Stanford Social Entrepreneurship Resource Hub






Brenden Millstein

brenden millstein

MBA 2010

Cofounder, Carbon Lighthouse

your job

Briefly describe the mission of your organization and how your role contributes to it. What does a typical day look like?

We launched Carbon Lighthouse to stop climate change. To accomplish this we make it profitable for commercial and industrial buildings to become carbon neutral, first by finding and implementing energy efficiency projects on-site, then by competing with power plants for permits to balance whatever environmental impact cannot be eliminated on site. For energy efficiency projects our engineers get ~1,000x more data than traditional efficiency firms – to make this tangible 1,000x is roughly the difference in square footage between the Empire State Building and a typical house – and this immense additional data lets us reduce energy consumption on site by 20% or 30% at half to a tenth the cost of traditional energy efficiency companies. Next, we use some of the revenue from efficiency to compete with power plants for operating permits to balance any environmental impacts from energy use we cannot eliminate on site. The net package is profitable for clients, requires no out-of-pocket capital from clients, and makes it easy to become carbon neutral.

I cofounded Carbon Lighthouse in 2009 while still at Stanford GSB, and as of summer 2013 Carbon Lighthouse has completed 100+ projects in California and Oregon and been profitable every year. We remain 100% employee owned after receiving initial startup capital from the Stanford Social Innovation Fellowship, StartX, Bases Social-E, and Echoing Green.

A given week finds me in meetings forging partnerships with large real estate investment trusts to help them profitably reduce their emissions, on the phone with manufacturing plants to help them increase their yield while profitably cutting emissions, and emailing every engineering alumni list at Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Caltech, and UC Berkeley to hire more engineers. I am a physicist by training, an engineer by soul, and I absolutely love people. This is the greatest job I could imagine.

your inspiration

What made you go into this profession? Why are you doing what you are doing?

I spent most of high school failing to help those around me. In four years my fellow 1,000 classmates and I weathered six principals, more than twenty fires, and graduated ~700 students. I volunteered in low-income tutoring and afterschool programs, but felt unable to move the needle. Then, during my senior year of high school, I took a nuclear engineering class at UC Berkeley. I learned in-depth about climate change and the energy crisis, how mosquito breeding seasons are temperature dependent, how despotic oil regimes influence global politics in addition to their own citizens’ prosperity, and the effects on human health from mountain top removal for coal mining and ground-water pollution. I learned how I could improve the lives of billions of people by helping mitigate these issues, and unlike issues of education or health care or women’s rights, issues of energy are largely solvable through math and engineering. With a better engineering system, one could make it profitable for countries, organizations, and individuals to switch to using clean and domestic power. And I love math and engineering. I’ve been hooked on trying to resolve these problems ever since.

your advice

What recommendations do you have for current Stanford students interested in pursuing a career in a similar capacity? What skills or knowledge should they focus on at Stanford? What tips do you have regarding the job search?

With a few exceptions, the outrageously amazing companies that are going to change the world do not recruit on campus. This is simply because there are relatively few outrageously amazing companies that are going to change the world, and very many companies overall. The odds of a world changer showing up at your campus doorstep are just pretty low. So my advice is don’t settle. My first year at GSB I called, met in person, and informationally interviewed with ~150 different cleantech and renewable energy companies. Everyone loves students, and the GSB has an amazing network; take it for a spin! Take classes you do not love a little less seriously, spend some time figuring out what you are passionate about, and then call a million people and talk to them. I have found people are friendly, fascinating, and helpful if I just reach out, but they do not seem to just show up at my door without a little legwork first.

your life vision

How do you make this unconventional career path work in your life?

We launched Carbon Lighthouse to stop climate change, and since climate change is a global problem Carbon Lighthouse cannot remain a regional or national company. Our engineering system already makes it profitable and easy for buildings as small as 25,000 square feet to become carbon neutral, but this is insufficient. We are working hard to expand the engineering system to help a march of ever smaller buildings, and we are also expanding our operational reach so we can help companies in ever larger geographical locations. Ultimately we plan to make it profitable for all commercial and industrial buildings to become carbon neutral, regardless of size, type, or location. Everyone should have the opportunity to make money while serving the planet.

In terms of other career paths, I cannot imagine doing anything differently. I love every person on the team I get to work with, I love what we do as a group, I love what I do personally, and I love the incredible diversity of challenges we overcome every week to continue growing and making it profitable for more buildings to become carbon neutral. This is way more fun than anything else I could imagine.


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