Sustainability Leaders: Tips from Jared Ingersoll (ex-Canva)

August 2022

What do the experts think...

Jared Ingersoll has committed the majority of his life and career to date focused on sustainability, and his passion for the climate is contagious. Most recently, he wrapped up 2.5 years as Sustainability Lead at Canva, guiding the Australian tech-giant through carbon neutral certification and starting its journey to net zero. 

Shortly before he wrapped up his time at Canva, we spent some time with him to find out his top tips for other sustainability leaders pushing for positive change in their organisations. These were the top takeaways from our chat.

Achieving carbon neutrality is important, but it’s just the start

Achieving carbon neutrality is important, but it’s just the start

Canva officially achieved carbon neutrality across their global operations in 2021 and is certified under the Australian Government’s Climate Active program. Jared explained that becoming carbon neutral has a multitude of benefits.

First, it gives them the opportunity to choose projects they want to support. Canva primarily focuses on purchasing nature-based offsets that also meet criteria around supporting biodiversity, having a positive social impact and preserving traditional knowledge systems of First Nations people.

Offsetting also helps demonstrate the “true cost of doing business” and brings the company’s environmental impact more naturally into financial conversations. This allows them to more easily track sustainability metrics for specific activities and put in place strategies for decarbonisation.

Jared describes achieving carbon neutrality as like “a carrot flavoured stick”, because it’s not just something the business is required to report on, but also provides a mechanism to work on things they value like increasing their focus on regeneration and directly reducing emissions. 

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Don’t let change be your enemy

Don’t let change be your enemy

As someone who’s worked in sustainability for quite some time, Jared is under no illusions that creating positive change is easy.

“Even in companies like Canva, the biggest challenge is always resources… The reason this is especially challenging in a sustainability role is because you need to work across the company, and everyone else has got other things to deal with - finance are busy being finance, procurement are busy being procurement. So the challenge is - how do you elevate sustainability so that [others] start to buy into the vision and, more importantly, start to understand what their lever is in the bigger picture.”

“When you’re just starting out in sustainability the idea that it’s going to be a ‘perfect place’ just doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a startup or you’re a big company like Canva, you constantly are having to beg, borrow, and steal solutions. You’re always having to collaborate.”

“It’s really challenging changing anything. I’ve never seen a situation where the sustainability aspirations of an organisation have been so strong that transitioning and changing things still didn’t suck!”

But Jared says this shouldn’t stop anyone from taking action.

“The sooner you start elevating environmental and social impacts in your growth strategy, the easier your journey will be.”

“There’s always trepidation when the largest amount of change needs to happen, but once you get over that hump, it becomes normalised.”

“I do not see a future where any company will not be considering their environmental impact - they won’t be able to exist!”

There’s been a shift in the tide in awareness and understanding about sustainability over recent years - Jared pulled out a few examples:

  • There are less “pedestrians” when it comes to the topic of climate change - or in other words, convincing people we should care and act on it is less of a problem.
  • Employees are increasingly prioritising working for employers who are taking climate action.
  • Consumers are expecting companies to respond to climate change, above even governments.

“Especially right now…you’ve got a great opportunity to take charge. So, don’t wait for government signals or for when you’re being chased by policies - it will be too late! 

The carbon market will be expensive, the cost of doing business will be more expensive…If you don’t act now, you’re missing out on an opportunity allowed by [increased consumer awareness] and the fact that most [businesses] don’t know how to move on this.

“Change is happening and you can either be a disruptor or be left behind.”

So how do you inspire change when change is notoriously hard and you’re tight on resources…?

Find the sustainability ‘gateway drugs’ that inspire action

Find the sustainability ‘gateway drugs’ that inspire action

When asked how he encourages people to engage on sustainability initiatives in the business, Jared said, 

“I always encourage people to look for the ‘gateway drugs’. So, [consider] what’s the thing that’s going to peak someone’s interest that will start them on their journey?” 

Jared spoke to the ‘good-old-fashioned idea’ of starting clubs and said to focus on the “low hanging fruit” that might be obvious, but start conversations.

“Once you start a few conversations, get people on the journey and they do something, the next thing is just that little bit easier.”

“When you look at a room of say 100 people, I reckon if you come up with a really good idea, you might get 10 to 15 people doing it. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

With this in mind, Jared suggested, “Think about the different things you could do to appeal to different people - it might be reducing coffee cup waste, avoiding fast fashion or switching to a digital process over a paper one… If you get 15 people each time after three initiatives, you’ve now got 35% of people acting more sustainably.”

“You don’t need to get everybody doing everything, you just need to get everybody doing something.

He had a bunch of other tips too:

  • Remember that it’s not usually that people don’t care, but just that they’re too busy. Take what you can off your team’s plate when it comes to sustainable decision making by making sustainable options the ‘default’ where possible. Allow them to focus their efforts on the initiatives that matter most.
  • Incorporate sustainability into decision-making criteria for specific projects. Ask, simple open-ended questions that spark discussion, like “have you thought about the environmental impacts?”
  • Alignment with leadership is crucial. Unless you have leadership saying “this is important” it's sometimes hard to get other people to understand the context of a project or initiative you want to push.
  • Remember you can’t expect change overnight; it’s a long process of incremental improvement! Don’t get bogged down in despair; if something doesn’t work - pivot!
  • Build a community around you to support you when things don’t go well. Sometimes it can be daunting and the ‘doom’ of climate change can weigh heavily on your heart. So it’s important to have people in your network that you reach out to when you need - it keeps your spirit alive when you’re doing this hard work.

The future is even more uncertain if you don’t have a plan for how you’ll shape it

Now that Canva has achieved carbon neutrality, they’re looking to the future. On Earth Day in April this year, the company published their vision for Beyond Net Zero, but most companies are struggling with the idea of reaching net zero. Jared was refreshingly honest about his approach to setting and reaching net zero targets.

“We don’t know how we’re going to get there, but we know that if we want to take serious climate action, [achieving net zero] needs all our effort. It’s one thing to publish nice stories and purchase carbon offsets, but those things aren’t really going to shift the needle [in the long run].”

Jared knows some might see setting targets without a certain path to get there as “setting yourself up for failure”, but his perspective is more optimistic.

“I always make sure people know we don’t have all the answers but we’re going to try and figure it out…We might get to 2028 and only be 70% of the way there but what we want to communicate is not just our success but also when we’re not successful. I think there’s some beautiful opportunities for learning when we embrace the fact that we’re not perfect and if something goes wrong, you need to be able to, with integrity, communicate to your audience where the issues were and how you’re going to rectify them.”

“It’s something that I see at all levels of organisations - the desire to be perfect is paralysing people from action. How do you cost a decarbonisation strategy over a decade for a company that’s going through rapid growth?...You take your best guess and you move forward. You can’t wait for all the stars to line up but what you can do is figure out, to the best of your ability, what information you do have and how you want to proceed.”

But what about making sure the costs and risks are accounted for? 

“The short answer is, the longer your wait, the more expensive it’s going to be.”, Jared said. But he also encouraged people to look at the bigger picture.

“We need to realise that the next two years of action will determine the next decade. If we wait until the end of the decade, it will be too late. We’re tracking to exceed temperature targets that would would make areas of the planet unsustainable for life.” 

While he doesn’t like to play into the “doomsday” narrative or contribute to the fatigue many are experiencing when they hear messaging around the climate crisis, he pointed to the fact that this outcome will only happen if we make a conscious decision not to act. 

“Then there’s all these other scenarios that we can achieve [if we take action]. To say that “it’s all too hard” and “let’s give up”, just means [the outcome is inevitable]. All the solutions exist… Don’t waste time waiting for the perfect moment or designing a bespoke solution… you can Google for a solution!”


Resources & Extra Reading

  • Learn more about Canva’s sustainability strategy on their website.
  • Jared is happy for people passionate about sustainability to reach out to him on LinkedIn. (He said he doesn’t always get to all of his messages but tries to help out as much as he can!)

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