You use reusable shopping bags. You recycle, and maybe even compost. You take the T whenever you can. But sometimes, driving is unavoidable—maybe your job is inaccessible by public transit, or maybe the bus never showed. You take your car, even though you cringe when you think of the impact non-electric cars have on the environment.
Local nonprofit Green Gas is pioneering a new system that will let drivers offset their carbon footprint at the gas pump. The Green Gas Card and Green Gas pumps donate 10 cents per gallon to projects that reduce carbon—the total amount necessary to counteract the damage of driving, according to the nonprofit’s founders.
“There are a lot of people who are looking for a way to channel their frustration about this climate impact that we all have and looking to do more,” Green Gas Co-founder and Executive Director Kyle Kornack says. “And as the federal government is failing to do so and regressing, more and more people are standing up in different ways. So our hope is this can just be another one of those tools for people to take a step in the right direction.”
Kornack grew up in northern Los Angeles and got a firsthand taste of climate change when the hills near his community “started catching on fire more and more.” What he saw inspired him to major in environmental studies and philosophy at Northeastern University, where he grappled with the ethical questions raised by climate change.
He started toying with the idea of carbon offsetting while working at a juice startup. The team initially used mason jars to avoid plastic, but once the company gained steam the mason jars weren’t scaleable. The founders looked into ways to make up for the company’s negative impact on the environment.
Kornack’s focus turned to driving, and he was surprised to discover that it takes just a dime per gallon of gas to offset drivers’ carbon impact. Transportation accounted for 27 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “We basically created the business plan overnight,” Kornack says.
Green Gas launched its card in March, which users can tie to their bank accounts and then use to fill up at the pump. The 10 cent per gallon donation—which Kornack notes is tax deductible—is made automatically with the card.
They’re also rolling out Green Gas at the pump, giving people the option to donate as they fill up their cars. The pump initiative will likely be able to reach a larger swath of the population than the cards, as it takes less effort for people to opt in.
“We believe [the pump is] the point where people are most motivated to act,” Kornack says. “You’re consuming fossil fuel at that moment, and you’re smelling it, there’s a tangible experience. We envision gas stations as hubs of environmental advocacy in the future.”
One of the main projects Green Gas supports is a reforestation program in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley that is working to restore 1 million acres. Another project in New Bedford, Mass. captures the methane emitted from a landfill and turns it into enough electricity to power 2,500 homes.
Green Gas is also working to develop its fleet program, where organizations with large vehicle fleets—companies, universities, even cities—could opt into the Green Gas donations. Green Gas is in preliminary discussions with the cities of Somerville and Cambridge about participating in the program, according to Kornack.
Ultimately, the founders want to make Green Gas free for drivers by having companies sponsor the carbon offsets, which would allow them to show their stake in environmental protection. This setup could be in place in about a year, Kornack says.
Kornack sees the Green Gas program as in line with other ways that people choose to spend their money responsibly.
“There’s a wide body of research, [but] you don’t even need the research, you just look around and see people are willing to pay more for fairly produced goods,” he says. “This is just another form of fairness, fairness to our general climatic balance.”
Kornack and the nonprofit’s other cofounders, Liam Madden and Dave Cooch, have worked out of Greentown Labs since February. They’re moving into Boston for four months to participate in MassChallenge, but plan to come back to Greentown Labs in the fall.
This story originally appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription. A previous version of this article was published online on March 30.