Interview with Geoff Palmer – CEO and founder of Clean Machine

Geoff is the CEO and founder of Clean Machine, and is 31 years a vegan! That is by far the longest running vegan I’ve met. What have been your highest and lowest points of the journey?geoff_palmer

My lowest point was in the beginning feeling so isolated, ridiculed and ostracized by others. Whether with family, friends, co-workers or love interests, eating is a very social experience for me. That there was so much difficulty in not only finding food, but sharing it with others made it very hard to just get through a normal day without some sort of judgement or harassment. It is definitely so much easier now in food choices, accessibility and acceptance.

My high point was meeting Vanessa, the woman I fell in love with who is also a long term compassionate vegan. We first met at the Central Florida Veg Fest, we had a vegan wedding reception at Sublime, a vegan restaurant that donates 100% of the profits to Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) and honeymooned on Holistic Holiday at Sea, Vegan Cruise!

Tell us a little about what you do now and how you got to that point.

I am the Founder and CEO of Clean Machine, a natural vegan sports nutrition supplement company. I started Clean Machine a little over 3 years ago out of a want to provide clean, natural, vegan supplements to help people with their physical fitness and health goals. I worked in the natural products and sports nutrition industry for over 25 years and saw health-promoting products that were not made for the serious athlete, and sports nutrition products that were not healthy or even dangerous. Health and fitness should be two parts of a whole, not polar opposites. So I created Clean Machine to provide a natural, effective alternative.

What skills would you suggest are most valuable to learn early for starting and running a great business?

The numbers first and foremost. Costs, margins, pricing, promotions, etc. that make a business profitable. No company succeeds without being profitable. Second, know your customer. You may think something is great, but that doesn’t mean others do. No wise investor will even consider a business until it is past proof of concept – is there a sustained demand, is it scalable, profitable and what protects you against competition in the marketplace? Bottom line, unless you have years of experience in a business, find some who does. Consultants and mentors can save you from wasting a lot of money and making mistakes that could end your business before you even get started. Partnering with people who excel in areas that you don’t is worth it.

What is your biggest insight on encouraging regard for animals?

Find an approach that suits you. I believe change will come in different ways for different personalities and that they all have their place. I prefer the science and nutrition because that is my passion and it is the way my mind works. But it is also usually less combative or judgemental to just show the research, or the statistics. I am not a confrontational person and for me being vegan is simply an extension of my compassion, so that is how I try to treat others. This approach feels best for me, so finding the approach that feels right for you is a good place to start.

I do caution people about becoming an “angry vegan”. Many people feel (rightfully so) very angry about the injustice and suffering. But if we can find ways to condemn the act and not the person, we may get less resistance to change, which I feel is the real goal (for the animals). No one likes to be judged or made wrong. Finding that nuance in your presentation can mean the difference in how it is received.

What one movie, piece of literature or other medium has most shifted your views?

Funny, I really haven’t felt that influenced by any of them, though I have enjoyed, or been moved by many. My shift came from a deeply personal transformation that freed me from so much of my own pain, I felt such an overwhelming gratitude that I searched my own soul for how I could contribute to less suffering in this world. In meditation, it just came to me and it felt so immediately right in every way, it was if I was already innately vegan, I just needed to remember it. At the time I did not know of any book, or movie (there was no internet yet) and I didn’t even know there was a word “vegan”. Someone else told me after I described my values to them. I was just using “strict vegetarian”.

What is one thing that you believe which almost no one else does?

That life is perfect.

What’s next for you?

Surfing this wave, this vegan movement as far as it will take me and enjoying being a part of this transformation of human consciousness.

That and launching some kick-ass cool new products that help people achieve health and fitness without harming their bodies, the planet or the animals.

Thanks for taking the time to chat Geoff. I hope to remain as passionate about helping animals in 31 years as you are today!

The need for convergence on an ethical theory

For this post, I’m going to use the scenario outlined in the science fiction book Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s a far-fetched scenario (and I leave out a lot of detail), but it sets up my point nicely, so bear with me. Full credit for the intro, of course, to Stephenson.

This is cross-posted to the Effective Altruism Forum. Please post your comments there to keep them all in one place.


Humanity is in a near future state. Technology is slightly more advanced than it is today, and the International Space Station (ISS) is somewhat larger and more sophisticated. Long story short, the Moon blows up, and scientists determine humanity has two years before the surface of the Earth becomes uninhabitable for 5,000 years due to rubble bombardment.

Immediately, humanity works together to increase the size and sustainability of the ISS to ensure that humanity and its heritage (e.g. history, culture, animals and plants stored in a genetic format) can survive for 5,000 years to eventually repopulate the Earth. That this is a good thing to do is not once questioned. Humanity simply accepts as its duty that the diversity of life that exists today will continue at some point in the future. This is done with the acceptance that the inhabitants and descendants of the ISS will not have any easy life by any stretch of the imagination. But it is apparently their ‘duty’ to persevere.

The problem

It is taken as a given that stopping humanity from going extinct is a good thing, and I tend to agree, though not as strongly as some (I hold uncertainty about the expected value of the future assuming humanity/life in general survive). However, if we consider different ethical theories, we find that many come up with different answers to the question of what we ought to do in this case. Below I outline some of these possible differences. I say ‘might’ instead of ‘will’ because I’ve oversimplified things and if you tweak the specifics you might come up wit ha different answer. Take this as illustrative only.

Classical hedonistic utilitarian

If you think the chances of there being more wellbeing in the future are greater than there being more suffering (or put another way, you think the expected value of the future is positive), you might want to support the ISS.

Negative utilitarian

If you think all life on Earth and therefore suffering will cease to exist if the ISS plan fails, you might want to actively disrupt the project to increase the probability that happens. At the very least, you probably won’t want to support it.


I’m not really sure what a deontologist would think of this, but I suspect that they would at least be motivated to a different extent than a classical utilitarian.

Person affecting view

Depending on how you see the specifics of the scenario, the ‘ISS survives’ case is roughly as good as the ‘ISS fails’ case.

Each of these ethical frameworks have significantly different answers to the question of ‘what ought we do in this one specific case?’ They also have very different answers to many current and future ethical dilemmas that are much more likely. This is worrying.

And yet, to my knowledge, there does not seem to be a concerted push towards convergence on a single ethical theory (and I’m not just talking about compromise). Perhaps if you’re not a moral realist, this isn’t so important to you. But I would argue that getting society at large to converge on a single ethical theory is very important, and not just for thinking about the great questions, like what to do about existential risk and the far future. It also possibly results in a lot of zero-sum games and a lot of wasted effort. Even Effective Altruists disagree on certain aspects of ethics, or hold entirely different ethical codes. At some point, this is going to result in a major misalignment of objectives, if it hasn’t already.

I’d like to propose that simply seeking convergence on ethics is a highly neglected and important cause. To date, most of this seems to involve advocates for each ethical theory promoting their view, resulting in another zero-sum game. Perhaps we need to agree on another way to do this.

If ethics were a game of soccer, we’d all be kicking the ball in different directions. Sometimes, we happen to kick in the same direction, sometimes in opposite directions. What could be more important than agreeing on what direction to kick the ball and kicking it to the best possible world.

Is it selfish to not give to existential risk or far future organisations for reasons of risk aversion?

Cross-posted from the Effective Altruism forum. If you have comments or feedback I’d prefer you post them there for continuity.

I have this idea which I haven’t fully fleshed out yet, but I’m looking to get some feedback. To simplify this, I’ll embody the idea in a single, hypothetical Effective Altruist called Alex. I’ll assume silly things like no inflation for simplicity. I also use ‘lives saved’ as a proxy for ‘good done’; although this is grossly oversimplified it doesn’t affect the argument.

Alex is earning to give, and estimates that they will be able to give $1 million over their lifetime. They have thought a lot about existential risk, and agree that reducing existential risk would be a good thing, and also agree that the problem is at least partially tractable. Alex also accepts things like the notion that future lives are equally as valuable as lives today. However, Alex is somewhat risk averse.

After careful modelling, Alex estimates that they could save a life for $4,000, and thus could save 250 lives over their own lifetime. Alex also thinks that their $1 million might slightly reduce the risk of some catastrophic event, but it probably won’t. On expected value terms, they estimate that donating to an X-risk organisation is about ten times as good as donating to a poverty charity (they estimate ‘saving’ 2,500 lives on average).

However, all things considered, Alex still decides to donate to the poverty organisation, because they are risk averse, and the chances of them making a difference by donating to the X-risk organisation are very low indeed.

This seems to embody the attitude of many EAs I know. However, the question I’d like to pose is: is this selfish?

It seems like some kind of moral narcissism to say that one would prefer to increase their chances of their personal actions making a difference at the expense of overall wellbeing in expectation. If a world where everyone gave to X-risk meant a meaningful reduction in the probability of a catastrophe, shouldn’t we all be working towards that instead of trying to maximise the chances that our personal dollars make a difference?

As I said, I’m still thinking this through, and don’t mean to imply that anyone donating to a poverty charity instead of an X-risk organisation is selfish. I’m very keen on criticism and feedback here.

Things that would imply I’m wrong include existential risk reduction not being tractable or not being good, some argument for risk aversion that I’m overlooking, an argument for discounting future life, or something that doesn’t assume a hardline classical hedonistic utilitarian take on ethics (or anything else I’ve overlooked).

For what it’s worth, my donations to date have been overwhelmingly to poverty charities, so to date at least, I am Alex.

Most people don’t support all minority groups

I’ve now made a video version of this, which is available here.

When it comes to persecuted and minority groups, the vast majority of the population only supports a subset of these groups, and this bothers me. Here’s why.

Take for example a historically persecuted group, such as LGBTs, people of colour, and women (not an exhaustive list to be sure). Thankfully, many today are happy to accept that people should not be discriminated against for no reason other than simply having other sexual preferences or skin colour or gender.

But for the overwhelming majority, this concern seems to stop at the edge of the human species. Non-human animals are, today, significantly more persecuted than any human group. This is not to try to diminish other persecuted groups, but it’s a simple numbers game. Around 70 billion land animals are killed for their flesh each year.

And yet, if you tell someone that they should care about non-human animals because they care about LGBTs, people of colour and women, they so often laugh and say that animals are ‘just different’. This is the exact same excuse some humans make for not caring about LGBTs, people of colour and women. They’re ‘just different’. Since when is that an excuse to not care about a sentient being?

It’s not a case of intelligence either. Animals may be less intelligent than humans on average, but some humans are less intelligent than others. And yet those interested in equality claim that intelligence should not matter in the way we treat humans. So it’s not a case of animals being less intelligent than humans. It’s really just a case of ‘they’re different’. Using that in any other context in today’s world would be insane. How is it ok to use this excuse for animals? Can you imagine someone saying ‘I just like the way they taste’ about any other minority group?

If you’re vegan and are nodding sagely along to this, I’m sorry to say that (statistically speaking at least), you’re not off the hook. Most vegans I know who are rightly upset by the shocking cruelty inflicted upon animals don’t seem to think it’s a problem that animals in the wild also experience unimaginable pain. Consider for a moment what it would feel like to have fallen down a ravine and nearly die of starvation only to be slowly eaten by insects before you die. Wild animals suffer and we need to think seriously about this.

Even insects are ignored by many vegans. I once asked a vegan I knew whether she cared about insects, and I paraphrase, ‘Ew, no. They’re insects. They’re disgusting.’

If you’ve still agreed with everything I’ve said so far, I’m afraid you’re still not there yet. While I don’t understand all of the science behind it, there is a possibility that computers may one day be sentient, or even that programs today are already weakly sentient. I am not so overconfident as to say with 100% certainty that all computers today are able to feel pain on some rudimentary level, even though I think it is highly unlikely.

We’re not done. Even fundamental physics itself might be capable of experiencing something like suffering.

Who knows what next level there might be to this chain of unconsidered groups. In 200 years, what things that even the most ethical of our society do will be considered abhorrent?

It seems like the only logical way to think about this then, is to think about life in terms of sentience and capability of experiencing pain and pleasure, whether it’s biological or digital. A speck of dust doesn’t matter because it’s not sentient. Insects matter because they are likely sentient. A rock doesn’t matter. A computer program might.

If you accept that LGBTs, people of colour, women and all the other human minority groups shouldn’t be persecuted simply because ‘they’re different’, I invite you to expand your circle of moral consideration all the way.

These kinds of posts oblige me to write a certain disclaimer. I am in no way seeking to undermine the plight of other persecuted groups when I talk about animals or anything else capable of experience suffering, although I don’t think this does that anyway.

All suffering is bad. Let’s minimise suffering no matter what form it takes.

Donation pledge update

As of the 31st of August, 2016, I have pledged to donate all of my income each year over $45,000 Australian for the rest of my life to what I believe is the most effective charity/cause. That’s the short version, but I’d like to say a few more things.

Why are you making this public?

I recently heard a quote (and sadly I can’t remember where so I can’t give due credit – edit: found it) that it’s more selfish to donate and not tell anyone than to donate and tell everyone. By telling people you donate, you encourage giving norms, which encourages other people to donate. Imagine if, over the course of my life, I encourage just 1 other person to do the same. I’ll have doubled my impact.

Also, there is the very real possibility that, if I kept this as a pledge internally, or didn’t pledge at all, my values will drift over my life, and eventually I’ll stop caring to donate.

I keep a very transparent list of my donations here, and encourage others to do the same.

That’s a lot of money! Aren’t you worried?

Not really. As I’ll discuss below I think this would make me much happier than spending the money on myself. Plus $45,000 probably gets you further than you think once you take out excessive holidays, fancy houses, cars, clothes, restaurants, movies etc. And on an income of $45,000, I’d still be in the richest 1.3% of the planet.

Anyway, about $4,000 saves a life at the Against Malaria Foundation, 60 cents reduces one year of animal suffering if donated to an Animal Charity Evaluators recommended charity, and a donation to an existential risk organisation like the Future of Humanity Institute has a meaningful chance at reducing the risk of human extinction. It’s pretty hard to spend too much money on myself once I realised that.

Where do you think that money will go?

I think the answer to this question will change very often, so I won’t answer it in full here. At least in the near future it will probably just go to whichever charity I think is the most effective at reducing the suffering and maximising the pleasure experienced by conscious minds (including non-human animals, insects, and even AI if it turns out to be sentient). In the future I might decide that, say, political lobbying is more effective, so I remain open-minded.

What’s the catch?

Well, if the cost of living dramatically increases, I probably won’t make large sacrifices to maintain the pledge. There are practical and selfish reasons for doing this. The practical reasons are that, sometimes you have to spend money to make (and donate) money. If I were going for a job interview and thought I’d need a suit to land the job but I was about to go over, I’d probably buy the suit.

Also, there’s the risk of burnout. I don’t feel like I’m in any danger of burning out because I’m so motivated to make a difference, but a lot of smart people have told me that living a certain way is difficult to maintain. Donating a medium amount over a life is certainly better than donating everything for 3 years then giving up.

My current living costs are about $20,000 per year, so I really don’t see this happening any time soon. Plus I’m going to allow the cap to grow with inflation.

Wait, $20,000 a year? So you plan to blow $25,000 on yourself each year?

Not quite. I still donate as much as I can, the $25,000 is just to allow for changing circumstances.

Should I do the same?

Maybe. I guess you should ask yourself what you want in life. If it’s to make a positive difference, this is probably one of the best ways of doing so. If it’s for yourself to be happy, I’d actually argue you should still make a pledge. Anecdotally, I am much more happy after I first made a smaller pledge last year, and I feel no regret or worry about doing this today. I feel like I’m making a real difference, and that feels good.

Also, someone earning $100,000 a year is only marginally more satisfied than someone earning $50,000 a year. An individual earning $100,000 but giving half would arguably be quite a bit happier than someone who just earned $50,000 a year too. At about $40,000, other factors, such as health, relationships and a sense of purpose contribute more to happiness than income.

Have you ever felt like you have to work harder so you can buy more ‘stuff’? This is a concept called the ‘hedonic treadmill’. You can keep buying stuff and not really increase your happiness.

As I say, it did take me 18 months between hearing about such pledges and making this one. I would definitely encourage making a smaller pledge (Giving What We Can have suggested 1% for the first year), and increasing that if (or when) you’re convinced it’s manageable/makes you happier.

Any tips for saving money?

Totally. Toast sandwiches are delicious and are one of the cheapest meals per calorie (don’t use dairy butter though folks).

But seriously, Mr. Money Mustache is a great blog on reducing your spending in creative ways and investing wisely.

Budget yourself, and just don’t spend money on crap you don’t need.

I still think you’re kind of weird

Perhaps, but I think it’s a good weird. Plus, more and more people are doing this!