You can do anything that you want if you put in the effort. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I’m shitty at math, but if I apply myself and I work hard, I can be a mechanical engineer 100%. I believe that. So if you want something, have the passion, go after it, work hard and you’ll get to where you need to be.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Li of Clever Carbon at the 2022 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

Michelle launched her career in Silicon Valley where she worked for some of the biggest names in tech including Jawbone, Salesforce, and DocuSign. A TEDx and Dreamforce speaker, Michelle is able to capture audiences and break down complex matters into digestible and delightful sound bites. A proponent for making sustainability the new norm, Michelle founded Clever Carbon to help teach people about carbon footprint in a hip, fun, and relatable way. She believes a carbon literate society is one where transparency and accountability will flourish and one worth striving for.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I feel like this career path kind of found me as opposed to me finding the career path. I worked in tech for many years. Companies like Salesforce and DocuSign. Then I did my MBA. I lived in San Francisco and worked in tech. What was really interesting is when I worked at Salesforce and DocuSign, what I really enjoyed about it was giving back. Like at Salesforce, they give you seven days of volunteer time. People don’t ask you questions like, “Do you really have to go to that? Well, we have this important customer call, can you switch your volunteer time?” It’s very well respected. To me, that was the first time that I ever worked for a company where I felt really proud about that.

Similarly, with DocuSign the product basically is reducing paper usage and they also plant a lot of trees and do a lot of initiatives around the environment. So that kind of instilled in me a love for giving back, doing sustainability.

I’m a problem solver myself and I saw that there was a gap. We have this climate crisis, but people every day are throwing away paper cups and plastic containers and it just hurts me to see this. I thought, how can we incentivize people to not do those things? And that’s how I formed Clever Carbon, which I don’t think of as a business or a startup or a company. Clever Carbon is my passion project, which I hope to make a living out of, but also to spread what I think is a really important message around carbon footprint literacy.

What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

I wish people would’ve told me it doesn’t matter where you start or what you’re doing. I did a Master’s degree after undergrad. I was literally in a lab pipe petting and running experiments, but I really wanted to do business. I bought these Bloomberg, Businessweek magazines and I would read about strategy for Coke and Lego and this and that. And meanwhile, I was in this lab and it was really sad because I couldn’t do any of those things.

But fast forward 10, 15 years through the skills that I learned in lab analytics, collaboration logic, time management, and project management, I was able to get to where I am today. So I wish someone would’ve told me to just start somewhere. Don’t worry too much about it and trust that when you work hard, you’ll get where you need to go.

I know this now, but relationships are so important.. Networking, it’s the people, you know. I think had I made more connections back in the day that would have been so helpful.

You can do anything that you want if you put in the effort. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I’m shitty at math, but if I apply myself and I work hard, I can be a mechanical engineer 100%. I believe that. So if you want something, have the passion, go after it, work hard and you’ll get to where you need to be.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

There are so many people along the way that have helped me. I read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and his book kind of changed my perspective on human beings and our climate issues. In many ways that has spurred me to care more about climate. I always like recommending his book Sapiens and I think that he’s someone that I look up to.

Do you have a favorite quote that made a deep impact on your life?

“What you can measure you can change.” That’s the whole thing around carbon footprint literacy. Once you can measure your impact, you’re no longer using words like, well, this is bad and that is good. Rather, this is 35 grams. That’s 400 grams.

How has environmental and sustainability played a big role in your own life?

I just think sustainability is doing clever and smart things. Obviously when you use all these single use cups they need to go somewhere and they’re using our natural resources to make them and we use them once and we throw them away. I think it’s just so much smarter if we all use reusable cups or reusable bags. So for me, it wasn’t even so much a sustainability thing. These are smart things. Environment and sustainability is not necessarily always about saving the planet, although it is. Using a reusable cup makes sense. Yes. It is a little bit more inconvenient. You have to wash it. You have to remember to carry it, but if eight billion people are doing the same thing, it’s good.

Can you share with our readers what innovations you are excited about in the environmental and sustainability industries?

I think it’s the movement towards quantifying our impact. Whether it’s carbon labeling, being carbon literate, businesses measuring their carbon emissions, offsetting their emissions and looking for active ways to reduce — that’s a whole movement. There’s different standards for carbon reporting. So just like a company has to do accounting, they’ll have to do carbon accounting. Actually, in the UK businesses are mandated to do carbon accounting. Whereas in the U.S., we’re a little bit slow and behind the times on that. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Meta, they all measure their carbon emissions and I think more and more smaller companies are going to do the same because if they want to tell their customers they’re sustainable, their customers are going to be more savvy and say, well, show us the data.

As you know, COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share some examples how companies will be adjusting in light of the need for more sustainability efforts?

I think working from home is interesting. You’re saving on the emissions that you would have if you were to commute, especially if you are in an area where it’s a suburb.. People have to drive really far. Maybe they own SUVs.

Also things like thinking about when you’re on a Zoom call, when your video is on, the carbon missions are a lot higher. At our company we don’t use Zoom backgrounds anymore because that actually has a higher carbon footprint. And maybe we will see a day where we don’t use video unless we absolutely have to because we understand that it reduces carbon emissions.

Also, when you’re working at home let’s say you’re making a cup of coffee and you’re boiling the water, a lot of us tend to fill the kettle to the top, but we really only need very little amount of water. So we could waste that water and we’re using more energy because that amount of water requires more electricity.

It would be about how companies can help people working from home understand how they can work more energy efficiently at home and be more sustainable.

What keeps your spirit still motivated and inspired?

I think that people actually find this information really interesting and I think that people want to do good. They just don’t understand what the impact of using a reusable vs. single use cup is and when they understand a paper cup is eight grams, all users will have a reusable cup. So, I think that people being really open to what we’re teaching them keeps me going.

Also, the businesses that I work and partner with that support this initiative. We have something called “The Coffee Menu.” It has a carbon footprint of the coffee items instead of just the calories or price. Coffee shops put this menu up in their shop. Having the support of the community and knowing people actually do care, keeps me going.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

What I’ve gained from working in tech is this really unique platform. I have people in my circle from Salesforce that work at venture capital. They have their own platforms and I have my platform. I’m now using that platform to spread my message, to teach people to advocate for carbon footprint literacy. That’s something that I took over from my previous life that I’m using now to do good in the world.

If you could inspire a movement what would that be?

Carbon footprint literacy. Everyone should find out what their carbon footprint is and they can do today by taking our two minute carbon footprint quiz at

This was very meaningful Michelle, thank you so much!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.