#007 Measure and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint as a Shopify Developer

Today, we are talking to Gavin from Discolabs who make things possible on Shopify plus through custom development. They're a team with deep platform knowledge and world class expertise on Shopify plus, and have a list of happy clients. We got them on the show to talk about their carbon report - diving into the inspiration behind it and how you can do the same.
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Krissie Leyland  0:00

Hello, and welcome to the mindful commerce podcast, a place where we talk to ecommerce brands, ecommerce service providers and developers who care about protecting our planet. Today, we are talking to Gavin from disco labs who make things possible on Shopify plus through custom development. They're a team with deep platform knowledge and world class expertise on Shopify Plus, and have a list of happy clients. Gavin and his team have worked with brands like Who Gives a Crap, a sustainable toilet roll brand–who I've mentioned a few times within the community–and they've worked with big brands such as Harper Collins. So hi, Gavin, how are you? Would you like to add anything to your introduction?

Gavin Ballard  0:45

I'm very well, thank you. Happy to be here. Thank you, you nailed the introduction. That was a goodbreakdown of who we are and what we do. If listeners can't tell from the accent, we're based down here in Melbourne, Australia.

Krissie Leyland  0:59

Great. And so could you tell us a bit about what how you ended up in the Shopify space?

Gavin Ballard  1:06

Yeah, sure. My background is as a software engineer, so that's always been something that I've been quite interested in. Then quite a few years ago, I got involved in Shopify, just building a site out for a friend who who wanted to sell something online. That was nearly 10 years ago, I think, or maybe it is 10 years ago now. A few years later, after that, I was thrust into into freelancing. A couple of friends and I had moved overseas to start a company that didn't work out that well so I needed to pay the bills somehow, and just started freelancing in the Shopify arena. It just grew from there started out doing all of the standard stuff that you do on Shopify: theme builds design, setting up stores, etc... but because my background is in that software engineering, I eventually decided to focus on the apps & integration space, and we have sort of grown out the agency around that.

Krissie Leyland  2:01

Okay, so like, the apps integration space. So what do you do, there then? Like, what does that mean?

Gavin Ballard  2:09

Yeah, so what we tend to do is work with (these days they tend to be) larger merchants who are using Shopify and they have something they need to get done-whether it's connect Shopify to an external system, like a warehousing platform or something like that, or they want to offer their customers a new experience or something to improve the way that they sell things to those customers. (We work with them when) there's nothing off-the-shelf that does it-there's nothing in the Shopify app store, or their platform doesn't have an integration, or the merchant has these really funky, bespoke needs. So we step in there, and we work with a merchant to work out exactly what they need to get done to solve their problem, and then build the software to do that. We try to do that in a way that's really, because we're very much focused on Shopify and Shopify Plus, compatible with the platform and working with it rather than hacky workarounds or anything like that.

Krissie Leyland  3:13

Nice. So whatever your clients need, you can tweak things and make it custom to what they need, which is really good, obviously.

Gavin Ballard  3:23

Yeah and because we're just focused on the back end of the app, the thing is that we also work quite a lot with other agencies who are more focused on the front end of things (so design and theme development and things like that).

Krissie Leyland  3:39

That's cool,that's quite unique then, because I don't often see that people just focus on the back end, I guess. It's more popular as a Shopify agency to kind of niche into marketing or development. So yeah, that's cool.

Gavin Ballard  3:56

Yeah, it's a niche, but it is quite a large niche with the way that Shopify is growing at the moment. It's keeping us busy, so that's a good thing.

Krissie Leyland  4:07

Yeah, I can imagine a lot of partners coming to you. Like, "Can you do this super techie bit? I can't do it." So that's good. Rich, do you want to ask a question?

Rich Bunker  4:19

Well let me jump into the environmental footprint side of things... What do you believe is your role as an ecommerce service provider to improve the ecommerce world in terms of sustainability and social impact?

Gavin Ballard  4:34

I mean, I always am hesitant because I don't want to be seen to be preaching or anything like that... but ever since I started the business, I've always thought that the way that we actually do things is just as important as what we're doing. If you look at our company's mission statement, we have this dual purpose: One of which is to basically be the best in the world at building software for ecommerce merchants, but that's kind of our external mission. Then the internal one is to be building the company that we want to work for. I think that it would be really difficult today, in 2021, to say that you want to be working at a company that isn't being quite conscious of the the society we live in, the planet that we we live on and not be keeping that in mind so that we can do what we can to make that better. So that's why I say, that our role is being part of the society that we live in. We wouldn't exist without everyone else on the planet. I think it's just about being a good corporate citizen. That's my personal view and I think being public about that is meant for the people that we work with, internally at the company, to share that that goal, that value.

Rich Bunker  6:05

It's great and it's about being a good example, as well.

Gavin Ballard  6:10

Again, I am very conscious that I don't feel like my place, or our place in the company is to be preaching and making other people feel like, "Hey, this is what we're saying you should be doing" but I think it's more about leading by example, and trying to talk about it as much as possible.

Krissie Leyland  6:27

Yeah... Acknowledging it and building awareness around it. What do you think are the biggest issues in ecommerce when it comes to sustainability?

Gavin Ballard  6:40

Well, I think probably the thing that is on top of everyone's mind is climate change and carbon impact. Those two certainly have been a big part of where our focus has been in terms of our environmental footprint and what we think we can measure and improve quite significantly. Then, from a merchant perspective–given that a big part of your job as a merchant is often selling physical goods that need to be shipped across the world and that good itself is probably made of parts that have been shipped from everywhere else in the world–that's certainly a big factor when it comes to ecommerce: what that carbon impact is and how sustainable that is longer term.

Rich Bunker  7:36

How do you communicate that  message? Do you communicate that to your clients, when you sort of have initial meetings or do you just communicate it through your own community?

Gavin Ballard  7:51

We've started becoming a lot more public about this sort of stuff in the past year, I would say. Even though we're not a merchant that's shipping stuff around the globe, we do have an impact, like every business does. So, there was a decision made at the start of last year that we wanted to become a carbon-neutral business. Towards the end of last year, we we hit that goal. Part of our success criteria that we defined at the start of last year was that "We're going to do this, but we're also going to have a report about our carbon impact and give us a baseline to measure against in future years." In having that report, it makes sense to make that public. Not only as an accountability measure for ourselves internally, but also to hopefully, show other people that it's very possible to do it. It's not that expensive, it's not that difficult and it's not that time consuming. I think we have definitely started to think about part of our contribution is actually becoming a carbon neutral business ourselves. Then another really important part of it is just talking about it and that tweaks. If us publishing a carbon report means that one other agency says, "Oh, we should do that, too!" then in a way, we've kind of doubled our impact with just publishing what we're doing. So yeah, we're definitely keen to talk about it more. I don't think it's necessarily something that a lot of merchants will look for but it can be a nice thing to put on the pitch deck. I think it'll become more and more of a factor as time goes on.

Krissie Leyland  9:42

Definitely, I totally agree. Love that. More people need to follow in your footsteps. What inspired you to do it? What was it that kind of kicked it off for you?

Gavin Ballard  9:52

So we have a company retreat every year. I was just mentioning to you off-air that we're about to have our next one next week but we we had one at the start of last year or the end of the year before... back when you could actually gather and meet with people... It was an idea that I'd sort of brought to the table to say, "Well, what about becoming a carbon neutral business?" Then as a company, we decided that would be one of our company goals for 2020. Once we set that, I said, "Well, that's part of my accountability and my KPIs as a CEO: to get that sort of stuff done." So I pushed to make sure that we did that. Despite the weird year that 2020 was, it was quite a good one for people in ecommerce, relative to a lot of other people in society. So, it seemed silly to think that we should abandon those goals. So yeah, it was a community discussion and setting that. Part of the process of putting the carbon record together and the research that we did for that, certainly reassured me that it was probably a good decision to stick with it and to actually do the carbon record.

Rich Bunker  11:26

It's an amazing report. I commend you on that. Did you do all the research in house, get an outside agency to help you or was it all just hours of internet searches?

Gavin Ballard  11:40

It was driven internally. This goes back to the earlier question about the inspiration for it, but part of that has been seeing other companies do this. Probably the biggest, the most useful examples of what drove our carbon record structure and what we were looking at were: firstly, a company called Wildbit, which is a software company based based in the US. I think they align very closely with us in terms of values. They're completely outside of the Shopify space, but they build software products. Then Basecamp, as well was another. Both of those companies published a blog post that was basically going through "this is what we did to estimate our carbon impact, this is why we did it and this is what we did with that information." So we took those as a starting framework, customised a bit for our industry & our business. We did research through a couple of books we looked at: going through things like Apple's environmental pages to work out what the impact of our physical goods were, and things like that. Then doing some general research on ways to calculate carbon impact, especially for software businesses where you're hosting stuff in the cloud. That was the inspiration. Then we definitely used them as a starting framework to build it out but there was a fair bit of original research done, as well. I know there are businesses in helping companies put these things together, but for a small business like ours, I think it can be less work than people may think it is.

Rich Bunker  13:39

If you don't have a huge infrastructure of hardware, services and personnel, you can probably dial it down quite quickly to what the exposes are and it's the difficulty of calculating it.

Gavin Ballard  13:55

We are a small company so I think that it's certainly a lot easier for us than for a massive company with multiple office where you can't easily survey everyone to find out what electricity provider they use at home and that sort of stuff. But I think that it's important for us to do it while we're small because it is easier to do it. As soon as you start doing it, because then it just becomes ingrained and part of the business. We certainly have plans to grow in the next few years but hopefully, as we do that we can grow the carbon report with that.

Krissie Leyland  14:28

So if another supply agency was interested in doing the same thing, would you like give them six steps? Would your current report kind of provide those steps for them to take as well?

Gavin Ballard  14:45

If someone wants to do it, I would absolutely jump on a call with them and work through it... Give them our spreadsheets. Absolutely. That's part of the reason that we we published it. I think for an agency or a software company that is similar to ours, taking out that carbon report as a starting point would be quite valuable because the similar emissions profile. You know, for our type of business, really the the biggest impact that we have is cloud hosting and then close after that it's office space–including home offices for us as well. So, I think they're going to be similar sort of environmental impacts for any businesses similar to ours.

Rich Bunker  15:37


Krissie Leyland  15:38

Should we ask for more details on the cloud?

Rich Bunker  15:40

Yeah, definitely. It's something close to our heart, because we've engaged in that process of trying to find the better cloud hosting service. But you know, that's using renewables and even just better services. In general, how do you go about that and what do you perceive as the best renewable hosting services out there?

Gavin Ballard  16:04

It is tricky. I was surprised when I started digging into it. There are platforms that are carbon neutral and there are kind of different ratings. There are some that are carbon neutral because they're doing offsets while there are others that are carbon neutral because they're they're actually powered by renewables, and they know that they're powered by renewables. Then, there's the the dirty ones that don't report on it. Even for one particular provider that can change depending on what region you're hosting things in. So AWS, Amazon's cloud hosting, for example, depending on where you're actually hosting your servers will change whether you're using carbon neutral hosting or not. It actually surprised me a little bit that was difficult to tell. Sometimes you just don't know because you don't actually get a report on that. For example, we use a provider called DigitalOcean, as well as AWS and Google. They don't necessarily tell you for sure whether you actually hosted on carbon neutral stuff or not, so we try to do the research. At the end of the day, we didn't know for sure so we just went with the assumption that they weren't when we were calculating our impact and our missions. Then the bigger players like Amazon, Google, Microsoft are good at publishing that sort of stuff. It's certainly better than the smaller providers. So that is one of the advantages of going with a larger provider in that sense.

Krissie Leyland  17:45

I actually asked DigitalOcean the question and they just sent me to a forum where someone else was asking the same question. It said, "Some of our some of our service centers are using renewables, but not all of them." So it's like, alright, we're not gonna know for sure then, are we?

Gavin Ballard  18:10

I think I must have been going through that exact same thread at some point.

Krissie Leyland  18:14

Yeah, probably.

Rich Bunker  18:16

I guess there's an element of "better, best and the BEST" isn't there? You know, if you're on a journey to change your infrastructure up a bit, choosing a better service that has some renewables is better than not doing anything.

Krissie Leyland  18:32

For sure. I think there are offerings now, which clearly, optimal or they have optimised that. This isn't a paid advertisement or anything but yeah, Google's JCP, their cloud platform is 100% carbon neutral. A lot of that is from actual renewable energy, rather than just offsetting. In the research that I've done, they're probably either the best at it, or they're the best at talking about it.

Rich Bunker  19:12

It's not new, but it's getting to be more in demand that people want to know that information. So I think some of the smaller players, who aren't even thinking about it, will probably realise that that's a potential and bigger customer base. Then they can market to them or maybe they already are renewable and aren't telling people.

Krissie Leyland  19:32

Yeah! People just might not even realise that they're actually doing good and need to talk about it. So, shall we move on to talk about Shopify? We're not sponsored by Shopify, I obviously talk about it a lot. How is Shopify good in terms of carbon neutrality?

Gavin Ballard  19:55

This is gonna sound like I am sponsored by Shopify, but I'm in not. Obviously, we're big, big fans because all of our money and livelihoods depend on Shopify but in terms of their commitment, I think that they're probably one of the biggest, best larger companies going around. Maybe this is just my bias but I think they're very cognizant of the climate impact they had themselves, and then also that their merchants have. In 2018, they started a sustainability fund. That's at least 5 million a year to invest in carbon technologies and then another million on top of that to focus on investing in weird or underfunded ways to look at sequestering carbon, going forward. They're putting that money in.  They're on Google cloud platforms or their hosting, they're carbon neutral and then there is their operations. Like I said, this is definitely sounding like a Shopify ad, but they've done the work to calculate the carbon impact of their operations. They're carbon neutral there as well with both renewable energy and offsets. So, I think in terms of them looking at their own business, they've done a really good job, and they're clearly caring about it. And then they've done some things to make it a lot easier for merchants to think about that as well. They have an official offset app, which you can install into your app store and it will calculate your shipping emissions and automatically bill you for that. I think they say it's between half a cent to 10 cents per order they'll take a clip of and put that towards offsetting. Their payment providers short pay. If you purchase something with short pay, then the shipping for that product is offset as well. They're definitely very aware of it and I think they're doing more than a lot of large companies are.

Krissie Leyland  22:21

Yeah, we definitely don't see the other platforms talking about this. You know, they definitely haven't got a fund for sustainability. One thing that I loved about what Shopify did recently was offsetting Black Friday, Cyber Monday shipping, and I just thought that was genius. You can see it on their BFCM globe. You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Gavin?

Gavin Ballard  22:46

Yes, yes.

Krissie Leyland  22:48

I just I loved it. I was like, "Look, it's like they show each order... But then they're like we've offset these billions of orders!" They offset the shipping and it's great. I love Shopify.

Gavin Ballard  23:01

I think that's really impressive and, you know, it's a it's probably a bit of a marketing thing for them as well. But at the end of the day, it's good that that sort of stuff has become good marketing.

Krissie Leyland  23:14

Yeah, true.

Rich Bunker  23:15

It would be nice to be in a place where offsetting is the norm and everyone's chasing being carbon neutral.

Krissie Leyland  23:26

Yeah, I think one of the things I like about the Shopify approach as well–that I think also goes for Stripe, the payment provider behind Shopify or short pay, who is another company that I think is very impressive in the climate arena– is that they're very much focused not only on the offsetting stuff, which is good and wonderful but also actually looking at getting to negative carbon. As well as taking carbon out of the atmosphere with sequestration and things like that. So they're impressive in leading the way.

Rich Bunker  24:12

I think, going back to the carbon offsetting for any company looking to have less of an impact, that is a good place for them to start. Then, like you've done your carbon report, you've got a plan to reduce your carbon. So it's a good place to start. Then, as long as you've got a way forward to reduce it, and that's even better.

Gavin Ballard  24:33

You definitely need that baseline, right? You don't really know where your biggest impact is and what you can actually do to address that.

Krissie Leyland  24:45

So on a normal day, what do you and your team do to ensure you keep your footprint down to a minimum?

Gavin Ballard  25:00

A lot of it is being conscious. We were in the process of addressing what we've done, or what we identified in our carbon report. So, we're looking at moving more and more of our hosting over to other platforms. In a new project, we'll make sure that we're setting that up on something that is carbon neutral. Because we're working from home so much still, I think that'll be a long term thing for us even though here in Australia, COVID has thankfully not had as much of an impact as it would have elsewhere. We are able to go back into our offices, while I think a lot of other people are really lacking the flexibility. But that then means that we need to look at things like longer term such as people using that the houses as offices. So, "What's the electricity that's powering that office", "How are their houses are heated?" and things like that. There's a renewable energy supply here in Melbourne that we helped by sending out a way to get started with or how to swap over to them. They that had a promotion so we were just promoting them within the company to try and encourage people to swap of over. Again, it wasn't like we were saying, "You have to do this to work here." I think that's a very personal decision, that sort of stuff. But we're just promoting those sorts of things and then making choices about where we work and how we work. We moved office recently. While this wasn't the only factor, the fact that the office–which was close to public transport–provided good facilities for cyclists and things like that was certainly a factor in that decision as well. I think there were a couple of things that we're sort of looking at on a day to day level, but hopefully we're going to bring our overall carbon footprint, numbers down in 2021.

Krissie Leyland  27:03

Nice. At the moment, I don't have a high impact at the moment because I'm just at home working.

Rich Bunker  27:13

So as a developer yourself–and thinking about Shopify, in particular, and its massive app platform–again, you don't want to sound preachy, but do you think that other app developers should be looking towards promoting what hosting services they're on? We've had discussions with them.

Krissie Leyland  27:37

They didn't even think about it.

Rich Bunker  27:40

Or they're like, "We have to be hosted on 'x' platform." So we don't know what they do. So are there any quick wins or things that you'd advise other developers to do?

Gavin Ballard  27:54

It is difficult because, at the end of the day, there's probably other priorities around that. But I mean, one thing that I would say is really advantageous for a Shopify app developer, specifically, is that if you're hosting your apps on Google Cloud Platform, you're on the same platform as Shopify. So, you're gonna have much lower latency when you're calling their API, which is definitely something to think about when you're picking a host. I don't think we're at the point yet where merchants are really using that as a factor, or they're not asking the question of their app providers: "Hey, are you carbon neutral?" I think it might be a nice thing to do. I could say, of all the app stores in the world, the Shopify Apps are potentially being one that has a little badge or something for carbon neutral providers, but I don't think we're there yet. I just don't think it's top of mind for a lot of merchants when they're looking at their stores. It would be good to change that, though. I think that that could be something that app developers are doing. If they do happen to be carbon neutral, they should promote that fact. As soon as one app developer starts promoting it, then it might get in the minds of others. Again, a lot of it is promoting it and making sure others are aware of it.

Rich Bunker  29:17

Definitely, communicating it.

Krissie Leyland  29:20

Put that in our framework, Rich.

Rich Bunker  29:21

We could.

Krissie Leyland  29:24

Just ask if they're using renewable energy or not.

Rich Bunker  29:27

Yeah, I guess it depends on the merchant as well. You know, if they're a merchant that keeps stainability close to their heart, then they're gonna ask those questions. But if it's not that close to the heart or if they perceive it as an expensive thing to do then they're not going to ask. But if it's easily identifiable on the Shopify platform, then that'd be a great place to start.

Krissie Leyland  29:53

So if the Google Cloud Platform is the same as Shopify, that means that it will call the API quicker, and that means that app will be quicker, right?

Gavin Ballard  30:10

Yeah. It's probably a small difference but if all other things were enabled, then that's a good hard technical reason to choose it above and beyond the carbon neutral element. So, if people need a way to justify it to their boss, that's a good starting point.

Krissie Leyland  30:30

Oh, I love that. I'm going to put that in the framework. Does that also mean that the store will load quicker because you know, if you've got tones of apps, it slows it down, right? So if your app is known to not slow down the lowest speed, then that's a good thing!

Gavin Ballard  30:53

I mean, I'm a massive fan of app developers taking a bit more responsibility for store performance so anything you can do to improve performance is worth it in my view.

Rich Bunker  31:07

I guess that leads us a bit onto the next question, really, which is about ways to build a store or development in Shopify in a low impact way, as well as hosting on the Google Cloud Platform would probably be one of those things.

Gavin Ballard  31:28

Again, I think if you're a merchant and you're faced with to two apps, and making a choice between them,... at the end of the day, you're probably going to be focused on the one that's going to serve the needs of your customers better. So you're going to be more focused on the functionality, what specific features it has, and how many reviews it has, rather than "Is it's hosted on Google versus something else?" But for merchants that are more conscious about it, or for merchants who are serving a customer base that is really conscious about it, it pays ask. I think that if an app developer is getting that question during the sales process, even if it's just one in 50 times, then it's going to get them thinking about it. Maybe they see the value and then maybe it flips one person or one developer over. So, asking that question is something that merchants can do. Even if they're not hosted on a neutral platform and you you still use them, at least you've asked a question, and they're thinking about it. Beyond that, this is definitely where I get into the territory of how merchants work incredibly hard to build their businesses. There's a lot of things that they need to think about so I don't want to be suggesting that we just add one more thing on top of the list. Obviously, the choice of what type of business you're running, the product you're selling, where you're shipping to and from... it all has a bigger impact than almost anything else on things like carbon emissions like where you're sourcing your stuff. I'm sure that you've spoken to merchants about this, or with notions about this a lot. That's definitely going to be a big impact: the type of business you have and where you're sourcing from into.

Krissie Leyland  33:35

We have talked about that quite a lot but we don't have a solution.

Rich Bunker  33:41

The solution is communication and an education: making people aware so that they're gonna ask the questions. Hopefully, that'll ignite the developers and agencies to be more.

Krissie Leyland  33:56

Yeah and for the shipping, say for example, if a shopper's at checkout and they have the option between: next day delivery or wait a few days, but if you wait a few days, it's better for the planet because it's being shipped by–

Rich Bunker  34:16

–road or rail. Yeah, especially in larger countries like I guess Australia and America where next day delivery would sometimes mean the delivery jumping on a flight.

Krissie Leyland  34:27

Just being mindful of how your choices can help. But as a merchant building that checkout experience to help consumers to be more mindful... do you need this to be next day delivery because it costs the planet this and just helping them to think as well as a consumer?

Gavin Ballard  34:47

If you've got multiple items in an order, shipping them out individually... If there's going to be a couple of days difference between when you can fulfil them or if you could just wait an extra day or two and get them all in one parcel would be better. Some of the packaging waste that you say from large retailers is pretty ridiculous–and it's all done in the name of automation, obviously–but when you order a toothbrush and it rocks up in a 1m x 1m package. That's an exaggeration but I've certainly seen situations where it's not that different to that.

Rich Bunker  34:48

No, we've definitely seen that... tons of packaging and an item that comes that's really packaged ready to go.

Krissie Leyland  35:23

Say, if you have a physical store as well, could the packaging be ready to be just shipped as it is? You know, you don't need to put it in another box.

Rich Bunker  35:58

That's really for package designers or product designers but I just think if those guys could think in a more sustainable way: we're gonna make this product and we're going to put it in this box. Is that box capable of big shipping the product in it?

Krissie Leyland  36:15

Be innovative in that way because it's changing and ecommerce is growing. At the moment especially, it's more popular than physical stores. Anyway, that was a slight tangent. Sorry, but if there's tech that can solve that, like an app maybe that's at checkout that can say, "Have you thought about the cost of this?"

Gavin Ballard  36:44

It was interesting, because as part of the research for this podcast, I was looking through the offset app that Shopify publishes, which does that. A really common feature request, which I don't think I've gotten around to yet, is providing a really easy way to communicate what they're doing to customers. So, from a merchant perspective, they may be happy to pay that extra amount but if they can't tell customers that that's what they're doing, or make customers feel good about their purchasing decisions, then that's the missing link. I think this is definitely the theme of what we've been talking about a lot today is: doing the work is obviously the most important thing to offset or reduce, but very important also is talking about it and making sure that people know about it, because that's how you keep pushing the boulder up the hill, inch by inch.

Krissie Leyland  37:51

When you talk more, you'll all find the gaps and then maybe come up with an idea together to fill that gap and make it better, I think.

Gavin Ballard  38:01

Mhm, absolutely.

Rich Bunker  38:06

Krissie's looking at my like it's my question time...

Krissie Leyland  38:10

Well, I was just thinking we could talk more about the projects that you've done as a team with conscious brands. How do you usually work with clients? In particular, those that are conscious and sustainable?

Gavin Ballard  38:27

Look, at the end of the day, we really like working with social, socially conscious brands. Especially if you're working ecommerce in an agency, some days, you find yourself thinking, "we are helping people buy more stuff and is that necessarily what the world needs right now?" So it's nice when you're working with a client, and you're actually saying what they're doing with what they're selling. Who Gives a Crap is a fantastic example of that. Thankyou is another brand that we have worked with previously. Working with those clients makes you feel good about what you do every now and again, which is nice. Even the brands that you maybe wouldn't necessarily think off the top of your head are super socially conscious, I guess. So, Brooklinen is a big client of ours and they sell linen, bedding and things like that, in the States. You might not necessarily think of them as a socially conscious thing but they've gone to quite a bit of effort and expense on their end to set up their return system to make sure that anything that's returned goes to a local donation centre rather than getting shipped all the way back across the country just get thrown out in their warehouse. We built the returns management app that helps facilitate that for them. So you know, those sorts of things are really nice to work, especially when you're working with large merchants. You build this one app for them, and you can see how how much waste you're saving or the impact that you having. One of our projects with with Thankyou actually, was to build a custom app that let people pay what they want for a particular book, which was the history of Thank you, the company and where they wanted to go. Obviously, it was essentially a donation type product. Every single dollar that went through that, was going straight to Thankyou's projects. Those sorts of things are always really nice to, to work on and for. But also, I said at the start that we don't necessarily treat working with those clients super differently to working with any other client because at the end of the day, the merchant is always the hero. It has to be what they care about, and what they want to do–that's what is most important for us as an agency. It's nice when they're doing they want to do things that are nice, but there's no way that we can come in and shift a company that doesn't already want to do something good. We can't shift them into doing that. At the end of the day, everything has to come from the merchant themselves when you're in a service business.

Rich Bunker  41:46

Just jumping back to how the shipping and returns part of ecommerce is massive. The fact that you've helped a company try and eliminate or reduce their return costs is a double win, isn't it? You know, financially, for the environment and all. So that's really amazing, to be honest.

Krissie Leyland  42:08

Yeah, I was just taking that all in about Brooklinen as well. I just thought that's genius. So say for example, the customer bought an item and there in Manchester, would they donate that potential return to somewhere more local?

Gavin Ballard  42:32

A lot of bedding stuff, if you returned it, would just get thrown out because they couldn't resell it. So rather than doing that, they've worked with charities, that have hubs around the country, that will make sure that they get to them, rather than just going in the trash or shipped back to a warehouse where it will get thrown out. From the customer perspective, it's the same as any other return. They will get their return label, go and take it to the post office. But instead of getting shipped rom Tennessee, all the way back to New York where it came from, it'll go to a local Tennessee charity or return centre where it all get distributed properly. It's probably a win for Brooklinen as well, not having to deal with all of that coming back when they're just gonna throw it away. Just being a bit more thoughtful about it means that it's a win win.

Krissie Leyland  43:45

It's great for the planet and it's a social impact, as well. I really like that. It's the start of the year, so let's look ahead. What will you be doing differently in 2021, in terms of your carbon footprint.

Gavin Ballard  44:11

The first thing was that literally four or five days ago, we signed up for a program called Stripe Climate. So this is Stripe, the business I was talking about before, who handles all of the payment processing for one of our products. So we process a fair amount of money through them every year and they've just made it very, very easy to flick a switch to get the percentage of the revenue that you're pushing through Stripe to climate projects. So, we've we've done that and it's been operating for a few days and that's quite nice to think that it's a very low effort way for us to do it–to make an impact. That was first project for 2021. I think the other big thing for us will be moving all of our hosting to carbon neutral stuff this year. It will take a while because we have a lot of apps that we host, and it does take time to move them. I'd like to think they we're at least 80% of the way there by the end of the year, and that'll be probably the biggest way for us to reduce our footprint from from 2020. We'll continue to do our offsetting at the end of this year. So anything we do create will be offsetting and probably just trying to get a bit more sophisticated about how we're calculating our hosting missions and things like that. Then, I could happily put the spreadsheet for our carbon calculations for any other agency that wanted to do that. Maybe even potentially wrapping that up and making a little public tool that people can just plug in to the common things that you do when you're a creative or digital agency: just get a number and then a link straight to an offset provider and just make it a very low effort, low brain way to do that. That was really, for something like Stripe Climate, which is committing not-insignificant amount of money to that every year but they just made it so easy and so obvious that it really became a no brainer. If we could do something like that for agencies, that would be really exciting.

Krissie Leyland  46:47

That's incredible. Please definitely do that.

Gavin Ballard  46:54

Fingers crossed. It's a it's a busy year, but of all the things that we shipped in 2020, the carbon record was, though not a traditional bit of software that's out in the world, definitely one of the things that I'm proud of us doing this company.

Krissie Leyland  47:17

Nice. Thank you. How will you further support merchants to be more conscious of what they're doing?

Gavin Ballard  47:27

Well, I'm going to appear on this podcast and convince everyone else! ...Again, it comes down to that promotion. In terms of how when we're engaged by a merchant, it's not really our place to be changing their business model, how they ship things, or what product they're selling or anything like that. It's about, just making sure that they're aware of the things like the offset app from Shopify. For the right type of merchant, have them think about how if you offset all your shipping, you may be paying money for that but let's have a look and see what it does to the conversion rate, if you're publicly promoting the fact that this is something you're doing. Try to help merchants think about that a bit more holistically. And again, just letting them know, there's a thing that we've done. You don't need to do that but if it's something that you want to do, then we're very happy to help you out with that.

Krissie Leyland  48:36

Yeah and give them some examples for example, the Brooklinen case study.

Gavin Ballard  48:43

Again, I think it's something that we're very bad at as a business: talking about the stuff that we've done. We have worked with a lot of large merchants on interesting projects and we justreally lacked doing that. We jump straight onto the next big projects that are exciting, but then forget to write up in detail what we actually did for everyone else. So.... terrible marketing strategy. I should really get better at that this year.

Krissie Leyland  49:12

Well, you can pass it on to Kollectify! We do content.

Rich Bunker  49:17

So finally, if you had one message to Shopify experts and merchants listening to this podcast and hoping to improve their own business in terms of how they can have a positive impact on 2021, what would it be?

Gavin Ballard  49:30

I think my first message would probably be 2021 can't be as bad as 2020, right? So anything you do is probably going to have a more positive impact. I think, given what we've been talking about the most in this interview has been around the carbon report. The best thing that you could do is just start by estimating your impact. Doesn't have to be necessarily to then go out and offset it. It doesn't need to be something that's done in a huge level of granularity or anything like that. Just find a baseline and have some idea of like, where your biggest impact or where your imprint is. That's something that most businesses would be able to sit down and work out in a couple of hours with a bit of research on the internet. Doing that would be a really interesting way to start thinking about it and thinking about ways to reduce and potentially offset down the track. If you just go into it with a bit of curiosity about what is our footprint, where are the big things, then I think that'll at least put you in a position to really be able to do something about that.

Krissie Leyland  50:53

Perfect answer. So Gavin, where can people find you if they'd like to chat more about custom Shopify development or your carbon report?

Gavin Ballard  51:04

For me personally, Twitter is probably the best place for me. I am just @gavinballard and if you'd like to learn a bit more about Disco Labs as a company, or read the carbon report them were at www.discolabs.com.

Krissie Leyland  51:19

Thank you! One more question: What made you choose the name Disco Labs?

Gavin Ballard  51:25

I wish there was a great answer to this question but in all honesty, it is purely domain name availability. We just needed to name a business and looked at some .coms and that happened to be available. Yeah, there's nothing deeper to it than that.

Krissie Leyland  51:51

I thought you liked discoing or something?

Gavin Ballard  51:56

I don't mind the disco, but not too much in 2020 or 2021...

Rich Bunker  52:05

Remote discos!

Krissie Leyland  52:06

Yeah, on your own!

Rich Bunker  52:07

Zoom disco. There's probably a niche software isn't there?

Gavin Ballard  52:21

I don't think anyone wants to spend any more time on Zoom than they have to, at the moment.

Krissie Leyland  52:25

No thanks! Oh, wait... we're on it right now. Thank you Zoom!