Adam Neumann’s New Carbon Credit-Crypto Startup Is Paused

Image Credit: iStock, Chinnapong

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

Former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann is currently the subject of an Apple TV+ drama that depicts how he led that company into “an implosion unlike any other in the history of start-ups” (as The New York Times described it).

So how’s his new venture, Flowcarbon, doing? Well, the climate change-focused crypto startup has put its staple product on indefinite hold, but for macro reasons beyond his control. Call it a step-up?

Not a Money-Making Machine

Flowcarbon, which was co-founded by Neumann but stresses he is not involved in daily operations, is part of a small group of companies issuing cryptocurrencies backed by carbon credits. Yep, that’s one loosely regulated and controversial financial instrument backed by another.

Carbon credits represent a metric ton of carbon dioxide removed or prevented from entering the atmosphere, and are normally bought through brokers or directly from the developers of carbon projects. Flowcarbon and rivals Toucan Protocol and KlimaDAO have proposed converting those credits into crypto tokens, allowing them to be traded on the blockchain and then “burned” — or permanently removed from circulation — when the owner wants to offset their emissions. An initial wave of interest has given way to uncertainty:

  • Toucan and KlimaDAO began selling tokens in October 2021 and, in the last three months of the year, hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon worth over $3 billion were traded using crypto tokens, according to KlimaDAO data. But there are concerns this is obscuring the true purpose of carbon credits, which is ultimately to reduce carbon and not be a trendy crypto asset.
  • “If people are now buying those tokens because they see it’s a money-making machine… I think that’s potentially unhealthy,” Guy Turner, the CEO of Trove Research, told The Wall Street Journal. Out of 23 million carbon credits that moved to crypto networks in the six months to March, under 2% have been used to offset emissions, KlimaDAO data says.

Unverrafied: In May, Verra, the world’s largest carbon offset registry, banned the use of its credits to back new digital tokens, saying the practice was causing confusion about the climate benefits of offsets. Flowcarbon announced that same month that it had raised $70 million from presales of its token and investors, but then put plans to launch the token on indefinite hold. Toucan and Klima have also slowed their operations, with all three waiting on Verra to propose new ways to convert credits to crypto. Given crypto assets are down $1 trillion since November, maybe they picked the right time to lay low.