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A look behind Canva’s crazy big sustainability goals

How we’re going above and beyond to reduce our carbon footprint.


From achieving carbon neutrality through to making the commitment to be climate positive by 2023, Jared Ingersoll, Canva’s Head of Sustainability is leading the charge and pulling out all the stops to ensure the organization, and the people within it, make a positive contribution to the world we live in.

Canva said it would be carbon neutral by 2020 — and it was.

Our next big step is to be climate positive by 2023 — and the good news is we are well on our way.

So what did it take to go carbon neutral? And how will we become climate positive in two short years?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how we’re achieving our crazy big sustainability goals, let me just say this: if going carbon neutral is complicated and expensive, becoming climate positive is even harder. But we’re 100% committed to the process and we’re 100% committed to being held accountable to walking the walk.

Why?

Our efforts extend far beyond our sense of corporate responsibility when it comes to supply chain logistics, labor, energy and materials. One of Canva’s core values is to ‘be a force for good’ and it’s a statement that steers the decisions we make, the goals we set, and the culture we create as a company. It also drives us to work harder on our journey towards sustainability.

As we strive to empower the world to design, it’s essential we make a positive impact on our planet. That’s why every design — created, shared, or printed — not only helps our creative community achieve their goals but also achieves ours. Plus, we know it’s crucial to build in these foundational changes now rather than trying to repair the circumstance retrospectively in the future.

And I’m not saying that figuratively; it makes sense, from a business and financial perspective to act now be ahead of the curve and create truly sustainable outcomes.

Just because we’re one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the world, doesn’t make our sustainability goals any easier to achieve. It’s difficult for any business, large or small, to become carbon neutral, let alone climate positive. Big companies have bigger problems, smaller companies have less resources. However, by making a bunch of small changes in your business, you will be contributing to making a more positive impact to the world around us.

Our overarching sustainability strategy is simple and can be adapted by any organization, regardless of size. We started with identifying opportunities that had the biggest impact and were the easiest to achieve — some call it the ‘low hanging fruit’. If you start with this, you will gain momentum a lot faster than if you try to knock over everything at once.

So let’s take a look at what we’ve done so far, and reveal our plans for the future.

First steps: How Canva went carbon neutral

For those unfamiliar with the term, carbon neutral means we’re removing the same amount of carbon dioxide we’re emitting into the atmosphere to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

Our journey started back in 2018; we wrote more about our carbon neutral goal and process here and marked the first step toward even bigger goals.

We started the process by conducting an audit over the course of the year to work out what our carbon footprint was. Once that was identified we selected some carbon offset projects, and by the end of 2020, we joined the Climate Active network and achieved carbon neutral status for our Australian operations including global data services.

How we’re going above and beyond to reduce our carbon footprint

As part of our sustainability strategy, we’re firm believers in prevention is better than the cure, and as such, we have also applied the below initiatives to support us in reducing our carbon footprint:

  • This year, Australian operations will be transitioned to 100% renewable energy, with our regional operations in the Philippines, China and the US due to transition in the very near future;
  • To use that energy more efficiently, we’ve also switched over to using LED light bulbs, laptops and other energy saving strategies across all our offices; such as upgrading our air conditioning systems to use variable speed drives;
  • We’re also working towards moving our global data services to be powered by renewable energy;
  • Implementing effective waste management systems that included eWaste, composting organic waste, removed single use plastics from our kitchens and fed a lot of Canvanauts (an endearing term we call our people) with organic produce grown from local farms; and
  • Put into action sustainable and ethical procurement principles across the organization, which means making sure the products and services we buy are as sustainable as possible, with the lowest environmental impact and most positive social results, and partnered with local printing and distribution services to reduce emissions and support businesses in our area.

Where we weren’t able to change our practices, we purchased carbon offsets (credits) to make up the difference. At time of publication, we have supported the following offset projects:

Did you know? Rice husk contains about 30–50% of organic carbon and has a high heat value of 13–16 megajoules per kg. It can be used to generate fuel, heat, or electricity through thermal, chemical, or bioprocesses.

Fun fact, in 2019, our Sydney office sent 54.4 tons of waste to landfill. If that seems like just a number to you, let’s put that into perspective. It equates to:

In 2020, we revisited our waste streams and reduced landfill by 70%. By 2021 the result of this preventative measure will stop around 50–60 tons of CO2 and methane entering the atmosphere, as well as reduce further downstream health and environmental problems such as soil and water degradation and pollution. We are currently working towards a completely closed loop waste-free operation, where nothing comes into the office that can’t be re-used, recycled or composted.

What else are we doing?

‘Bee-ing’ awesome

We have bees on the rooftop of our Sydney office, and they’ve been busy! So far we’ve harvested 50kgs of honey, but we expect to produce up to 250kgs a year. We use the honey in our kitchen but beyond that, our bees pollinate a radius of up to 1.5km around our offices. Surry Hills gardens — we love you!

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, almost 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global crops depend on animal pollination. This means, on average, one out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends on pollinators, like bees! They’re super important to the survival of our ecosystem.

You can watch them with our dedicated BeeCam… they’re as busy, as…well, bees!

Getting our hands dirty, in the best possible way

Canvanauts get their hands dirty at volunteer days at Hebron Farm, our organic produce partner in the Hawkesbury Valley, New South Wales, and go on excursions to our sustainability partner, Black Duck Foods in Mallacoota, Victoria.

Black Duck Foods is an indigenous social enterprise founded by academic and Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe and business partner Noel Butler. Canva has provided seed funding (pun intended) for crops of native species, such as Kangaroo Grass and mandadyan nalluk grass (known as Dancing Grass), with a view to learning more about traditional land management and regenerative cropping practices while providing employment opportunities for local community members. Black Duck’s philosophy is all about empowering people and demonstrating the value of traditional knowledge, while protecting the chain of custody across their supply chain.

Our approach to sustainability is to create solutions that empower others. We educate our employees, we educate our communities and we work together to create community-led initiatives. We’re constantly sense checking ourselves and asking ‘What can we protect?’ and ‘What can we regenerate?’

With that in mind, we are currently looking at reforestation and regeneration, as well as legacy biodiversity protection programs like Greenfleet that secure 100-year leaseholds and protections on wilderness areas like mangroves, savannahs and prairies. This is an important piece as it means the good work we do lasts for future generations.

Now begins the journey to being climate positive

Canva is one of the fastest growing technology companies in the world, meaning we’re in a position to do a lot of good.

Melanie Perkins, one of our founders, says it best: “In this day and age, companies have a much greater responsibility than the old mantra to do no evil.”

With this in mind, by 2023 we will be a climate positive organization. Being climate positive means we’re going beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions (i.e. being carbon neutral), we are actually going to remove additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a range of initiatives.

With global employee emission estimated around 9t CO2 per person, per year, our goal is to reduce that number by 50%.

As an organization, we’ve articulated steps to reduce our carbon footprint, but we’re not stopping there. We’re also initiating another project to help our people reduce their emissions at home. From offsetting carbon emissions with travel, composting at home, offering alternatives to cleaning products (to reduce the amount of chemicals entering the environment), plus much more.

How?

You Print, We Plant

For every print order placed with Canva, we will plant a tree. We will contribute towards the planting of up to one million trees each year while sequestering up to 100,000 tons* of carbon from the atmosphere.

Why? Because planting trees is the most economical and effective way to capture and store greenhouse gases.

We have partnered with Reduce. Reuse. Grow. (RRG), a Sustainability-as-a-Service business that operates programs to help offset impacts from print, consumer packaged goods and technology industries, to manage the tree planting process on our behalf.

The first one million trees will be planted in Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar and Haiti where wildlife destruction has reached critical levels.

Plantings in partnership with Reduce. Reuse. Grow. Inc. and Eden Reforestation Projects.

Plantings in partnership with Reduce. Reuse. Grow. Inc. and Eden Reforestation Projects.

Sustainable and ethical menu

This year, we are partnering with a number of small scale producers who are, in our opinion, leading the way in sustainable animal husbandry and land management practices. These partnerships not only help us reach our sustainability goals, they also help us learn more about permaculture and biodynamic production principles. Our suppliers are not exclusive to Canva, rather we support and celebrate their work and encourage our community to support them also.

100% renewable energy globally

In Australia, our office has entered into an agreement to ensure we are being powered by 100% renewable energy. Over the next couple of years, we aim to transition this deal to also encompass all of our global operations, as well as our data services.

From 1 March 2021, the energy needed to power our Sydney operations will be sourced from two solar farms located in Parkes and Griffith in New South Wales. By 2024, as we grow and more resources come online we will also draw power from other renewable sources such as Hills of Gold wind farm.

Leftovers

Food waste is a big problem! When it goes to landfill, it produces methane; and the sad reality is, it’s much worse than carbon as far as greenhouse gas emissions go. So, if there’s food left over at the end of the day, we encourage people to take it home for the family, friends, neighbours whoever!

Sustainability at home

Our #sustainability-club shares simple solutions people can implement at home to tackle everything from recycling and composting, to reducing water, energy and chemical use. We also run workshops on how to make homemade organic cleansers.

Upcycling

Canva has connected with a decluttering and upcycling organization called Humble Sustainability that takes unwanted items and recycles, reuses or repurposes them.

A deliciously edible native garden on the roof

This is a fun example of biophilic food production that also looks super cool! This garden demonstrates how easy it is to produce food in urban spaces. All the species are beautiful, productive and feature on the menu at Canva. The species planted often change but there is a strong preference for native variants.

NB: Biophilia (meaning love of nature) focuses on human’s innate attraction to nature and natural processes. It suggests that we all have a genetic connection to the natural world built up through hundreds of thousands of years of living in agrarian settings.

Sustainable gifting and celebrations

At Canva, we love to celebrate. When we buy gifts (which we do a bit), we source gifts that are made locally, sustainably and packaged in recyclable materials. And when we throw celebrations (which we also do from time to time), we make sure everything — from kegged beer to organic wine — is totally legit from an environmental point of view.

Transport

Beyond flexible work practices that enable working from anywhere, we’re investing in some cool initiatives for when our people go places. To date, we have partnered with The Rolling Fix — professional, mobile bike mechanics who come to our Sydney office to service everyone’s bikes. We are also exploring options including eVans, eBikes and eScooters that are available through a booking app in each region, and discounted access to eVehicles for our people.

Cameron Adams, co founder and Chief Product Officer at Canva, says “climate change is the defining issue for the next decade. In the absence of political leadership on the matter (particularly here in Australia), it is going to take individuals and private organizations to make the change we want to see. We hope, as a starting point, that turning Canva into a carbon-neutral company will not only be a real contribution to tackling climate change, but be an inspiration for other companies to make the switch and have their voices heard.”

You can read more about our sustainability practices and progress here.

What inspires me the most about what we are doing at Canva is that we are demonstrating values and leadership; we’re not just talking about them.

Before the what and how comes into it, we spend a lot of time thinking about why. Anyone with enough money and resources can make a change — and there are certainly opportunities and privileges that come with being one of the world’s fastest growing companies — but it always comes back to our core values of empowering others and being good humans.

If we only fix our patch, nothing will change.

The solutions we have discovered on our journey to becoming a more sustainable company are not ours to own — it’s our responsibility to share them.

Underpinning all of the work we do is ‘how do we make this relevant to others?’ and’ how do we design a better world?’

Over the coming months, we will be answering those questions and launching some truly incredible sustainability initiatives; watch this space!

*Carbon data based on 7.4lbs of carbon sequestered per tree per year over a 25 year period.