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Breaking the climate-neutral barrier

Our first milestone on our sustainability journey

Gordon WilloughbyFormer CEO at WeTransferJanuary 24, 2021

It’s hardly news that businesses have a crucial role to play in reversing climate change. That’s a reality that applies with extra force to those companies with cloud products at their core. And that means us. 

At WeTransfer, we’ve always prioritized empathy and community, but it’s important that we extend those values to the whole planet. Last June, we decided to go on a sustainability journey, making a pledge to become carbon neutral by the end of the year, and to cut our emissions by an ambitious 30% over the next five years. At the same time, we joined the B Corp community, a status that’s only been achieved by a few global tech firms. Together with companies like Patagonia, The Body Shop, and The Guardian, we’re now starting to rethink what business success looks like, and push for an inclusive, sustainable future for all.

Today, we’re delighted to announce that we’ve just achieved the first goal on that sustainability journey—as of now, we’re officially a Climate Neutral Organization. 

But we need to be honest. Being climate neutral means removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as you put into it. And that means using carbon-offset schemes. Right now, these play a vital role in tackling climate change. That’s not to say they’re perfect—the carbon is still being produced—but they do cut emissions elsewhere, keeping the overall amount in balance. So, while we set to work reducing our own emissions, we’re going to be supporting two great offset schemes, both offering social benefits as well as environmental ones.

It’s an important moment for WeTransfer. Climate Neutral Certification proves our determination to achieve net-zero carbon, with a focus on reducing our own carbon output, offsetting any remaining emissions, and encouraging our supply chain to do likewise. But it’s just one step towards our real goal. We want to turn ourselves into a carbon-positive company, one that actively removes carbon from the atmosphere. It’s a big ask, especially for a growing business, but it’s something we’re deeply committed to. And that’s not just good sense, it’s what our customers are demanding. What’s more, we’ll be inviting the entire tech industry to join us on the journey. 

Getting to climate neutral

So how did we get that certification? First, with help from two leading sustainability experts, Climate Neutral Group and Sustainalize, we measured our carbon emissions and created a sustainability strategy. Then, they carried out a strict audit scrutinizing both our calculations and our solutions. Where we’d said our emissions were coming from; our methods in estimating their size; our dedication to reducing our carbon output; the strength of our action plan—everything got a pummelling. 

Actually, it was pretty intense. But we’ve come out the other side, and we’re now certified as a Climate Neutral Organization. That means our commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions has been recognized, and we’re “on track” with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

It’s been a tough process, but an essential one. The upshot is we’ll be offsetting 2,364 tonnes of carbon over the next year. Also, we now know which of our activities produced most emissions in 2019. That means we know where to push hardest to guarantee we meet the goals laid out in our sustainability strategy. 

But calculating those internal emissions was far easier than measuring the carbon footprint of the rest of our business. Cloud provision takes up a huge proportion of our energy use, but linking energy consumption in the cloud to individual companies is a real challenge. Drawing on information from our suppliers, the International Energy Agency, and our industry peers, we went through a detailed and robust process to get through these numbers which took a lot of time and effort. We’d like it to be far easier for firms like us to understand their carbon footprint so they can address it based on an accurate understanding.

By being honest about these issues, we’re aiming to increase awareness across the cloud-based sector about the hurdles we’re all facing in calculating our emissions. Ultimately, we want to work with our cloud-service peers to address this cloud blindspot, improving the availability and accuracy of data on our products’ energy consumption, and giving our customers the clarity they’re clamoring for. In the long term, that transparency should drive innovation around reducing the sector’s carbon footprint, and help us all implement new methods of capturing our emissions. 

What now? Offsetting our carbon

So how do you go about choosing the right carbon-offsetting projects to support? We wanted to find ones that would make verifiable social and environmental impacts. And we wanted them to reflect the commitments we’ve made to community and empathy over the years. To guide us, we drew up three “offset principles”: 

  • Local impact Backing projects that put people first, benefit local communities, and make a real difference.

  • Credibility Relying on quantifiable data, gathered through partner oversight, impact reports, and certification.

  • Duration Investing in projects that have long-term impacts—ones that last years, not months.

With help from Climate Neutral Group, we’ve now selected two really exciting schemes. Both will bring social and environmental benefits; both will make a real difference in fighting climate change. And they’ve been accredited as supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which include ending poverty and hunger; improving gender equality, health, and education; and preserving oceans and forests. 

The first project helps to install biogas digesters in rural households with small farms in Asia and Africa. Even if a family owns just two cows, these digesters can generate enough biogas for cooking and lighting, as well as producing a rich organic fertilizer as a by-product. As a result, reliance on open fires, which cause pollution, damage health, and impede gender equality, is greatly reduced. It’s a scheme that’s been developed by the aid organization Hivos, and it carries the renowned Gold Standard certification, established and monitored by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The second project harnesses the potential of wind power, with its proven role in providing stable supplies of clean, renewable energy. Climate Neutral Group invests in a mix of small-scale wind-energy programs, each with Verified Carbon Standard certification, including a number of highly efficient modern wind farms across India. The goal isn’t just to lower carbon emissions, but also to help in creating jobs, reducing deforestation, and promoting local expertise in renewable-energy technology.

Going forward: Beyond offsetting

At the same time, we’ve been working hard on our pledge to reduce our own emissions by 30% within five years. It’s the first step on WeTransfer’s journey towards becoming a carbon-positive business and, as a growing organisation, it’s not going to be an easy one. But joining the Climate Neutral Certification program, with its stringent annual audits, will definitely help us get there. And we’ve already been rolling out some initial strategies, including:

  • This year, we’ll be using renewable energy to power our Amsterdam headquarters, and exploring ways of making all our offices energy efficient.

  • We’re developing responsible policies around business travel and adapting our day-to-day schedules to reduce commuting; we intend to have these strategies in place by October.

  • We’re also establishing a sustainable-purchase policy to ensure all our purchases are intelligent, responsible ones. We’ve now got this scheme up and running, and we’ll be expanding it over the next year. 

  • We’re in the process of researching hardware-circularity programs with help from our partners, so we can reuse, recycle, or repair some of our electronic products.

Finally, we’re empowering the entire WeTransfer community to get involved in our sustainability journey, setting up an internal group to come up with and implement new ideas.

And another thing: Advocating for change

We’ve worked hard to be recognized as a responsible, values-driven business. We’re planning to use that platform to promote transparency and sustainability across our industry. Again, we know things won’t change overnight, but we’re committed to making a difference, so we’ll start out by:

  • Advocating for greater transparency and clearer attribution mechanisms, focusing energy and time on addressing any technical challenges that stand in the way 

  • Encouraging our partners and suppliers to adopt sustainable policies. 

  • Expanding our inventory of wallpapers, with their proven impact, to amplify all these messages.

This year, we’re also collaborating with London’s Serpentine Galleries on a pioneering multimedia project, Groundwork, as part of their Back to Earth series showcasing artistic responses to the climate crisis. It’s a unique chance to dive into the creative worlds of global figures like Vivienne Westwood and Tabita Rezaire, and we’ll be matching up to €30,000 in crowdsourced donations to the artists’ chosen ecological charities.

If the tech industry can act together, we’ll magnify our impact immeasurably, tackling climate change quicker, and speeding the transition to a sustainable future. And that’s something we can all get behind!


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