Startups to watch

Sustainability Series: DoNation

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Chris Apostolou

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Do Nation is our third subject in our new sustainability series where we will be talking to startups focused on a greener future. We asked Hermione Taylor who co-founded the company with Martin Warne some questions.

Tell us about Do Nation! How did it all start and what are your goals?

Well, Do Nation is here to help people form healthy, environmentally friendly habits. We do this through an online platform where anyone can either make a pledge or run a campaign to raise pledges – pledges to do things like cycling to work, wasting less food, or avoiding unsustainable palm oil.

It all started way back in 2009 when I was writing a Masters thesis on the role of pledging on driving environmental behaviour change. Quite niche.

At the same time, I was planning a big cycle ride from London to Morocco, and decided that rather than asking friends to sponsor us by donating cash to an environmental charity, it’d be way more impactful to ask them to pledge to take action instead.

And so Do Nation was born.

For several years, we focused on offering a platform that anyone could use to raise support for their own challenges or events, asking their friends to ‘donate by doing’. However, we soon learned that we could have far greater impact (and earn some much needed income!) through working with businesses – opening up our platform for them to use with their employees, helping them to actively engage employees in sustainability and climate action.

It’s been a total roller coaster of a journey, but after years of banging loudly on closed doors we’re finally finding the world has woken up to the importance of climate action and the game has totally changed.

We’re now working on a bold new project looking to encourage 1 billion people to take climate action by 2030. Yep, you read that right. One billion.

How are you engaging your employees in your sustainability efforts?

Ha, great question!

Our bread and butter is helping other companies to engage their employees in sustainability – from innocent drinks to Siemens Plc; HelloFresh to Automattic. That’s what we’re known for.

But this question has made me realise that as our team grows, we should do more to make sure our own employees are leading the way in their own lives! Noted.

Having said that, we do have several pioneering policies in place – we were one of the first to sign up to Climate Perks, whereby we earn an extra day’s annual leave by picking slow travel options over flying (when travel is allowed again…), and we have a very environmentally focused office stewardship policy.

Do you set any goals for improvement and aid to make yourself more sustainable?

Yep – we set an ambitious target last year to reduce our own team’s carbon emissions to 1 tonne of CO2 for every 1,000 tonnes CO2 that we help our users to save.

AKANet Zero x 1000.

We’ll achieve that in two main ways: firstly, by reducing the carbon footprint of our website (i.e. making it far more user friendly, and shifting to carbon neutral servers); and secondly by vastly increasing our user numbers.

What tips could you give other startup businesses to promote sustainability and have sustainability at their forefront?

It may not seem like a top priority when you have 101 other things to be doing, all at 100 mph, as any start-up does. However, getting environmental policies and processes set up right when you’re small is far easier than leaving it until you’ve grown and systems and cultures are embedded.

You’ll likely have employees who are passionate about sustainability – let them put that passion to good use, give them responsibility for setting up a green team or leading your Net Zero Taskforce. There are lots of great guides out there to help them along, this list from the B Corp Climate Collective is particularly handy.

What have been your biggest challenges that have come exclusively from starting a green business?

For years, the challenge was simple: earning income. There was no shortage of people and businesses wanting to promote climate action and support our work – they just didn’t want to put any budget towards it.

Thankfully Martin and I were stubborn and optimistic though, and we found ways to bootstrap and muddle through. And now the economics of climate action have shifted heavily, and now the challenge is quite the opposite: keeping up with demand! Hence why we’re recruiting…

The pandemic has obviously affected a lot of startups both in positive and negative ways, how have you guys dealt with it?

We’ve been a fully remote team for years. When the pandemic hit, we were a team of four working remotely from Scotland, England, France, and Austria. That, combined with having a purely digital product, meant that we escaped lightly.

However, our service isn’t exactly business critical, and so we soon felt the squeeze thanks to clients deciding to ‘wait out the uncertainty’. But after a few months it came clear that that waiting wasn’t an option, the interest began to boom again.

For all the s**t it’s created, one good thing the pandemic has done is its woken people up to the importance of listening to science. And as a result, more people are taking action to avert a true climate crisis than ever before, with stronger resolve and determination than I’ve ever seen.

Having been battling this ground for over 10 years, building up a strong reputation in the sustainable business world, we were in a great position to grasp this market opportunity. Our team has grown by 300% in the last 6 months, and expect to double in size again over the coming 6 months.

It’s been exhausting, but you won’t catch me complaining…

#donation #hiring #recruiting #environmental #sustainability #platform #climate

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