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Coffee catch-up with Head of Sustainability Mike Williams

To celebrate Earth Day on April 22, we sit down with our Head of Sustainability for the latest instalment of our Coffee Catch-Ups.


Welcome back to our Coffee Catch-Up series, where we sit down with different members of our Canva team from around the globe to find out more about what makes them tick, both at and outside of work.

This time, we’re chatting with Mike Williams, our Head of Sustainability – and the timing couldn’t be better with Earth Day, a day to raise environmental awareness, right around the corner on April 22.

Hi, Mike! Tell us about your time at Canva and what you get to work on.

Hello everyone!

I’ve been at Canva for a bit over six and a half years – having had the fortune of working in a number of different roles over my time here. I joined the Growth team back in 2016 focusing on launching Canva into new markets, and then shifted to People Operations when scaling the Canva team became a company priority. Following that stint, I spent time in Product Partnerships, and have now found a new home in Sustainability. This could very well be Canva’s least successful attempt at moving me on.

I wouldn’t have expected to traverse that many Specialties at Canva when I first joined, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to gain a breadth of exposure to a lot of different parts of the company.

Canva's Head of Sustainability Mike Williams says: "I wouldn’t have expected to traverse that many Specialties at Canva when I first joined, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to gain a breadth of exposure to a lot of different parts of the company."

How would you explain to your grandma what you do?

I’d say my role is to support Canva’s goal to Do the most good we can, by helping our team develop products and operations that are best for the planet, and best for the long-term success of Canva.

What inspired you to pursue a career in sustainability?

I was initially motivated to take climate action by experiencing the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires which destroyed around 18M hectares of land and killed millions of animals. It was difficult to live through the impacts of those events and stand idly by.

After the fires, I became enthusiastic to support sustainability as part of my everyday work and really learn about the climate problem. When the opportunity to lead Canva’s sustainability efforts presented itself, I jumped at it. More than 1% of humanity uses Canva every month, so the way we approach climate work with our team, our vendors, and our customers has the potential to make a considerable impact(opens in a new tab or window).

Canva Head of Sustainability Mike Williams says: "More than 1% of humanity uses Canva every month, so the way we approach climate work with our team, our vendors, and our customers has the potential to make a considerable impact."

What's been your proudest moment at Canva so far?

I’ve been privileged to have worked with a number of outstanding people at Canva over the years, so I have a lot of memorable moments.

When I kicked off my research on climate I began to understand the need for both heavy emission reductions, paired with effective carbon removal of legacy emissions, in order to stabilize the planet to target levels.

During that exploratory time, I came across Frontier Climate – an advanced market commitment founded by our payments partner Stripe, to accelerate the development of permanent carbon removal solutions, an industry still very much in its infancy. I was proud to say those research efforts played a part in having Canva sign up to become the first Australian participant in Frontier(opens in a new tab or window) through our climate analytics partner Watershed(opens in a new tab or window).

What role do businesses and governments play in promoting sustainability?

Both businesses and the government each play critical roles in delivering sustainability outcomes, and the more I’ve delved into trying to figure out the solution to climate, the more I’ve come to believe the planet’s problems require both markets and policy. Collaboration is really key between both sectors.

Fundamentally, businesses are responsible for bringing to market many of the goods and services we all use each day, and in building sustainably into the way a business operates and produces all of those things, it’s clear the key role they play in what the world looks like.

Governments and public entities have the capability to legislate effective policy frameworks which in turn incentivizes sustainable practices, funds new technology development, and regulates industries.

How are you planning to use your Vibe and Thrive(opens in a new tab or window) allowance?

Most likely towards education to learn as much as I can, and meet incredible people.

Where’s the most memorable place you’ve travelled to and what’s on the travel list next?

I’d have to say Cambodia. I found the people, history, and culture absolutely fascinating when I was lucky enough to travel there.

Statues at a temple in Cambodia

What advice would you offer to others who want to make a difference in sustainability at their organization?

Do it.

I’d say the best way to achieve actual results is to firstly measure your organization’s sustainability impact, as this is how to ascertain where the biggest opportunities and challenges are. Then, show internal decision-makers the value of adopting sustainability practices.

For the second element, figure out what the decision-makers actually care about, and speak their language. A Head of People might care about the quality of talent being attracted, hired, and retained. A CFO probably cares about profitability and access to capital. A founder will care about achieving the mission and vision.

I’m fortunate in that Canva’s leaders already care a lot about sustainability, so the focus has been articulating a sustainability plan that connects with our overarching goals.

What's the best advice you've ever heard?

“Opportunities are attached to people. If you are looking for an opportunity, you are really looking for a person,’’ from Reid Hoffman’s The Startup of You. I believe building a strong network is one of the most valuable activities a person can undertake to achieve their goals – whatever they may be.

What's your favorite Canva tool or feature?

I’m a huge fan of Flourish which Canva acquired in 2022(opens in a new tab or window), to help turn data into visual storytelling. Our team is currently working on some very impressive data visualization efforts to help folks understand the scale of positive impact Canva is having, and could have, on the world. Imagine looking at a rotating earth visual and seeing Canva being used in real time by 125 million monthly users, for example.

An interactive Flourish visualization showing the progress of Canva partner and activist Lisa Blair’s boat Climate Action Now on its record circumnavigation of Antarctica.

We also recently launched Magic Presentations, where our community can prompt Canva to make a presentation(opens in a new tab or window) by typing in a few sentences. Think about the hours (or even days or weeks) you’ve spent building a nice-looking well-structured presentation in the past, and how powerful that feature is going to be in the years to come.

I can see a world where a salesperson will ask Canva, “Create a 10-slide pitch deck to my top sales prospect, leveraging account usage data”, and the deck will just appear for them, with best practice and on-brand design principles embedded, in just a couple of clicks.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Most of the day it’s lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to on YouTube in the background while I’m working.

I’m a huge Ben Howard fan, so he often appears on repeat.

My comms team said I would be in trouble if I didn’t plug that I’ll be appearing on an upcoming episode on the AWS Fix This(opens in a new tab or window) podcast diving deep on all things climate and sustainability.

Interested in becoming part of what we’re building at Canva? You can check out all the open positions we have here(opens in a new tab or window).