“It’s startling how little urgency there seems to be around sustainability. So many people know how critical the situation is, but few do anything about it. CarbonCulture helps businesses to get involved and get business advantage at the same time.”
The first in a new monthly series, Good Business is a column hosted by Anna Levy from HUB Islington, an incubation space for socially driven entrepreneurs. Every month she’ll be catching up with the people leading change.
This month, she talks to the HUB’s first ever member and the founder of CarbonCulture, Luke Nicholson.
Anna: Can you tell me about your business in a nutshell?
Luke: CarbonCulture is a digital start-up that helps organisations communicate sustainability, understand how well they’re doing and how they’re saving carbon. We use high-tech metering to monitor carbon use, and help our clients use that data in a way that’s accessible, accurate and engaging. And we help connect people within an organisation, so that everyone is talking to each other about sustainability and so that stories can be connected with empirical data.
What drove you to launch CarbonCulture?
It’s startling how little urgency there seems to be around sustainability. So many people now know how critical the situation is, but few do anything about it. I guess the problem just seems too difficult, and the immediate rewards aren’t clear enough. That’s why I started CarbonCulture – to make it easier for organisations to build sustainability into the fabric of their business, and to show the benefits in a way they understand; more engaged staff, lowered costs, a better relationship with the public and so on.
Where did the idea come from? Did you have a ‘Eureka’ moment?
“I think both large companies and government agencies recognise that solutions will come from disruption – and there’s none better placed for this than the start-up business community”
Not really, it’s an idea that’s evolved following lots of conversations with companies and members of the government. I recognised that sustainability has been all about compliance up until now. Organisations will get to a certain standard but there’s no motivation to do any better. A few courageous companies, such as Marks & Spencer, are going above and beyond and are doing so at their own risk, but the advantages just aren’t clear enough to encourage the masses.
Changing big business and government is quite a task. What keeps you going?
I’ve always found plenty of support from like-minded people in social enterprise, clean tech and the sustainability community (many of whom I met in the HUB!). We’ve also been fortunate enough to have had government support right from the start. We were funded by the Technology Strategy Board and have worked with DEFRA, DECC and Number 10. All have been extremely supportive in helping us achieve our vision, and have allowed us quite a bit of flexibility to change our specifications and build on our learning along the way. We still have to deliver on contracts and prove our cost-saving though!
Sounds like you have some really high level contacts. How do you get organisations like that to listen to you as a start-up entrepreneur?
I think both large companies and government agencies recognise that solutions will come from disruption – and there’s none better placed for this than the start-up business community. We’re seeing much more collaboration happening and more willingness from the more established businesses to work with specialists, as they understand the nuances of sustainability. It’s a good time for innovative, ambitious social start-ups!
What advice do you have for other budding social entrepreneurs?
Sometimes things seem hard and desolate, but if you genuinely care about what you’re doing and are willing to stick your neck out, there are people out there who will be able to sense that and will support you. CarbonCulture wouldn’t have been possible without a broad support network of brave people who’ve helped us in this absurdly ambitious mission. Don’t be afraid to reach out and accept help – and criticism – when it’s offered.
And finally, how do you keep stress-free?
Okay, so the urgency of the task we’ve taken on is stressful, but at least we’re having a go. I personally find it a lot less stressful working on something that I know is making a difference than doing something else and pretending there isn’t an issue.
Photo title: Luke Nicholson, founder of CarbonCulture
Photo credit: © Simon Scarfe