Interview with Ruben Schultz of Swoop

Can you talk a little bit about what Swoop is, the service you provide and what makes you different?

Swoop is an online marketplace for group transportation. Think airbnb, but instead of getting accommodation, you get a group vehicle (limo, party bus, charter bus) with a professional driver. So next time you and your friends or colleagues are headed out to go wine tasting, dinner or a wedding, use Swoop to get you there.

What makes us different is the technology- we’re a startup and are changing the way this outdated industry works. This means no more phone calls, price comparisons, and uncertainty in the process. Right now if you book a party bus for a formal, there is no guarantee that the car will show up, that you will get the car that you booked, and that there won’t be any fees after the trip is over. We got rid of all that noise, added a lot of technology and make it easy for anyone in the US to book group travel.

What made you decide to found Swoop in the first place?

Our CEO Amir has been in this industry pretty much all his life, given his parents owned a limo/party bus company. And then around 3 years ago, he realized how outdated and insane some of the practices in this industry are. He spent some time with some of his friends, who are still with Swoop today to put together an MVP and the traction spoke for itself. There was a clearly an opportunity to revolutionize this space and Swoop was born.

It’s important to note that the vehicle utilization for these vehicles is only 5%, meaning they are just collecting dust 95% of the time. Our vision is to increase the utilization of these limos, buses and party buses and get cars off the street by having people go together, rather than in separate cars. Especially relevant here in Los Angeles, where Swoop started.

You guys are building a successful start-up based in California – where the heart of the action is. Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs?

Let me preface this answer by saying that we are far from our vision and are still learning daily. But I think in order to be great at running your company you should be able understand the vision and strategy at a high-level and at the same be able to go really deep into the weeds and the operations. My day often consists of investor meetings in the morning, and then decals and sticking the on the car in the afternoon- there is something strangely rewarding about building a company though that makes it worth it.

This blog looks at what’s coming in the future – when you look ahead at transportation in 2030, how do you see people traveling from point A to point B?

At a high level our play is to continue to the marketplace and platform that hosts all types of group transportation vehicles, and make sure we have the types that customers request. If autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles are part of that, you can bet they will be on Swoop. I think the key shift we will see is convenience- in 10 years people will laugh about group transportation was booked in 2019 and we are confident that we will be at the forefront of that.

What we are also seeing is that the new generation spend more on experiences than they do on physical things. Swoop is already enhancing experiences, by allowing you to start them to start at your door. Imagine going to a Beyonce concert, in party bus that’s playing beyonce on the screens, has the same drinks as the concert destination and was included in your concert ticket price- that is something that is already possible today, and we’re excited to bake AR/VR into this experience.

With more electric vehicles on the road, how is Swoop thinking about this?

There are not many electric buses yet. We would welcome them on the marketplace and I am sure our customers as well

One of my favorite classes during my studies was Climate Change, so at heart I am beyond excited about a world without gas stations. It’s also exciting that that this is already happening in the consumer space, and we feel like group vehicles have some catching up to do. As previously mentioned Swoop would love to host these vehicles on the platform, so your next sprinter van or charter bus is fully electric.

You recently decided to make all of your rides carbon neutral (with my company Carby Box – full disclosure!) – can you talk about why you made that decision and what sustainability means to you as a company?

As I alluded to earlier, I am a huge proponent of a world where we use fewer resources. We feel immense responsibility for the impact that Swoop will have on our planet. As we grow and continue to transport tens of thousands of people, we need to make sure our planet is unharmed by our impact. Carby Box has been the best partner possible in this process, and as Swoop is looking to take a step in the right direction. Swoop has gone green, and I hope others in the space will do so to.

Check Out Swoop at:

Interview with Katharine Rushton of Sunsense Solar

Welcome to Katharine Rushton of Sunsense Solar – a residential solar developer based in Colorado.

Katharine Ruston of Sunsense Solar
Katharine Ruston of Sunsense Solar

What does Sunsense Solar do?

In a nutshell we design solar PV systems and then build them for our customers. We are based in Colorado so most of our work happens here, although we have provided some consultation and design services for projects in other states. We have a very robust residential department and have successfully shepherded many larger projects to fruition in the public sphere – mostly with our local municipalities, counties and school districts. Finding financing mechanisms that can work for public entities is one of our specialties. Its not always easy as energy rates in Colorado are pretty low compared to much of the rest of the country. Aside from that, we have deep experience in battery based systems as Sunsense Solar has been working with off grid clients since we started in 1990. Now we are using that experience for our utility connected clients as the Solar+Storage market gains traction. We have also been able to pursue opportunities in the community solar market, building some smaller solar gardens (2 – 5 MW) for our local utility company. And we have a service department fulfilling operations and maintenance contracts and responding to reactive service calls. We do a lot – it’s a bustle of activity at the Sunsense Solar office!

What do you think the main benefits of solar energy are for residential customers? Are there any downsides people should know about?

Installing solar on your home allows you to reduce or even eliminate your electricity bill, earn returns on your investment and increase the value of your property. Beyond that going solar will minimize your environmental impact and help to address issues such as climate change and health problems related to carbon emissions. Each individual solar installation reduces our collective dependence on fossil fuels. There are no downsides to installing solar per se but there could be plenty of downsides to selecting the wrong solar installer! It pays to educate yourself and choose a solar installer than has the necessary experience, certifications and longevity in the industry. You can find more resources on our website including information on how to choose a solar contractor.

Happy Homewoners with Sunsense Solar Array

What motivates your customers to purchase solar energy systems, is it mainly a smart financial transaction or are they mainly focused on the environmental benefits? Some other reason?

Well actually it depends entirely on the customer. Different clients have different motivations. We try to have a consultative approach to all of our interactions with potential clients – listening to their goals and motivations allows us to custom design a system that fully meets their expectations. There is a range of buyer “types” in the residential market.  Many of them have some kind of environmental motivation, although the majority are also hoping for financial savings. The cost of solar has come down substantially in the past few years and with the federal tax credit still in place it’s easy to achieve a fairly reasonable return on investment. Decision makers for commercial projects are much more focused on the financial benefits – which makes sense as they have a fiscal responsibility to the business – but as demonstrated by companies like IKEA, Google, Apple, Whole Foods and others, investing in solar is a smart financial decision that allows businesses to hedge against electricity price volatility and inflation.

What is one thing most people don’t know about solar energy?

Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth — 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use!

Ribbon Cutting for 83 kW solar array at Carbondale Water Treatment Plant

What are the main challenges in your industry?

Policy measures have been critical in driving the industry forward but as these measures come and go it creates a potential boom bust cycle for the solar industry which is a challenging environment in which to create a sustainable business.

We also face some technical challenges as renewable energy reaches grid penetration levels that our aging grid transmission and distribution system cannot handle. Upgrades are needed to the gird system to maintain stability and reliability of delivery including the addition of storage and more cooperation between the individual grid balancing authorities.

If you could have one wish immediately granted for the energy industry what would it be?

I wish we could all agree that the climate is warming and that burning fossil fuels is contributing to that situation. Its clear that we need to transition to a 100% renewable energy economy and if we could all get on the same page about that then we can work together to over come the hurdles to getting there. Obstructionist policies at the Federal level are short sighted and dangerous and ignoring the climate issue is having very real consequences to the well-being of mankind and the planet we live on. Consequences of a warming planet include economic destabilization, famine, fires, floods and conflict – all of which translates to human suffering. Fortunately, there are reasons to be optimistic in spite of a lack of leadership on climate at a federal level.

100% solar powered high school

Do you have any role models or people you look up to?

I have great admiration for anyone working towards making solar energy more accessible to the low-income population in the Western World or implementing solar projects to provide energy access where there has been none in Developing Nations. There is a connection between affordable energy access and the alleviation of poverty and solar has a strong role to play in improving quality of life for the majority of the worlds population that don’t have the privileges that many of us take for granted in the US, such as clean water, light by which to study or electricity to run a small business.

Thank you Katharine Rushton for coming on the Climate, Sustainability, Technology Blog! 

Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral though Amazon Alexa by saying “Alexa, order Carbon Neutral.”

Interview with Joyce Hu of the Sustainable Surf Brand Marlin Ray

What is Marlin Ray and what do you do?

Marlin Ray is a surf inspired brand that produces fashion and outdoor accessories. I am one of the co-founders of Marlin Ray, along side my husband, Josh Berry. It’s just the two of us!

Marlin Ray Sustainable Surf Brand
Marlin Ray – a very cool sustainable surf brand based in California.

What product of yours are you most excited about?

Our fair trade, carbon neutral surf poncho will always be our hero product. It’s why the brand was created. When I met my husband, I watched him change in and out of his wet suit with a raggedy old towel precariously wrapped around his waist, with his entire upper body exposed to the chilly northern California coastal air. I looked online for a changing poncho and all I found was cheap, ugly polyester ponchos or very expensive, one-off, hand sewn ponchos. I’ve been working for a fair trade factory in Kenya for almost 10 years and had the entire supply chain accessible for a changing poncho that fit my design aesthetic, price point and values. So I had to do it!

You have a supply chain transparency policy – can you talk about that?

Because we have a very small supply chain with small batch productions, we are able to be completely transparent with where we get all of our materials and trims. If and when we grow, we will continue our commitment to transparency, disclosing the source of all of materials and trims – as far as we can. You can read the details of our supply chain on our website.

What does sustainability mean to you as a business owner?

Sustainability means doing everything in my power to do business in the most ethical way possible. As a small producer, it’s much easier to make more sustainable choices. But as the size of the producer grows, it becomes much harder to make or transition to more sustainable materials and means of production. The bigger the company, it becomes more about a choice of trade offs and hyper focused initiatives, i.e. slowly transition to all organic cotton, but can’t phase out polyester. The advantage of being small is of course the ability to go deeper. And the advantage of being big is one commitment can make a big impact on the ground level.
As a business owner engaged in direct communication with consumers, I also feel the responsibility to bring more awareness about the dangers of our consumption and support of unethical producers. Engaged and concerned consumers can find resources and brands to decrease their carbon impact, like our guide to sustainable buying.

You’ve recently become plastic free – how did you do it?

We actually launched being almost plastic free. There are some things that we just can’t avoid, i.e. polyester thread for strength (but we’re close to finding a source) Also, for international shipping, you have to protect the garments from moisture. In this case, we have lined our boxes with plastic salvaged from the delivery of our bolts of fabric. Most brands have to individually wrap each garment because they get delivered to many distributors. Right now, there is not a good compostable bag option for this purpose. Recycled plastic is the only option. Some “bio plastics” claim to be compostable but they just breakdown to fine plastic dust!

Do you have any business role models?

Mara Hoffman and Stella McCartney are my top two.

Are there any additional shout outs you’d like to make?

Would definitely like to shout out to Wildlife Works factory.

Thank you Joyce Hu for coming on the Climate, Sustainability, Technology Blog! 

Graham Majorhart is the founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral in 1 click through

Kenya Bans Plastic Bags

When landing at Nairobi International Airport, one of the first announcements passengers hear on the airplane is “Please make sure to dispose of your plastic bags on board the aircraft because Kenya has a general plastic bag ban and does not allow them to be brought into the country.”

This is a good idea. 

As of August 2017, Kenya has banned the use and manufacture of plastic bags for carrying for commercial and household use. From the picture below, it’s easy to see why this was necessary, with increasing pollution from plastic bags domestically, Kenya was facing a major national problem.

Plastic Bag pollution in Nairobi
Plastic bag pollution in a river in Nairobi, picture taken in May 2018.

Some might argue that an outright ban on household use of plastic bags is a bit extreme.

Support Business by Charging for Plastic Bags

There are other measures that can be taken reasonably, such as those which have been taken by Germany and China: charging for plastic bags.

In 2008, China enacted a law stating that all retail outlets must charge customers for thin plastic bags. From my experience in China for 6 years, the normal price of a plastic bag at the supermarket was about $0.01. Interestingly however, this caused the national usage of plastic bags of the types targeted to drop by about 65%, and it is easy to see why. If we are all forced to ask ourselves “do I need a plastic bag?” there are many times that we will realize that we don’t. Also, it forces the employees at the checkout process to turn off “auto-bagging.”

This type of psychology is reminiscent of the opt-in vs. opt-out programs. Germany has an opt-in system for organ donation and has only 12% consent rate, while its neighbor Austria is opt-out system and has a 99.8% consent rate. If everyone is forced to “opt-out” of taking a plastic bag, there are very few people who will take that leap; however, if everyone is forced to “opt-in” to taking a plastic bag, we will see a dramatic fall in the amount of people taking a plastic bag at checkout.

Germany and the European Union are pushing for reductions in plastic bag use through higher fees on plastic bags and getting support from the retail industry. With strong government leadership, the retail industry can benefit in three ways from charging for plastic bags:

  • Increased revenue through plastic bag sales
  • Reduced costs for plastic bag purchases
  • Lower costs for society for garbage disposal, and lower environmental costs which impact all areas of society including retails – this means lower taxes and lower fees for business

Kenya is at the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of an outright plastic bag ban, but there are good examples to follow from China and Germany – who simply force customers to opt-in to using plastic bags and have proven a major reduction in overall plastic pollution and costs.

And remember, the decisions we make today last for a long time. According to this insightful sign in the Karura National Forest: “Plastic does not go away.”

Plastic Does Not Go Away
In Nairobi, Karura National Forest Sign: “Plastic Does Not Go Away”


Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the easiest way to become carbon neutral – in 1 click through Amazon.

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