The largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States now officially comes from vehicles, and much of that can be blamed on the daily commute.
Americans spend an average of 26.9 minutes driving each way to work, and most of them (76 percent) are traveling alone. That means roughly 115 million vehicles are on the road every day.
That daily commute generates a massive amount of air pollution, which contributes to poor air quality and climate change, not to mention the daily traffic jams that make that journey just a little bit longer every year.
The founders of Hytch have set out to tackle this problem.
Hytch is a Nashville, Tennessee-based carpooling app that builds on the ride-sharing model popularized by Lyft and Uber. It gives workers a platform to arrange carpooling with friends and colleagues that lets them earn money, credits and a sense of purpose with every ride they share. “We wanted to bring value to a space that has been largely ignored,” said John Bernard, chief operating officer of Hytch, which he referred to as a social impact technology company. He noted that many individual organizations have tried to incentivize ride-sharing through internal programs, but the level of adoption has been surprisingly low. “It’s a huge social problem that needed a new approach,” he said.
His team thinks they’ve figured out how to engage people in the carpooling concept by creating a layered and gamified incentive structure. To participate, employees in communities that support Hytch download the app, and invite someone to share a ride. They can also use Hytch while taking public transportation, as long as they do it with another Hytcher.
The app then tracks their trip, adding cash (about 5 cents per mile) to their account. The app lets users track their earnings and to cash out once they reach $10 or donate their rewards to an environmental cause. It also tracks the number of total miles traveled and the environmental impact they’ve had via “trees saved” from reduced CO2 emissions. It’s not just a hypothetical savings, Bernard said. Hytch is partnering with Carbon Credit Capital to purchase and retire carbon credits as a way to monetize the carbon offset of their users.
Any company or government agency can sponsor rewards via Hytch, and users don’t have to work for those companies to benefit. In some communities users can take advantage of multiple rewards through more than one sponsoring organizations.
Bernard thinks this value proposition, coupled with the steam of real time data will be especially compelling for millennials and Gen Z employees who want the work they do — and the companies they work for — to make a positive social and environmental impact. “We are giving people back their time and helping them to have a positive environmental impact,” he said.
30 Million Vehicles Off the Road
Cindy Walker, an inside sales rep for Flash Technology in Franklin, Tennessee, accumulated $301 in the first eight months of using the app, which is sponsored by Nissan in her community. “It’s not going to make me rich, but it adds up,” she said. She’s also saved 180 trees, which appeals to her environmentally sustainable lifestyle. “It’s cool to see that what we are doing is making a difference.”
Walker carpools with a co-worker every day to Flash and uses the app when she and her husband drive to their occasional second job together. She’s also recommended it to co-workers and friends as an easy way to make a little extra money and save wear and tear on their cars.
Bernard is counting on that kind of word-of-mouth to help Hytch catch on. Because the app requires more than one user, the business model is built to be viral, he said. The cost to sponsors is also fairly low, and Hytch is experimenting with how much of an incentive users need to take advantage of the app. “Even at a penny a mile, it gives employees a reason and a reward for doing the right thing.”
It’s still early days, but the company has already secured several sponsors, including Nissan, Goodwill, a few banks and a university, and logged more than 4 million miles in the first two years. Most users today are in Tennessee, however the app also supports rides ending in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona. In August, the company secured growth funding from a consortium led by XMI Growth in Nashville, which they plan to use to expand into other high commuter markets.
Hytch’s ultimate goal is to get one-fourth of cars off the road in the communities where they operate. “Behavioral economics tells us that all people need is a nudge to do the right thing,” Bernard said.
He believes Hytch will be that nudge.