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Just days after the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, wrapped up, SaaS startup, SustainLife announced $7 million in pre-seed funding and a mission to seamlessly assist companies to connect the dots on how to play their part in mitigating climate change.
SustainLife today launched its free public beta SaaS, targeted broadly to organizations seeking ways to become more sustainable, environmentally driven corporate citizens. Its SaaS platform is designed to be widely accessible, meaning a user doesn’t need to have a degree in computer science or in environmental studies to use the tools and understand how to implement change.
Where legislation fails, companies need to take the reins
Founded this year out of 4Sided Venture Studio, a startup incubator focused on building, scaling, and funding business-to-business SaaS companies, SustainLife, the incubator’s first startup, is taking on one of the world’s most critical and intricately complex issues. And the company is doing so in a way that brings accessibility and actionable steps down to a less-intimidating level.
“We knew that if we built a sustainability platform that could help companies be more sustainable, that would be the best contribution to moving the needle with respect to climate change,” explained Mike Hanrahan, cofounder of SustainLife and CEO of 4Sided Venture Studio.
Despite being the world’s leading producer of both oil and natural gas, the United States is largely absent when it comes to enforcing policy on climate impact.
“When I think of COP26 and the global stage where all of this is taking place, I think what we’re seeing is that the United States continues to be unable to take broad federal action in making standards and requirements in the sustainability space,” said Alyssa Zucker Rade, chief sustainability officer at SustainLife. “I think it does come down to individual businesses being able to promote their own agenda on this going forward. So, what they need are the tools and the guidance, and the ability to do that. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to deliver to them.”
A 2017 Carbon Majors Report found that “100 companies account for 71% of global industrial GHG [green house gas] emissions.” And additionally, that “Over half of global industrial emissions since human-induced climate change was officially recognized can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producing entities.”
“If I stopped using straws for the rest of my life and if I never purchased anything with styrofoam ever again, businesses would still generate 70% of all emissions. So, that’s really the chunk of the market that we want to impact,” Zucker Rade told VentureBeat.
“If you look at the scale of the change that needs to happen, we feel it’s important to see kind of that change coming from businesses,” Annalee Bloomfield, SustainLife’s CEO said.
Saving the world as a service
Barriers to creating large-scale change typically include requiring a high dollar price or expert mind to implement. Effective change tends to take place on a large scale when it is accessible and actionable for individuals and organizations of all sizes, budgets, and sectors, and industries to implement.
“There simply aren’t enough sustainability experts available to implement programs at the scale needed to meet global climate targets, and companies need a solution that makes it easy for non-experts to do so effectively. We decided to address this critical gap in the market by drawing upon our passion for sustainability and experience building enterprise-grade software to create a comprehensive SaaS solution that companies can use to become more sustainable. As a result, SustainLife was born.” Hanrahan stated.
The company’s carbon calculation and sustainability management software analyzes sustainability metrics across 12 impact areas. The platform analyzes things like energy, water, waste, office and business travel, and commuting.
Take, for example, a small math tutoring center that wants to implement SustainLife’s beta software and measure its impact. The user of the software would not need to have vast knowledge of technology to know about processes. The platform would help them consider their organization’s carbon impact, leading the user to consider things along the lines of, “Okay, I’m providing tutors to the community. Let me think about transportation, how are they getting there? Are they driving individual cars? Are they biking there? How could I improve getting from a carbon-heavy mode of transportation to something carbon-free? Are there things I could do from a perspective of subsidizing some kind of commuter transit benefit program?” Zucker Rade said.
Those are the type of recommendations a user might find using SustainLife’s software. To develop substantial, tailored, and effective recommendations, the company consulted experts, practitioners, and companies that have successfully implemented these programs or strategies themselves. SustainLife also heavily focused on the user experience and user interface of the platform, something the team agrees was key to making their product accessible for companies and organizations of various sizes and capabilities.
By ensuring their platform delivers top-tier expertise in a way that is clear, concise, and done so via non-expert language, an individual at any company can ideally pick up the tool and learn from it as they go with accessible features like pro-tips and what the company calls “watch-outs,” Bloomfield explained.
“We’ve pulled strategic information from actual practitioners who have implemented programs like this across a number of companies to say [to our users], ‘Hey, you might not have thought of this, but here’s sort of a common gotcha that you might want to think about.’” Bloomfield said. “We’ve really tried to build that into the tool. It’s sort of like a coach in your pocket, you have that support from a platform that isn’t expecting you to have a PhD in greenhouse gas emission management.”
Additionally, SustainLife’s user interface is presented in a format that removes complicated technology barriers, ideal for companies that may not focus on complex technology. If designed with an expert in mind, it could have been a deterrent to adopting the platform for non-technology-focused companies.
“We really wanted to design a product that delivered this expertise to someone just starting out on the sustainability journey or a practitioner that has a little bit of experience, but really needed or needs some additional kind of program implementation to organize this work and track the impact of it over time,” Zucker Rade added.
Walking the sustainability walk
SustainLife isn’t simply talking about sustainability initiatives or marketing their technology solution for others to buy into, they’re using their own platform. The company recently joined several top sustainability- and diversity-focused organizations including the UN Global Compact, the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, and is a pending certification as a B Corporation.
According to Hanrahan, each month, SustainLife chooses an employee from an area of the company to use its SaaS platform and calculate the company’s carbon footprint internally.
The chosen employee is typically a non-expert, to ensure the tool continues to be easy to use and accessible to understand. Hanrahan says that the employees generally arrive at the same answer using the tool as the leadership team does.
Once the carbon impact is calculated internally, the SustainLife team gathers for a monthly feedback meeting to chat with the chosen employee who calculated the impact that month and ask questions like, “Were there terms you didn’t understand?” “Was there a workflow that was confusing?” “Was there a data request that was hard for you to get access to, or could require more explanation on?”
The team then uses that feedback to continue refining its tool.
“It’s a bit of a forever project, actually, to make the software more integrated into how companies operate and making it easier to use all the time, using our data in effective ways for our customers,” Hanrahan said.
Sustaining sustainability efforts
As technology with an environmental focus continues to emerge, such as Nvidia’s Earth 2 digital twin. SustainLife is also looking ahead at the impact it can have and the additional features it can implement to bolster the SaaS tool’s impact.
“We really started looking at the future of work. We see the environment changing for businesses over the next five to 10 years, whether that’s through regulation or through changing customer or client expectations or even just cultural expectations around environmental impact,” Bloomfield said. “When we looked at what kind of tools a company would need to really operate well in that kind of environment, we felt like there was this gap for how you upskill and train your existing employees to think about sustainability in their day-to-day work that our expertise in building SaaS software could step into.”
According to Bloomfield, SustainLife is working to develop additional and enhanced carbon calculators, broader data management, and improving how it tracks data around things like waste and water and some of these environmental metrics that can roll up to carbon. Additionally, it’s also looking into how it can make it even easier for people to find and enter their company’s data, which could include parsing or data integrations to pull in that information from other places.
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