Sustainable Innovation: SDG 13 – Our Journey to Wazoku becoming Carbon Neutral

Simon Hill Blog

Wazoku becoming Carbon Neutral

Wazoku is both a for-profit and a for-purpose business. We see innovation and sustainability as core pillar of our business.

In a year of challenges, triumphs and chaos, Wazoku has recently achieved a hugely important milestone in our sustainability journey – as a business, we are now officially carbon neutral.

To say that I am proud of this would be a massive understatement. Reducing carbon emissions to zero is one of the biggest challenges facing individuals, businesses, industries and countries and for Wazoku to get there in such an unusual year as 2020 is incredible, we could easily have deprioritised this given everything going in, but we didn’t, we prioritised it. Because it matters.

When we began the process at the start of 2020, to be honest, we didn’t have much of an idea as to what it would involve. My colleague Sarah Counts has been instrumental in driving our carbon neutral journey, but it has been a true team effort. I want to share with you some of what it has entailed and outline our plans to drive an innovation industry-wide drive to make the entire sector carbon neutral.

Going carbon neutal...in 2020!?

As a business owner, 2020 has been without a doubt the most challenging year I have faced. The emergence of Covid-19 has turned the world upside. We are facing major disruption and financial uncertainty. We’ve had to make the transition to a mostly distributed workforce across our offices, ensuring not only that teams have the tech to work from home but that they are remaining mentally strong in the face of such huge change. In the UK we also have the shadow of Brexit continuing to loom over us. No-one is quite sure how things will turn out, nor what the impact on business will be.

At Wazoku we have acquired the U.S. open innovation firm InnoCentive, creating a unique, powerful and compelling innovation platform and community. Integrating two companies on different sides of the Atlantic is no small undertaking, especially when we have also extended our global footprint even further via partnerships in Latin America, Spain and beyond. When you throw in a new funding round over the summer, as well as the usual day-to-day trials and tribulations of running a scale-up, then you can see why 2020 has been such a challenge.

And yet. While I am incredibly proud of my team and all they have achieved this year, our biggest achievement lies with becoming carbon neutral. I must also give a big shout out to the team at IdeaScale. They took the lead on this, challenged our sector to respond, and yet we at Wazoku were the only ones who did respond. We believe that we are the first European innovation firm to do so (and second globally behind our friends at IdeaScale) and that’s testament to the focus we put on sustainable business and the commitment we shared to reach this goal.


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Why it matters

No-one in the Wazoku business needed persuading that becoming carbon neutral was a good idea. But it is worth recapping why it matters so much. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the future of the planet. Most observers believe that the warming of the planet over the last fifty years is attributable to human-emitted greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

This warming will mean some parts of the earth will face extreme precipitation, others will undergo droughts, and the icecaps will shrink, maybe even totally disappearing for parts of the year. This will cause sea levels to rise, which has potentially devasting consequences - destructive erosion, wetland flooding, soil contamination, lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants. It will also threaten the homes of millions of people, communications infrastructures, transport, and much more.

A collective response to climate change requires individual action, and even if the only reasons to become carbon neutral were those outlined above, they would be enough for Wazoku to do so. We are a for purpose business and look to make a difference and impact meaningful change in the things we undertake and the work we do. As an Open Innovation company, we enable others to solve complex challenges, and we have a large number of environmental and sustainability related challenges open currently, have solved many more and there are huge challenges yet to be run.

And being honest, there are other less selfless motivations too. Technology and innovation are competitive sectors, and we want to recruit and retain the best talent to allow us to grow. How a company behaves, beyond the words on a page matter, and we want to show that our company values are reflected in our actions. This also applies to winning new customers. Demonstrating sustainable business is increasingly on the agenda for prospects and is something we are nearly always asked about in pitches, referrals and procurement processes. The future of business is sustainability and any organisation that ignores this will struggle to find its place in the modern world.


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Getting started

Becoming carbon neutral had been on my mind for a while. Idea management and open innovation are very tied to sustainability, and as I mentioned above, many of our clients use our software and services to drive sustainable innovation. In 2018 Danish construction firm Enemærke & Petersen launched an open innovation campaign – The Upcycle Challenge – which asked the general public for sustainable ways for the construction industry to upcycle waste materials. The winning idea will save 40,000 tonnes of CO2 per year when fully rolled out.

In 2015 the United Nations (UN) launched its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, part of which included 17 different but interconnected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These were adopted by 193 UN member states and looked to protect the planet, eliminate poverty and drive sustainability across all areas of life. All SDGS are important but SDG 13 focuses on climate change, the impact it is having, and how it can be addressed, so is especially pertinent to becoming carbon neutral.

Again, many of our clients used our platform to generate and develop ideas to help address SDGs. We work with multinational energy provider Enel, a company which has integrated all 17 SDGS into its policies. In 2019 it even launched the world’s first general purpose SDG-linked bonds – inviting the market to invest in its achievements, measured against four specific goals: SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 13 (climate change). In partnership with us, Enel is driving solutions to address the four SDGs via its openinnovability.com crowdsourcing platform, connecting people and ideas from all around the world.

So, when at the start of this year (2020) IdeaScale put a call out on LinkedIn to all idea management software companies to work at becoming carbon neutral across the industry, the timing couldn’t have been better. Interestingly, Wazoku was the only company to respond to that call. Sarah got involved at this point and reached out to Jessica Day, the co-founder of Ideascale. They discussed what the requirements of going carbon neutral were and how Ideascale had gone about approaching it. (As a side note, on areas that are systemic I would love to see more firms collaborating across their sector). Jessica introduced us to Rye Strategy, out of the University of Washington, who specialise in the calculating and offsetting of carbon for SAAS businesses. This felt like the perfect place to start in earnest.

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The nuts and bolts of becoming carbon neutral

None of us thought becoming carbon neutral would be a simple process. But what was assumed to be a 30-day exercise turned into 90 days before we were finally done. To get started, Rye Strategy assigned us to collect data across the business for various activities in 2019. This was broken down into three parts:

• General Business information (employee headcount, existing carbon offsets and events)

• Facility Manager/ Landlord Questions (square footage, energy usage, fire suppression systems, heating and cooling, sewage, water, waste and other details for each of our offices)

• Scope 3 Questions: Hardware purchases, food purchases, software hosting, professional services, and more – all required a detailed list of what was purchased and the total expenditure in these categories.

This was by far the most challenging part of the whole process. For example, we have a lot of financial information but our accounting codes didn’t directly align with the carbon assessment. This meant it took significantly longer because we had to change formats in order to calculate things such as total expenditure on flights vs. other travel for all of 2019, or accommodation or snacks or paper products purchased vs. the cost of shipping.

It was this exercise that the network effect of the pledge and commitment became more apparent to us. As an example, in calculating the carbon footprint of the snacks we buy, we needed to look at the supplier of those snacks and follow each one back to its source. If the supplier itself was already carbon neutral certified then we could stop there, but as most are not it was a huge undertaking to work out the carbon footprint of a laptop, Baby Bell or San Miguel! It makes you think about your supply chain in a different light and understand how and why this will become an ever-increasing demand across global supply chains, as firms look to achieve similar carbon neutral status.

Following the collection of all our carbon data, we submitted it to Rye Strategy for analysis. Two weeks later we received our carbon calculation…


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 © Photo by (Allexxe)

In 2019, Wazoku produced 433.46 metric tons of carbon.

Is this a lot? Are we terrible polluters? Thankfully, though this sounds substantial, in the grand scheme of things it isn’t. A large part of our footprint comes through the manufacturing and delivery of hardware, our purchasing of snacks and food to feed our hungry team and the money spent on professional services. Plenty of food for thought (literally) about the supplier choices and snack choices we make going forward.

Overall, we are already doing pretty well, producing less carbon than many comparable firms, but being carbon neutral involves offsetting the carbon we are responsible for. We let the team decide where we should invest for our offset. We ran an internal survey (yup, the crowdsourcing firm did some crowdsourcing!) in which all employees were asked what projects should be included in our carbon offset portfolio and we selected the following portfolio of projects to invest in for our carbon offset:

1. Alto Mayo Protected Forest – an initiative to protect and restore the Alto Mayo Protected Forest in Peru.

2. For Peat’s Sake – raising awareness about the damaging practice of peat harvesting, and offering an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to peat-based composts.

3. A Bright Idea – this project uses a combination of carbon finance and microfinance to bring clean renewable solar energy to power lights and appliances for rural households across India.

4. Biogas Digesters – devices used to produce gas for cooking and fertiliser for growing, helping to address energy, environmental and health issues in rural communities.

5. Community Tree Planting – this is an initiative to help small communities replant trees so they can counter the effects of poverty, deforestation, and harmful carbon emissions.

And with that Wazoku is carbon neutral certified.

What next?

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has recently stated that there cannot be any exceptions if the UK is to meet its net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. It also urged the Ministry of Defence (a Wazoku client) to ‘take the lead’ on cutting carbon emissions, so it’s easy to see how innovation has an important part to play in driving sustainability.

We believe that the innovation sector can become the first industry to be fully carbon neutral and will be working with Ideascale to make this happen in 2021. We are also pursuing B-Corp Certification. Certified B-Corporations meet the very highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Diversity and transparency have been integral to Wazoku since we first started and using business as a force for good is something I want to pursue much further.

Watch this space for further details!

Author: Simon Hill, CEO