but okay. But they were pushing you towards sort of STEM and science, initially.
Rachel Kropa [00:12:28] Yeah. And it's weird, there is a big discussion about girls kind of dropping off around the 13 year adolescent mark. I was lucky to never feel that feel that pressure. Or maybe I was just oblivious to it. I liked it so much that there was no getting me off it. I studied biochemistry, ultimately, but like my chemistry class in high school was awesome. Also my calculus class. So, both those things I wanted in my life. And luckily both of them used kind of differential equations and similar kinds of things where everything fits together neatly, which is what I was all about. I was like, "I like black and white answers." I liked to know if I arrived by the end of the problem with like a round number that I'm in the right place. I was a little more averse to writing papers, but come to find out, as you get older, it's all about writing papers, showing your work. But I just didn't feel like doing the kind of gray area pf persuasiveness. It's like, "I just want to know right and wrong."
Michael Crabb [00:13:28] And what was like the chemistry lean? Because there are a lot of different ways to have gone. Was it just like a really good teacher or was there something specific that kind of pushed you that way?
Rachel Kropa [00:13:40] So when it came to college, I ended up in biochemistry because it allowed me to take the most biology classes on a macro level and the most chemistry classes. And then I also took all the calculus that you could take, so I maxed out on what they had in school for that. And that ended up being a minor. Once you get into theoretical math, I'm a little like not terribly interested in proving a regular 17-gon or something like that.
Michael Crabb [00:14:05] But some of those classes are very fun. I was in architectural engineering but had a math minor for a similar path. And our applied combinatorics professor was like exactly what you would picture for an applied combinatorics professor. But I love that. I love that. So it was like, you wanted more of the right answer.
Rachel Kropa [00:14:21] You know, I found that I thought a lot alike with the people who taught me, most often. I did have one physics professor who was a little off in the ether that I totally didn't understand. But other than that, I just appreciated everyone's way of thinking. And people were pretty generous if you were interested in their subject matter, because I just think that... We'll talk about it more later. Scientists kind of get the tough end of the bargain when it comes to invisibility, I think.
Michael Crabb [00:14:53] Yeah.
Rachel Kropa [00:14:54] People were just excited for someone to be excited.
Michael Crabb [00:14:59] Did you know what you wanted to do? Talk to us then how that schooling evolved into the real world.
Rachel Kropa [00:15:05] Well, it didn't exactly. What ended up happening was I took a sharp left turn into entertainment, pretty quickly. I mean, there was a small stint where I helped my parents in the dental office, but that's another story. But I always wanted to be in California, and so I ended up out here in entertainment. I sort of, in my not really understanding the world comprehensively, I thought that maybe I would end up at a place like Discovery or NOVA or something. In the end of my career, I'd just sort of be the scientist that was on staff who also happened to know how to produce things.
Rachel Kropa [00:15:46] It's not that tidy, as we talked about. It's not really linear, the way you imagine it. But I ended up at a talent agency after a couple of stints working with directors and having little internships on studio lots. But I ended up working for the president of a big talent agency. And I quickly learned I was not going to be the person who represented other people and I was probably not going to be the person who was a producer because I was not all around science. You miss science a lot. So, I ended up running the corporate foundation, ultimately. I did the path of growth up through that, becoming the person who got to work on natural world philanthropy a lot. And the job was really the ESG stuff for the company and also advising clients on their philanthropy or just how to use their image and likeness to do good things for nonprofits.
Rachel Kropa [00:16:37] So, what I ended up doing a lot was meeting with all of the biggest environmental nonprofits because that was my specialty area and just understanding what their priorities were. And that's a really good background for the work that I do now, I think, because it has some of the idealistic stuff to it. Like, where do we want to be? What would it be, in a pure sense or context, what would be the right thing to achieve?
Rachel Kropa [00:17:05] And then you have to also work in the real world parameters. Like, we're not all going back to live as cave people with no conveniences whatsoever. That bed has already been made. So, we have to think about what kind of version of the future can we have that some of it's going to be adaptive, some of it's going to be, if we can figure it out with technology, cycling some of the carbon in the atmosphere back. And some of it's going to be figuring out and reprioritizing what our value system is. But that one's pretty hard. The behavior and the stuff of that is pretty difficult to get out of the entrenched system that we have.
Rachel Kropa [00:17:51] But, I'll just say, kind of the first time that I dabbled in the technology space with respect to the environment, which is a lot of what I do now, was a Cooper Hewitt exhibit that was called Design for the Other 90%. And randomly, a catalog for this exhibit ended up on my desk. And I just really thought, "Oh, this is where..." You know, I had done so much environmental work to that point and it was all sort of by hook or crook or just like practical stuff. I never really took an environmental science degree. But I knew enough from all the scientists who would come through that, "Here are the several things that we need to be focused on." This catalog that showed up on my desk included things like the International Development Enterprises HiP pump. Remember that thing? Or, the LifeStraw. Things that would help people to kind of leapfrog problems that had been created in certain contexts a long time ago in more developed areas. So, sort of figuring out what technologies can we bring to bear so that these things don't have to go through that entire arc of difficulty and problems for people who are in energy poverty or you name it.
Michael Crabb [00:19:20] Sure, commercialization, basically. Before we get into some of the solutions... I mean, we're going to spend a lot of time talking on everything you're seeing and looking at today. It must have been an interesting evolution working with these. It sounds like you didn't step back and say, "Hey, this is the area of focus." You said, "Oh, I want to work with these people to do good in the world." And I presume the good in the world that they wanted to do has evolved over time, right? I mean, climate probably wasn't really on people's radar. So, maybe talk a little bit about how you sort of went along that journey.
Rachel Kropa [00:20:00] Oh, I mean, yeah, the early conversations were... An Inconvenient Truth came out, or like, The Day After Tomorrow. People were just like, "Okay, I'm all in on grocery bags. That's what I'm doing. I am going to carry a tote everywhere I go." And there were, of course, people driving electric vehicles, really trying to make a point. Which has become, of course, a pretty significant priority. And it's great to have folks in the early days who were fancy people and willing to drive a little car that looked like a strange like box with a point nose.
Rachel Kropa [00:20:39] But people didn't really know how to talk about these things or like what the systematic level of problems that they were solving was. And problems have arisen since, right? Lithium mining or whatever. But people would say things like... I remember kind of trying to advise someone on batteries or changing light bulbs or something, and just really got stuck on like, "The batteries in your alarm clock. Don't use the power coming out of the wall." "This is not exactly what I'm saying, and that's a very small scale thing and I don't think that's going to make a meaningful difference. But holistically, here's what we're trying to say." And people just couldn't get off certain things that they thought were the most important things in the early days and like, how do I encapsulate this message?
Rachel Kropa [00:21:32] And the truth is, as time has gone on, everyone's realized, I hope, that this is a way more complex problem. And it's like everything from local level to state level to country level to global level. Because we've had all this time with fossil fuels to make these systems that are so entrenched and we're going to have to dismantle it in a way that is also very complex and hopefully doesn't take quite as long as the entire existence of fossil fuels and industrialization.
Rachel Kropa [00:22:03] But I just think people have gotten much more sophisticated on the conversation. And even like recently, Gen Z, I feel like, who are also called Gen Dread sometimes, right? They have a lot of climate anxiety, rightfully so. They feel like they can think more holistically about systems change. Like, they don't necessarily immediately go to the place of, "I need to just correct my behavior," which was the early narrative, right? "I don't need to just make sure that I'm recycling every bit of everything that I find in my way." And like, "All of these things that are around me are someday going to be waste, and that gives me severe anxiety." It's more, "How did we end up in this place? How can I advocate for the people that represent me to help figure out things that are much bigger for all of a certain industry. Not just my little component piece of it where I go buy a thing or not buy a thing." Sure, it's important to vote with your money, but it's pushing a massive rock up the hill instead of going to the source of the problem or the source of the leverage.
Rachel Kropa [00:23:21] So anyway, obviously for the part that we were talking about previously, I ended up taking a sabbatical from my work and going to look at all that sustainable technology in emerging places and seeing how that works in situ. And the people who were working on that kind of frugal science stuff were fascinating to me. And so, that was probably like the genesis of me thinking there were versions of doing this that were not just planting trees, as valuable as that is, but also doing things in a faster evolution to get people what they need but in a less harmful, lighter footprint way.
Rachel Kropa [00:24:09] And so, that position that I took where I saw how the messaging continued to be crafted, and I also was looking at things that people were trying to use. Like, Africa has some of the best entrepreneurs and inventors. And how they were dealing with problems that would normally be strictly in opposition with an economic advantage, right? Like, extraction only is how we're going to get an economic advantage. And people just were not willing to do that in places where they relied so heavily on the environment, which was awesome.
Rachel Kropa [00:24:53] And you see people all the time reject systems that are on offer, like after a disaster or what have you, to rebuild because they're not endemic to the place. They don't feel equitable for the people who live there. And I think, that kind of lens on stuff is what we're really going to need to take into account. As I said, it's so complex, the way people live everywhere and what people use as resources and how they manage them. That's why, for instance, we have an indigenous futures category in our science engine. But we'll talk about that shortly, I think.
Michael Crabb [00:25:31] Yeah, I want to get there quickly. Maybe talk a little bit about... I mean, you said it. The system is so large, so complex. How long was the sabbatical and how did you even begin? What you said, it seems so grandiose to do in just some period of a life. It seems crazy.
Rachel Kropa [00:25:53] Well, on the one hand, I wanted to spend some time with my sister who had just graduated from college. And she was studying anthropology, so I was like, "Great. You'll do all the anthropological backgrounds for places that we're intending to go." I'm kind of Type A, and so I had it mapped to, basically every 15 minutes, where we were going to be in 11 different countries around the world over the course of three months. So, I had all these nonprofit partnerships. I had in advance prepped them that I was going to be writing a blog about this. Which I might be able to reinvigorate if we want people to see that.
Michael Crabb [00:26:32] Yeah, is it still up?
Rachel Kropa [00:26:35] I think it's been long pulled down.
Michael Crabb [00:26:35] Okay. Well, there's like the Wayback Machine and stuff. We'll find a way to link it.
Rachel Kropa [00:26:39] Yeah, give you a snapshot of that or something. Or me in the field trying to study something in remote Benin. But yeah, it was really something that I was psyched about, traveling to the places where I had heard about from all of these different nonprofits that I met through time. It was the best part of their work to be able to do the things on the ground. And then for them to have to show me on a piece of paper in a glass and metal office was sort of less exciting for them, I'm sure, but necessary. So, it was great. And it's a great way to travel also, because you have someone with contact on the ground when you arrive who's like motivated to help you have a good experience. So, thank you to all those people who met me at different airports and in different remote places all over.
Rachel Kropa [00:27:30] But I think that really was eye opening. For a while, I came back to my current job, my previous job, which was at this agency and did a lot of storytelling, did a lot of organizing of people to go do similar kinds of trips on the ground, and it was awesome. And it allowed people to have a way more deep experience with the things that they had heard about and not just kind of show up in a place and do a little volunteering for a little bit of time and then head out and go about their day. It was a way more in depth kind of experience. So, that's kind of the the tack that I've always taken, is like to make the thing experiential.
Rachel Kropa [00:28:19] And also, I kept myself busy, too, outside of work hours by taking an archaeology degree. I think why, partially, I first got into science were scientists on screen at the time when I was growing up, like Indiana Jones. Although you come to find out that he's really kind of more of a grave robber antiquarian than an archaeologist. But that was me. I had imagined myself traveling the world, going to all these places and putting pieces of a puzzle together. I didn't quite get there in studying it in school because it felt a little less practical than some other things, but I went back and was like, "I'm going to do this on the side just to make sure that I don't go my whole life without having seen some of it."
Michael Crabb [00:29:09] You had to scratch that itch. It must be good conversation with your sister having archaeology and anthropology, right? I mean, that's systems thinking, right?
Rachel Kropa [00:29:21] Yeah, I mean, I think my thesis was like something that merged my first course about the Inca with my last course, which is osteology. And the two things, kind of like how did the Incan Empire moving in change the bone structure, actually, of the individuals who were on the ground living there at the time in indigenous ways. I shared that with her and I was like super proud of it. She's like, "Yeah, that's pretty good."
Michael Crabb [00:29:51] I mean, did it change?
Rachel Kropa [00:29:54] Yeah, I mean, because there was an empire coming in and moving people around and saying... It's kind of some of the stuff that's happening today. Like, "We want to have a monocrop of maize. Maize is very useful for us to have." Or, "This type of crop is going to be grown over here. These people are going to move here who are good at this particular thing." You know, nutritionally things changed a lot. And then also you'd have a little bit of warfare in the resistance of the expansion, right? They also knew how to do trepanation, which is awesome. Like, drill a hole in someone's head when they had trauma.
Michael Crabb [00:30:35] Oh my gosh.
Rachel Kropa [00:30:35] Yeah, I mean pre-anesthesia, can you imagine? I don't know what kind of complicated communication that really takes but people were doing it and saying, "This is the only way you're going to survive is we drill a hole in the skull and like let it out." And people survived it because you would see it actually knit back together in people's like old age, natural death skeletons. You'd have like a resumed and kind of a stitched up piece of skull. So, there are a lot of different things that happened, and I'll share my thesis with you as well if you want to see it.
Michael Crabb [00:31:09] I probably wouldn't understand it all, but maybe the executive summary seems like it's super interesting. It's just amazing how resilient people are, right? I mean, I think we forget just like how tough people are. I mean, that's incredible.
Rachel Kropa [00:31:22] Yeah, I mean, totally. And plus, how sophisticated. I mean, I think because the way also, unfortunately, we've done storytelling, historically, like you don't imagine that people are as sophisticated as currently. Like, you don't think about giving folks a sense of humor from the 1600s. Of course there was. You don't think about how everything had to be just so in order to go through your day. Everything feels very proper and formal. No, it was that people are probably pretty similar to the time period that we're talking about. They had sophisticated medicine.
Rachel Kropa [00:32:04] Well, another thing, the Incan Empire, when it came in realized there was all this ability to store food that folks were growing and had traditional ways of preserving. So, they had like two years worth of stored goods that were really stored in a sophisticated way. And the Spaniards, they came and destroyed it all within a matter of, I think two years. They just kind of ate through it immediately. But there were a lot of interesting water systems, ways that they were transporting water through towns and cities. And I'm sure people were just kind of having a great time. Making jokes, being sort of cutting edge in their own way, just like we do today. And it's fascinating to me that our treatment of people and some of the storytelling makes everything feel very like "Now is modern only."
Michael Crabb [00:33:12] Yeah, I mean, we're nothing if not self-centered beings, even the least self-centered of us are, right? It's just a bias that's good to sort of recognize. I have to say, as someone that sort of prefaced this whole thing as liking math and not liking literature, your storytelling skills have gotten quite good. So, I'll just make that observation.
Rachel Kropa [00:33:36] You'lI have to take that up with my husband.
Michael Crabb [00:33:37] Okay. So you've learned; you've had some extra training.
Rachel Kropa [00:33:42] Yeah, exactly. I'm in a family now of actors and talent managers and things, so proximity to that may be helping a little bit. But yeah, I definitely was not built, I don't think, just to be in a lab doing something at a bench by myself.
Michael Crabb [00:34:00] Totally, totally. So yeah, in that vein, tell us about FootPrint Coalition. It sounds like there are different verticals, and sort of where you're focused.
Rachel Kropa [00:34:10] So, I'm the Managing Director of Nonprofit in Science. I was the first one kind of after Robert announced FootPrint Coalition as a concept at the Amazon Conference back in 2019. I had just had a kid and I was sort of thinking, "How can I spend more of my time strictly doing the sustainability work for just the broader world," maybe not even just entertainment. And so, when Robert mentioned that... I had worked with him on a couple things previously as an advisor, but they were not climate related. And I just said, "Let's have a meeting and I can lay out resources for you and figure out how you want to build this.".
Rachel Kropa [00:34:55] And it just became clear by the end of it that, I was so excited about what the potential was. He's like, "Do you want to just do it? Do you want to just start it with me and then we'll figure out what the other elements are that need to be built in?" And I did. And shortly thereafter, the ventures aspect came online, which is the thing... It still exists. So, we're a three-pronged organization. And shortly thereafter that, the media aspects of it came together.
Rachel Kropa [00:35:27] So, we're small and nimble. We've got probably six or seven people across those different areas, but we're all working together on a regular basis to figure out how do we do storytelling well about investments that we make? How do we, of course, do storytelling well about the science that we're creating? And then, how can I help inform what the ventures folks do, give any sort of background on particular things or connectivity to scientists who are the experts on those things? And so, we all are working in lockstep and trying to make sure that, though we're small, we can be generalists and figure out how to get this all moving together in the right way.
Rachel Kropa [00:36:14] We do have, in the media arm, John Shieber, who's my colleague, has a great background in climate tech because he was the editor of TechCrunch for climate, but also because of that has a great background in policy and what's current on any of the IRA or figuring out what people are permitted or not permitted to do in certain places. And so, that's fantastic. I'd say I have the storytelling background as well, and I'm in the mix on a lot of things that are on production slates. And so, I end up seeing and talking to him about what's in the marketplace right now. What would people be interested to hear a story about? So, it all works really well together.
Rachel Kropa [00:37:01] For my part, I'm working with really early career researchers. And I'd say, the ventures crew has a lot of later stage things that are scale and deployment related. And my stuff is very science-oriented because my background allows early career researchers to get what they need when a lot of the fields in environmental technology are very new.
Rachel Kropa [00:37:29] So, I can tell you about that a little. The partner that we have, which I've loved working with so much, is called experiment.com. It was created by two scientists who were in school and seeing that they were not getting what they needed for curiosity-driven science. They were seeing maybe that there would be ancillary benefits to some of the research they were doing, but they couldn't get to application because it wasn't really within their grant guidelines. And so, they thought, "Well, what if I could test this hypothesis just outside with a little bit of extra money?" And it would lead to things like, "I'm working on this thing over here with a geological laser and it has applications for cancer research," or something. Those things would be really beneficial, if risky, for humanity and just no one has a mechanism for funding that.
Rachel Kropa [00:38:28] And so recently, this guy David Lang took over running that organization for them. And he and I have the same kind of thinking about this, which is there could be a lot of philanthropic money to put toward what people are doing in an early career context. So, it's like a fast grants program plus crowdfunding. We use that platform for the crowdfunding aspects of it. And essentially, he is a scientist. He was an ocean roboticist and he's the greatest human if you get a chance to meet or talk with him. He also has a podcast that he does called Sci Better and interviews a lot of really interesting folks. And he's been thinking about this problem as well for a long time, which is, how do we relieve some of the administrative burden on people?
Rachel Kropa [00:39:22] Like, NSF grants is like 2.3 years or 2.3 cycles, maybe, before you get your actual grant money, which is like two years. And so, it's not easy for people who've always done the standard kind of publication bias type science to get into something really interesting and novel. But then we award people Nobel Prizes and things that no one else has been working on at the time when they were developed. So, it's a fascinating and weird system that we have now for science.
Rachel Kropa [00:40:02] And we also thought, "Well, maybe if we launch categories in this area, people will have a better understanding of what's going on behind lab doors." Like, COVID and the COVID Fast Grants program was very instrumental in our thinking about this, but you still had people who didn't have visibility into how the vaccinations were developed or they just weren't told in a layperson kind of way, "This has been going on for a long time. We have had mRNA, the technology for a long time." So, people were wary of getting the vaccination. And I think, the conversation for climate has gotten to a place where people generally are more accepting of it now, and it's taken great pains to do that. And what we don't want is to now get stymied at the place of like, "What is this science exactly that we're doing on the climate?" And so, the ability to be really transparent in having... I'll explain it to you, basically, how it works. We put in to any category we've launched a certain amount of money, but it can be like...
Michael Crabb [00:41:09] How many categories? Are we talking, five categories or fifty categories?
Rachel Kropa [00:41:12] Right now we have seven categories. You can start a category for like $50,000. And it's actually quite a bit of money for the way that the process works out. And when I started working with Robert, not a lot of nonprofits had technology as their raison d'etre, right? Like, it's a hard thing for a nonprofit to do technology as its main focus because it's expensive and risky and it's not sort of what people have always been focused on.
Michael Crabb [00:41:49] In some ways, that's what makes it so great, right? Because you're being willing to a low probability, high impact outcome. It's like a lens, but just for societal good. I mean, I kind of love it.
Rachel Kropa [00:42:00] Well, so this thing that we built was because there was no way to really distribute grants in a cohesive way that made sense. And we sort of said, "Well, we could do something really impactful for people who are studying these things in very new contexts and be high risk, high reward as like angel investing is." There's kind of no one who's figured out how to automate that system of giving people grants, understanding what the results are, making it really transparent and also make it where it's not the standard cast of characters who are getting the grant money because of the way that hierarchical systems work, where people have a lot of credits or a lot of publications or whatever. Getting the first money is also really hard. And a lot of scientists will say, "The first money that I ever got, the $5,000 or $10,000 that I got from this person really enabled me to keep going." For them to have to find that person in addition to trying to do the rigorous science is like a little diluting.
Rachel Kropa [00:43:06] So, this is really just... Essentially, we cede the first 50% of their total project budget. So in these categories, which are cellular agriculture, conservation biotech, environmental justice, indigenous futures, mycology, meta science and negative emissions technologies, maybe your favorite, there is a science lead who's like a really esteemed scientist who has a really good network of people who are likely candidates for needing money to test something. And the money can go directly to them as scientists, which is nice. It doesn't have a ton of overhead attached to it. But they basically write up a little story. It's two pages of work. It's like, "Here's an abstract, here are the implications, here's my budget, here's how long I think it might take me." And we can turn it around very quickly. So, maybe as little as two weeks if you were super motivated, but like, never really more than two and a half, three months. So, not two years.
Rachel Kropa [00:44:16] And people can reach out to a lot of folks that they know. They use us. We reach out to the folks that we know about the storytelling, about what the possible outcomes of a project like what they're doing are. And then, the science leads are the ones that really say like, "This looks like a really great, valid project on the back end. This application is something I want to put forward and put half their budget in from my pot." And then, we get the crowd to do the rest.
Rachel Kropa [00:44:48] And so, that process really takes like 40 days to do the funding, beginning to end. And then right away, people start in on their research. And they have lab notes that come back as like a perk, the normal kind of crowdfunding perk. Like, "See what I'm doing. Here's what the lab looks like," and give progress. And it's been awesome to just see how many different things. You go to footprintcoalition.com and then you hit "Science Engine." If you go to "Support," you can see the aggregate list of projects that have been done and are funded and are underway.
Michael Crabb [00:45:25] I'm actually pulling it up. How many? Like, 10, or 100, or 1,000?
Rachel Kropa [00:45:29] It's like 40 right now. I want to say it's like 42, maybe, or something, or maybe a few more. But what we're going to try to do is continue to launch new categories. We have like 50 categories waiting in the wings of things where we think we could probably get a lead and we could probably get some interesting funding for. In certain cases we'll get big funders to partner with us on several categories. But like, ocean solutions is also being done with Schmidt Marine and Oceankind and a few other partners. You know, the way that you constrain these categories is kind of important, just so that scientists find out about it and know if they're squarely working in that category. And I loved that mycologists, when that category came online, they were all like, "Yes, finally. We've been waiting for this.".
Rachel Kropa [00:46:20] And there are other ones where it's a little harder to get the network activated to apply. And so, it matters. Like, when we look for science leads, the person is a pretty remarkable individual who's good at messaging and has a network but also is a serious scientist. And to varying degrees, we all are going out and finding people that we'd like to apply and that would make great stories to tell years from now when they win a Nobel Prize.
Michael Crabb [00:46:54] Yeah. Hey, it's Kickstarter for deep tech. I love it.
Rachel Kropa [00:46:58] Yeah, totally.
Michael Crabb [00:47:00] What are you most excited about. Out of those 40-some, or maybe it's part of the 50 additional categories. What's the one? If I had to ask you which of these things are we talking about five years from now, which are you most excited about?
Rachel Kropa [00:47:16] Some of the ones that are... There's a lot of which you'd see too... And I take some information from the ventures team as well about what people are doing in material science, because people get really excited about a specific material. And part of that is just human nature of like knowing how to conceptualize that. I know what a mycelium is, or at least I know what a mushroom is, and so I understand this fun, kind of funky... Like, someone's going to do a study on what the electrical impulse of mycelia talking to each other sounds like and make sort of an art project about it. Okay, that's really fun and interesting and cool and also will lend itself maybe later to interspecies communication work, which is like how do they talk to trees? How do they network all the things in the understory of a forest?
Rachel Kropa [00:48:10] But the harder thing, it might be in the realm of like negative emissions technologies because people sort of are like, "Wait a minute, that means exactly what?" And we called it that because it's broader than just DAC, direct air capture. It's a little broader than that, and we have two people at the helm of that one, because in some ways, there are a lot of things that are new and speculative about it and there are a lot of people who are confused about why does it cost so much and how do we make it cost less? And then also, there are chemical triggers and there also like biological triggers that can play into the entirety of it.
Rachel Kropa [00:48:51] And so, we have Merritt Dailey, who is working on the chemical side of things more, and Paul Reginato, who you can read about both of them on the website and see what their backgrounds are. But Paul works on it from a biotech kind of lens. He has an organization called Homeworld Collective, which is really about building community around biotech for carbon removal.
Rachel Kropa [00:49:18] And so, they each are evaluating the projects that come through. And I think we have five in that category right now. And yeah, they tend to be a little more expensive. And Merritt acknowledges, "In my field, there are a lot of people who are at the plant stage right now." They've got a proving ground in the space that they've built in order to do this thing, but it costs, 10X to 100X more than it does per ton for trees.
Rachel Kropa [00:49:50] And you know, there's been conversation, obviously, in the carbon world about how quantifiable that is and how durable, depending on what happens to the living organisms that you plant, like trees... You've obviously read articles about people getting themselves into trouble buying offsets in that way. And like, it turns out to not be a thing or it burns down in a forest fire. There are a lot of things that you can't control about it.
Michael Crabb [00:50:17] Yeah, my bias is that it's helpful, but it's nowhere near scalable.
Rachel Kropa [00:50:21] Well, we need the trees anyway. Let's just plant the trees and make sure that it continues, but also make sure that we're getting at least 17 gigatons of atmospheric carbon extant out of there.
Michael Crabb [00:50:35] It's a lot.
Rachel Kropa [00:50:38] Yeah, yeah. I mean, and making sure it comes down in price. So, there are people like... Terraset is a fantastic nonprofit that I met the other day for the first time. Their whole goal is to put philanthropic dollars toward this early cost curve for the carbon removal technologies that are measurable and technical and require equipment and chemistry, et cetera. So, there are a lot more people thinking...
Rachel Kropa [00:51:06] Even in the biotech stuff that Paul does. He's working more on the things like cyanobacteria pools. I think we have, let's see, a cyanobacteria with directed evolution. We have additives for organic carbon capture with algae. I think we've got a couple on rock weathering. So, some of the things are both, and everything matters... How much you can work on something like rock weathering in what kind of scale, what kind of surface area. And probably the same with things like algal pools. I mean, it takes a lot to be able to remove a lot. But as we talked about at the top, all things are important all the time right now. In order to get us to our goals, we have to remove so much extant carbon in order to get ourselves under two degrees.
Michael Crabb [00:52:03] Yeah, I mean, it sort of feels like... You're closer to the science side of it, but it's harder for me to buy that there is really some dramatic cost curve reduction. Just seems to me from first principles that, yeah, part of the reason why carbon in the atmosphere is so bad is because it's so stable. Like, it's just going to be expensive. And we need to just sort of embrace it. Instead of hoping that at some point it doesn't, while we're barreling towards the edge of the cliff, at some point, we've just got to sort of do something about it, right?
Rachel Kropa [00:52:33] Yeah. Eat the cost. Just do it.
Michael Crabb [00:52:36] And the thing about cost, right, is that high cost... Like, my commodity background... High prices cure high prices, right? So, like the best way to create that sort of demand pull, get started on it, and then perhaps they come, the cost reductions come. But I don't know.
Rachel Kropa [00:52:54] Yeah, I really do hope that they do. I mean, one of the things Paul talked about the other day when I spoke with him is he has a lot of hope for enzymatic augmentation. Like, making sure that adding enzymes, biological enzymes into a context that is already working but at a smaller tonnage scale would be a vast improvement. I mean, he's really excited about that. And I'm probably not conveying it exactly the way that he would. Each of them has kind of their favorites, their frontrunner things of all the applications they see as well, the things that they think have the most promise.
Rachel Kropa [00:53:40] I get a front row seat to that. I get to understand, "Okay, you chose this one, but maybe not this one. And why is that?" People do really have specific... I mean, we looked at maybe doing a cementitious materials category. Having it be such a vast proportion of the building material around the world, it has a huge amount of emissions associated with it. But there's not like really just a fantastic frontrunner of someone curing carbon into concrete yet. There's a lot of, at least the scientists that I've been speaking to, they're very dubious about how much ability people will have to do that well and with what materials.
Rachel Kropa [00:54:30] And so, we may do it. I mean, anything that feels like it deserves more attention, we want to be right there and make sure that folks are drawn to it. More funding... I mean, we don't even care necessarily if it's us, if other entities are running money through FootPrint Coalition. What we really want is for everyone to use this model and come alongside us and let's like make the model have a ton of momentum for all the people who can be boots on the ground around the world in the places that they're seeing some particular problem and trying to solve it with science.
Michael Crabb [00:55:07] Yeah, yeah. Always comes back to the core problem we're trying to solve, right? Yeah. What have we not talked about that you wanted to?
Rachel Kropa [00:55:16] I'm trying to think. I mean, I tried to make some notes for myself because, obviously, as we discussed, we haven't slept. To the extent that people want to take up this model, I think that there is anything under the sun that you can think of. We're also toying with the idea of a climate futures category, which would be a little more about science journalism, science fiction communication, and what things have we seen in people's imaginations in writing that could be real? And how will that be captivating to people through the storytelling that we want to do around it?
Rachel Kropa [00:56:01] If anyone wants to go look at the aggregate projects right now, there is so much in there that is fascinating and some of it will be commercialized, we hope. And I think, to the extent that we can, we're going to try to develop in the next couple of years a FootPrint Coalition Institute. And I think, part of the next steps to that will be to get the early career stuff and the investable stuff closer together by hopefully helping some of the people who are scientists in our engine to commercialize and see if there are companies that come out of that that are really exceptional. People who are doing rare earth element mining and things like that that they want to try to make into a company.
Rachel Kropa [00:56:44] And some scientists who are doing... Like, we allow for people who are doing R&D within a company to apply as scientists on their own. I mean, we get a lot of, of course, academic applications, but people who are like testing different things and don't have to spend the companies hard fundraised money to do it may want to come as an individual and try to test a few things in the background just in a science context. And there's plenty to do there as well.
Rachel Kropa [00:57:14] So, that's what I'd say. They would like to get someone who's working on helping network the people out of the science engine to opportunities to become entrepreneurs if they want to. Some people just want to be scientists and they don't want to think about companies, and that's fine too. We love you.
Michael Crabb [00:57:33] Yeah, yeah. I mean, it takes both, right? Business building is hard and science is hard, and you have to kind of marry those at the right time. Awesome. I'm just sort of spinning on how much stuff you're doing. I can't keep up with that level of breath.
Rachel Kropa [00:57:48] Well, offline, I'll tell you about my other job too. And my mothering job.
Michael Crabb [00:57:56] It's so much. Well, it was lovely having you on. I can't wait for folks to hear this. And I'm sure you'll get... Hopefully, you'll get more reach out after this is live.
Rachel Kropa [00:58:05] Yeah. It was really lovely to talk to you. I'm fascinated by all the different conversations you have, and I'm glad that I got the time with you today. I hope we get it again soon.