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Taking action now, speaking with the Founder of Clever Carbon and Women & Climate, Michelle Li.


Many climate and sustainability experts call people to take action now, and Michelle Li is one of them by saying, “We have the opportunity to rethink the status quo for everything that we do. If 8 billion people question their actions imagine what impact that would have”. 


Taking action now, speaking with the Founder of Clever Carbon
Michelle Li

Starting her career in tech, Michelle worked as a sales engineer for Salesforce and DocuSign. Before climate change became mainstream, in 2015 she recalls using reusable coffee cups and bringing her own bag for grocery shopping. In 2017, she took the decision to go vegan, it was not a direct climate action but rather through a realisation that food consumption, as we know, would not be sustainable in the long-term. 


Different approaches to sustainability 


A few years later, in 2019, Michelle moved to London, where she was blown away by the strong role sustainability plays in major Europe cities. “In local grocery stores, you could buy dish wash and detergent products in bulk. While in a convenience store in New York, everything is in a plastic bottle. The public transportation in London and European cities is robust, including a strong focus on biking and shared mobility.”

This contrast in the approach people take to living sustainability opened Michelle’s eyes to other ways to be more sustainable.


Empowering people to change their behaviours through data


She then started volunteering for a local plastic-free community organisation. Rather than taking a defeatist and negative approach when marketing to people about the impact of plastic, she decided to take an educational approach by teaching them about the emissions of their actions. 


For example, the average carbon footprint of meat recipes is 4.8kg CO2equivalent, fish is 2.9kg CO2eq, and vegetarian is 0.7kg CO2eq.


She adds, “Having this type of information and transparency about carbon footprint, open’s news industries who are trying to be more aware about their carbon emissions.” 


This has a ripple effect about how people consume, this is how Michelle came up with the idea of starting Clever Carbon. A platform that teaches people about their carbon footprint to allow everyone to have a standard level of carbon literacy that would allow them to better understand their impact and measure it. 


Taking action now, speaking with the Founder of Clever Carbon

We all have a carbon footprint: Clever Carbon taking action now with Clever Carbon


The average individual in the US has a carbon footprint of 17.0 tonnes of CO2, in the UK it’s 7.7 and in Vietnam it’s 2.2. This makes people question the reason for the differences in carbon footprint in each country and the factors leading to these different levels. 


“Each person has a carbon footprint and not everyone knows that.”

Once an individual is aware of this type of data, it can help them, according to Michelle, to develop ways to reduce their impact, whether it’s with water, waste management, their diet and lifestyle. 


Clever Carbon, started as a side project that she worked on during the holidays and the weekends. Over time, she worked more and more on it and for the past three years she has been working full-time. 


Their overall goal is to make carbon literacy everywhere, on google maps being able to see the carbon footprint of taking the bus would be ideal, according to Michelle. 


She informs us that there are a couple of areas in our lives that have the biggest impact on our carbon footprint: transport, agriculture and food, and energy sectors. In fact, the food and agriculture industry accounts for one-third of total global GHG emissions, while the steel industry emits only 7% of global GHG emissions. Therefore, “let’s not underestimate the power of our diet”, she adds. 


“We are unintentionally and unknowingly wasteful when it comes to energy. For example, the people who have an Alexa or Google home, it’s plugged in 24h a day and people use it less than 1h a day.”

Taking action now, speaking with the Founder of Clever Carbon

Talking about Michelle’s Women and Climate initiative 


As Michelle transferred from the tech industry to the climate sector, she struggled to find a space to exchange her ideas and aspirations with other individuals. 


That is when Women and Climate came to life in 2022. For people coming into this sector, it can be a very intimidating space to come into and having a safe community.  


“Women and Climate is a global network of women professionals that come together to support each other to start their journey in climate and take action”, she explains.


Empowering women in the climate space


This is a network that seeks to empower women to take action within the climate space. People come together and exchange their experience and ideas through networking sessions and panel events with all women speakers happening all over the world. 


This vision Michelle has about the impact of this community, is to increase the presence of sustainability practices within companies and ultimately get them to provide incentives and bonuses when they reach certain sustainability KPIs. 


Once you are part of this community, you can join their weekly coffee meets, their monthly community gathering, and people can also become a City Lead. At the moment, they have over 90 city leads, who organise events and build local networks. 



Graduates entering the climate industry 


“You have to do the work, listen to podcasts or read; learning is a really important part of the job in sustainability”. 

For any individual or recent graduate wanting to enter this industry, she encourages them to have a robust sustainability education. This comes through not only reading climate articles but taking online courses to dive deeper into sustainability concepts and trends. 


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Michelle Li interviewed by Natalia Vasnier for The Conference Corner. Featured images provided by Michelle Li.


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