#002 Offsetting your online store's carbon footprint

In this episode I, (Krissie), talk to Jan from CarbonClick - a carbon offsetting platform that makes it easy to add carbon offsets to the checkout. We talk about how e-commerce merchants and their customers can offset their carbon footprint and why CarbonClick feels this is important.

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Krissie Leyland  00:00

Hello, and welcome to episode number two of the MindfulCommerce podcast. In this episode I, Krissie, talk to Jan from Carbon Click, a carbon offsetting platform that makes it really easy to add carbon offsets to the checkout. We talk about how e-commerce merchants and their customers can offset their carbon footprint and why CarbonClick feels this is important. We hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did. If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to email us at info@mindfulcommerce.io. And as always, the full details of this episode will be in the show notes. Would you like to introduce yourself and CarbonClick?

Jan Czaplicki  00:41

Thanks, Krissie. Pleasure to be here. So yes, obviously, my name is Jan. Difficult surname Czaplicki. The origin of that, I guess is, I'm from Norway, but my parents are Polish. So that's why I have that difficult surname. Spent some time in London and funny that we, you know, used to live not too far from each other a few years ago. Well, now I'm actually in New Zealand. So on the absolute other side of the world, which is, you know, quite exciting and really the grand scheme of things because it feels like we're just, you know, neighbours. So, yeah, well, as you said, I'm co founder of CarbonClick and CarbonClick is carbon company, what we sort of the story that we normally say, when introducing CarbonClick is it started when I was working at an airline back in the day when you know, used to fly, one of the selections in that booking process is, do you want to offset the carbon emissions of your flight? And it got me thinking, this is a relatively simple question. But for the airline, it was not an easy feat to add that. So that sort of initial thought led me to go into a rabbit hole. And a few weeks later, me and a few other colleagues, we ended up thinking, what if we could make this question, make it very simple for businesses to ask their customer "Do you want to contribute with a carbon offset at the checkout?" And yeah, two years later, we have pretty much launched our system and we might get into this in detail later but it's really a off the shelf carbon offsetting platform with multiple ways to enter that platform. One of the ways is a Shopify plugin. But we also have other channels to that core system. And, yeah, we officially launched during COVID, which is terrible time to launch any business. But it's been a very exciting journey so far, and got some good, good traction and good early results. So really excited about that.

Krissie Leyland  03:04

That's great. So did you first launch in e-commerce straightaway? And or was there anything else that you thought about launching the app for so offsetting?

Jan Czaplicki  03:17

Yeah, great question. So yes, because we were sort of born at an airline, we were initially focusing on airlines, airports and tourism. Then COVID came along, and that entire sector went sort of to a hibernation mode, where the business, the core business is at risk. So sustainability, unfortunately, for a lot of those businesses, takes a second sort of back row seat and those projects we had going with those businesses were either put on hold or cancelled, which is really unfortunate. But because we had built that core system that was effectively untouched, and when I was initially designing the system, I was designing it with the size of the problem in mind. So climate change is absolutely the biggest problem out there. So I always thought we need a very flexible core system to support more or less any business to use it, use CarbonClick. So it was very easy for us to, I avoid using the word pivot, it was very easy for us to refocus to e-commerce and we went ahead, we had a prototype Shopify plugin and we decided one of the industries that COVID will not impact will be e-commerce. So we decided to focus purely on e-commerce for a number of months. And yeah, we tidied up our Shopify plugin and started offering that to the world. And 450 merchants later, we're starting to see some some good early results. Which is very exciting.

Krissie Leyland  05:01

That's really cool. So in e-commerce then, what are the things that you offset? So where's the biggest impact coming from in e-commerce?

Jan Czaplicki  05:10

Yeah. So this is, this is a great question because we initially thoughth "Hey, let's try to have some smarts behind the system." Let's try to offset the freight or offset, and then approximation of the product's carbon footprint. But when we went out to talk to users, and we tried to do this, as much as possible is just to understand who our users are, and what do they want? They were very often kind of confused when we said "Do you want to offset your freight for 17 cents?" or whatever it was, it was normally a very low, low figure. And I remember specifically, this one gentleman told me "You know what, if you're asking me to carbon offset, just make it meaningful. Like, I've already read that sentence, I don't want to offset 17 cents, I want to offset at least a dollar." So that became our go to market offering and although we're still working on a clever calculator in the background, normally, merchants and consumers are very happy with a round figure, because with $1, or with £1, you're offsetting, sorry, I can't do conversion in my head. But it's quite a few hundred kgs of co2 that you're offsetting with a relatively small contribution. And when you're looking at individual product, that's actually not that big of a carbon footprint. Take a T shirt, for example, that's about 15 kgs, similar with a pair of shoes, 10 to 15 kgs. So why not ask the customer to offset some carbon and make it as impactful as possible, which is where we're at right now. And it's having, it's a interesting approach that merchants are really enjoying and customers are also providing great feedback on so we might actually stay with that.

Krissie Leyland  07:07

Yeah, that's great. And it might be then that they're actually offsetting more than the product. So you know, if it's 17 cents, that the product is the weight in carbon, for example. Then they might be offsetting more than that by donating or not donating but giving $1 of offsetting $1. And so when you say that you're doing things in the background to measure more and more accurately, I guess, what is it that you're looking at? How do you see yourself? As a business, how are you measuring carbon usage of an e-commerce purchase?

Jan Czaplicki  07:50

Yeah, so because just coming back to that sort of original thought I had where this has to be scalable, has to be a mass scale, because the problem is so huge. So we thought, any small medium, and quite a few large e-commerce businesses, they don't have the capacity to go in and do deep dives into the carbon footprint of their product. So what we're looking to build, and this is still in the research phase for us, is a system that will approximate the carbon footprint of everything you're selling by using data that's already out there. And what it will do is it will look at, at what you're selling, so identified, let's say it's a pair of shoes, and it will look at any other information that has about that product you're selling. So for example, if your shoes are made in Vietnam, it will look into the database, and it will see okay, we know how much a shoe made in China, the carbon footprint of a shoe made in China. But what that tool will do in the background is will actually just change some of the so called emissions factors in the background, adjust them for Vietnam, and give you an approximation of, Hey, your shoes are approximately this carbon footprint. And I'm super passionate about this project. But yeah, I'm so glad we went live with with an MVP or with a basic offering because I think there's minimum six months left of research, just figuring out how to solve this problem before we can start offering merchants one of these sort of clever calculators in the background.

Krissie Leyland  09:30

Yeah, it's so huge. It's so huge. And that's talking about the product and then, you know, you've got the shipping and then the digital footprint and so much and it's like, like a rabbit hole. Once you start, you can't stop but it's kind of like yeah, it's just an entire journey, isn't it?

Jan Czaplicki  09:50

Yeah, I agree. And it feels sometimes like the more you dig into it, the harder it gets to take a step forward. Which is actually one of the, one of the main reasons why. So I started with the story with, you know, the airline example but what I'm thinking is that this is a powerful tool, this carbon offsetting thing. Because it's difficult it, or it's confusing, or you don't have all the data you need, it becomes too hard and merchants and people, businesses all around the world are putting it into the too hard basket. And that there I think, is real wasted opportunity, because carbon offsets are a tool in the toolkit of sustainability. And they are effective, and they work now. So I think unlocking some of that potential is going to be a real well, it will contribute to solving the climate change problem.

Krissie Leyland  10:53

Yeah, definitely. Hundred percent. I mean, I think you could say, well, just don't buy that product at all. But if you really need it, then that's when you would offset. What, in your opinion, you know, say for example, now you're on holiday, and you've flown somewhere and obviously, your story started from flying and seeing that you can offset. So are, have you already offset this holiday? Where did you go and how does that look?

Jan Czaplicki  11:24

Yeah, so that, that there. You've touched upon something that I'm... is actually contributing to me feeling kind of bad about my holiday. So yeah, we did. We did take a flight to get this holiday and most people don't know, but flying is actually one of the worst things you can do in terms of your carbon footprint. So local holidays, if you can swap flight for local holiday, that makes a huge difference. But yeah, I'm also moving towards the slightly more practical approach that there's a certain lifestyle people have, and there's around, I would say there's probably 10,000, at least solid initiatives globally, that are being researched or implemented to help people reduce the carbon footprint of their life. For example, flying sooner, I think, than many people realise we will have lower carbon ways of flying. So coming back to your question, I think one of the things... Firstly, yeah, do avoid holidays or flying if you can, don't avoid holidays, avoid flying if you can. But if you decide to fly, try to make it short, which is what we did. And if you are flying, make sure you do carbon offset, because it is a way to reduce some of that environmental impact that your flight is having. And what we've done at CarbonClick is we have created and this is still in early beta, but open to you sharing it with your audience if they would like is a product for teams or groups of people. So we as CarbonClick the company we have subscribed, or yeah.... subscribed is the right word. We have subscribed to our ourselves, our own offering and we are creating a climate positive team. So all our staff at CarbonClick, we buy carbon offsets on a monthly schedule. And we will offset the average person's footprint. So people have a lesser impact or sort of our team has lesser impact on the environment. And that's just one way we're using that core system to help reduce environmental impact.

Krissie Leyland  13:57

Yeah, okay. Actually, I've never, so I used to fly quite a lot. And I never knew until recently about offsetting. I think it could be made easier and more, you know, there should be more awareness around it. I also think you shouldn't feel guilty for you know, because, like you said, it's lifestyle, and as long as we're reducing our impact and you know, like you said, taking shorter flights and just considering it before you do it. "Do I really need to do this?" or  "Do I really need to buy that?", then yeah, I think...

Jan Czaplicki  14:33

Yeah, exactly. We're certainly on a journey and that goes there's so many parties involved, like governments are on journey in a way "Are you adopting strict sort of climate change policies?", then businesses are on a on a journey, you know, "How much are you embracing sustainability as a business?" and individuals are on a journey. So I guess what is I think important is for people to recognise that they're on a journey and start to take action on on certain things. For example, one of my favourites is slight diet adjustments. So, you know, I love my burgers, but I'm actually pretty much equally satisfied by a high quality vegetarian burger as I am with a meat burger. And that I think those are some of the ways you can personally take action to reduce your footprint. Same with secondhand clothing. I think there's a huge opportunity in that space for more people to start using secondhand clothing. And yeah, offsetting as well, I guess, very few people are engaging with carbon offsets. And it is, like I mentioned earlier, it is a valid tool that does support projects that are fighting climate change. And yeah, if we made that easy, little bit more like an Uber experience, then hopefully we can see more people engaging with that and eventually seeing even more funds being funnelled to projects that are either avoiding emissions or actually sequestering carbon from the air. So quite a few exciting projects out there that are doing that.

Krissie Leyland  16:14

Yeah. So when somebody uses CarbonClick to offset, say, for example, at checkout, when they've just bought something online, where does that go? So you mentioned project. So what are the projects that you are supporting?

Jan Czaplicki 16:29

Yeah, so what we did here was, we wanted to understand where do people want to see their money go and add that sort of gut reaction, or the first thing people say is "I really want to see my local environment being reforested." And this is one of the things that I struggle with with carbon offsets, is there's a general perception that carbon offsets are tree based, because people associate carbon offsets with trees, but trees are just an average way to sequester carbon. They're prone to lots of issues. Not all trees survive, and there's forest fires and things like that. So what we did is we decided, Okay, half the funds are going to go to a tree based project, because this is what people really associate with carbon offsetting. And we try to make it local as well. So we don't have a local UK project yet. But we have local projects in the US, Australia and New Zealand, where we're from. So there is that component of the local environment being reforested or yeah. Then the other half goes to, I call them high impact projects and there's a number of different types of projects that fall into this basket. But generally, they're in developing countries, where there's generally a high carbon intensity of various things. And what I can mention here is solar power and wind power, so that those energy sources are replacing coal. Normally, that's used to power the grid. But there's also lots of other cool projects like clean burning cookstoves, so people don't need to go and collect firewood, they're using a much cleaner burning gas, that it's often collected, actually off of a waste, agricultural waste to cook on. That has lots of benefits, really much better for health because people aren't breathing in smoke. And actually, that really, that's a really good segue to co-benefits, which is one thing I think people really need to recognise with carbon offsets is that they have so many great benefits in addition to carbon and those benefits are often encapsulated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. So I recommend anybody listening if they're looking at carbon offset projects, look for projects that address many of those Sustainable Development Goals. So yeah, long story short, we put half the funds into local reforestation or forest conservation projects and the other half is to international projects and we really love clean energy projects and those cookstove projects.

Krissie Leyland  19:26

Amazing! Yeah, what was it? You said the co...?

Jan Czaplicki  19:29

Co-benefits? Yeah, so it's almost like carbon is just the currency, right? You could look at different currencies like biodiversity  currency or health of the community currency or equal working opportunities, or education, sort of community, education currency. All those could really be included in a carbon offset, but it's generally the carbon that is the currency of these projects. So in terms of carbon offsetting projects, I think there's a movement towards even greater recognition of all the other things that these carbon offsetting projects contribute to.

Krissie Leyland  20:12

Yeah, that's amazing! So changing the subject slightly, as Christmas is not that far away. What's your opinion on big sale days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday? Do you think brands should participate? And do you think you'll see an increase in people offsetting?

Jan Czaplicki  20:37

Ah, that's a great question. I was recently informed there's a alternative to Black Friday called Green Friday, I don't know if you've heard. It's quite, quite exciting that sort of counter trend there. But just having learned much more about the realities of e-commerce and how these businesses are struggling actually to, to sustain it's a very tough business to run an e-commerce business. I think Black Friday, will exist and in a way, it's, you know, like I mentioned earlier, this is the reality of the society we live in, people are buying, and there's sales, and there's days where there's extra good sales. I don't really have any particular issue with with Black Friday, or the fact that humans consume What I think is useful, or would be great is if we include sustainable sustainability in that consumption. So when we go looking for a deal on Black Friday, and I'm talking to the consumer now. Look for businesses that focus on sustainability, like these are, there's so many merchants out there and we as consumers, we have a real power and where we spend our dollar. These businesses are forfeiting, often near term profit, to implement sustainability in their brand. And they are relying on the consumer to go and recognise that so they have a long term gain. So I would say for Black Friday, as a consumer, go and engage, sorry, spend your dollars with businesses that are focusing on sustainability. And equally for merchants, make sustainability a big thing. Make a statement, attract those people that care about sustainability. And here I'm thinking, there's so many ways you can take action as a consumer, as far as a business.

Krissie Leyland  22:34

Tell me a list of things that a merchant can do in terms of sustainability on Black Friday, or in general?

Jan Czaplicki  22:44

Yeah, so there's, there's quite a few things. And one of the things we look for is to help merchants on that journey because it is a journey and some businesses are further down that journey. But I in particular, like there's a few things that I like suggesting to merchants, and one of the things is sustainable packaging, so it's really visible to the consumer, and it actually has a pretty good impact on the environmental impact of the things you're shipping. The other thing that I'm really fond of is, you can really simply change your power provider of the business, to a power provider that provides renewable energy, that's another one. Slightly harder is to actually look for local suppliers. So very often, your products have a, you know, high international sort of footprint in terms of where it's manufactured. Very often supporting local is, is both really great for the local economy and the environment footprint is quite significantly reduced. And yeah, you can very often meet the people that work on your products. And you can also get higher quality products which is which is also a really big thing and the sort of big, big picture of sustainability. We also, there is a relatively big component in terms of the shipment. So fast shipping normally involves air freight, so there's a bigger carbon component associated with that. So maybe look to promote the regular delivery a little bit more. And yeah, that's, that is my top tips. What we do just to because I just got a little bit distracted there what we do is as CarbonClick when a merchant installs climate friendly cart, obviously we add a, as part of that we add a little green button to the checkout, which adds a carbon offset. But what we really want is to help the merchants do things in house that reduce the environmental footprint of their business. So we've commissioned, so we have a lot of fashion merchants. So we recently commissioned the researcher to look into the fashion trends and ways for fashion merchants to address sustainability. We have a e-commerce specific footprint guide, which lists a bunch of tips and ideas how to reduce the environmental impact of your business. And yeah, we we want the business to really join us on a journey of sustainability. So the proposition becomes a little bit like, hey, as a business, here are all these things you can do to reduce the carbon emissions of your business and the carbon intensity of your business and how do you embrace sustainability as a business to have a lower impact on the environment and also attract those customers that care about environmental impact? And then with the green button, the customer can join that journey, and offset. So it becomes a little bit of a complimentary thing. So, the business is doing as much as they can to reduce and the customer, if they want to, they can join at the checkout and add a carbon offset. So that's, that's a little bit of where the storyline is going with us.

Krissie Leyland  26:38

That's cool. So do you have like a place where the business can show like how much impact they're having or not? Do you have anywhere that can show the numbers, so the business can be like, look at what we're doing, you can do it too. That kind of thing, you know, like a community that you've built?

Jan Czaplicki  27:01

Yeah, so we are just building out this area of the system. So we have this concept of cumulative impact. And generally, for Shopify businesses, we are offering the CarbonClick sort of universal, cumulative impact. So because there's a lot of small stores on there, not many... there's not that much impact on a business by business case to show. So having said that, some businesses are in themselves doing, you know, hundreds and thousands of offsets. As in both the business is offsetting, but also the customer is offsetting when those numbers are significant. So what we do there is we let the business have a cumulative impact dashboard themselves.

Krissie Leyland  27:50

Yeah.

Jan Czaplicki  27:51

And that, yeah, we're just, this is shortly, shortly to be launched. But we are looking to have a cumulative impact dashboard that the merchant can show to their customers and include in their, you know, sustainability story. And on the, at the far end, we also have a consumers' cumulative impact. So the idea here is that if I hit the green button on multiple Shopify sites, I should be able to see my personal cumulative impact on something we call "My CarbonClick" and you get that full impact insights all the way from the top of all businesses using CarbonClick, then the individual business potentially, that you ended up shopping with down to my individual impact, and of course, the transactions itself.

Krissie Leyland  28:41

That's really good. I think that's really powerful, because then the consumer or the business will be proud of that and show it off, and then hopefully make other people realise that they should be probably doing it, too. And join in on the movement, I think.

Jan Czaplicki  28:57

Yeah, I think I do. I do think that well, when we interviewed consumers, we know there's a really big portion of people that would offset if it was simple. And the point of where you want to offset is, you know, not end of year or is not sort of your anniversary, of whatever, normally you want to offset when you make the purchase. So that's when people feel it's logical to offset and that's where we're, that's the space where we're playing is "Hey, let's add an offset with the purchase." Let's offer this to as many businesses as possible so that throughout the year, maybe you can offset, you know, 50 or 100 times and that actually makes your life carbon neutral. So that's really the vision. That's what I'm hoping we'll get to.

Krissie Leyland  29:47

And that was actually one of my final questions that I wanted to ask. Do you think it's possible then to live a carbon neutral life?

Jan Czaplicki  29:57

Um, yeah, yeah. I mean, Absolutely it is. And funny, it's almost like carbon neutral, is starting to get a little bit like we've moved beyond that it's now all about sort of carbon positive. So being responsible for taking out more carbon than you've been personally responsible for releasing. So yeah, not only is it possible, it's relatively easy with more and more providers like CarbonClick appearing on the market. So it's really easy for consumers to take action. But with that, I have to really underline that this isn't really, you know, the silver bullet. This is a tool in the sustainability toolkit, or it's one sort of stop along the sustainability journey. It's really, really important that people recognise that there's a lot of reduction to be made, and a lot of really powerful choices we can make to impact the environmental impact that we have. So like I mentioned earlier with the ability to not even sacrifice your love of burgers, but you can choose a vegetarian alternative or an alternative meat product. Same with, you know, choosing local holidays, or buying secondhand or buying with businesses that are really passionate about sustainability. There's so many things we can do as individuals to reduce your environmental impact that, yeah, we really need to recognise that. And that is actually one, one little thing as well, that we try to do is because people, we have some some people that aren't really thinking too much about sustainability, but they are happy enough to click a green button. We have a chance to help educate those people on how to reduce your environmental footprint and that could have 10 times the impact really as as a carbon offset. So, it's a really complicated picture and it's a really complicated story that we're telling in a way. But I think we all.. well, people that are playing in this space, we're all kind of trying to make it as easy and as as good for the consumer as possible. And yeah, that's kind of my thoughts on them.

Krissie Leyland  32:23

Nice. I definitely agree that you know, reduce or refuse first, and then if you really, really have to, like, for example, if you really have to fly somewhere, then offset. I guess, in the other event that we were doing, speaking to a carbon, a low carbon design agency, and they were saying, you know, just don't do it and then but if you really have to, then yeah, offset it as like the final choice, I guess.

Jan Czaplicki  32:54

Yeah. Yeah, that is the it's such a typical sort of story, or, like visual representation, the upside down pyramid. So avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, and kind of offset comes at the bottom there. So yeah, I'm  confident that, you know, offsets at the bottom of that pyramid have their role. We need a lot in the higher tiers as well. And, yeah, I think that's where businesses can play a big part, consumers can make choices in that space and we can move towards reducing our footprint. But also really exciting, i'm really excited about a lot of technologies that are kind of outside the hands of consumers. For example, electric vehicles or just cleaner grids, solar power, battery storage, is really taking off and hopefully, and this is really like all hands on deck situation. Hopefully, technology, lots of providers, like CarbonClick, we'll all work together, and we will help humanity reduce their carbon emissions or fossil fuel emissions and time. Because time is really running out. The atmosphere really cannot take much more carbon. We're probably looking at a very daunting task in the next 20 to 50 years to take some of that carbon out of the atmosphere, which is very difficult. But I I encourage everybody to play their part and let's do it together.

Krissie Leyland  34:40

Yeah, definitely. And I think like you said, technology is playing a really important role in that but also, everybody, humanity, we need to take action together. So, um, where can people find you then?

Jan Czaplicki  34:54

Yeah, we I guess we're on the typical social media. Facebook is the main channel for us. There's an Instagram accounts. So I should really be putting the handle. We'll put the handles in the show notes. But yeah, I'm available if you have any questions or feedback at Jan@CarbonClick.com. Our website is CarbonClick.com. Our product on Shopify is Climate Friendly Cart. And yeah, there's quite a few other products that we're releasing to the market. They all use our, our core engine. And yeah, I'm excited to see us all work towards solving this problem. It's going to be tough, tough, next few years, but humanity has a really amazing will how to tackle these big problems together. So I have relatively high confidence on days like today that we will do it. But it's it's really, I think, people don't realise how big of a problem it is and how big of a challenge it is. So we all have to really make it top of our our agendas to play a part.

Krissie Leyland  36:08

Definitely. Amazing. Thank you so much. And thank you for developing CarbonClick, giving consumers and merchants the option to offset. I think that's it. Thank you so much.

Jan Czaplicki  36:19

Thank you Krissie and thanks so much for what you're doing as well. I think you're playing a really important part and, and the ecosystem of solutions to climate change. So keep it up. And thanks so much for your time and opportunity to talk to your audience.

Krissie Leyland  36:34

Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.