In the world we live in today, consumer choices have become an act of identity and a political statement. This makes the whole process of buying (an apple, a pair of tennis shoes, morning coffee) a lot more complex than it use to be. Even the most informed people have a hard time determining what is good for them, the planet, the forest and wildlife, but also other humans, ice caps and the economy. Understandable. That is why we need tools capable of assessing and communicating clearly and instantly on the products available on the market. A new company called Earth Ratings is doing just that. We wanted to get a few answers from its co-founder Carsten Roland.
Hi Carsten, it is a pleasure to interview entrepreneurs like you. Can you tell us a bit more about the project you are developing?
Earth Ratings is doing two things: firstly, we are providing consumers with a quick and easy way to make more sustainable choices every time they spend money. It’s not just about shopping at organic markets on weekends, it’s about making the more sustainable alternatives not only obvious but also easier and more fun! Secondly, we want the online shopping experience to create a story between the people who make what you buy and our users. By becoming a part of Earth Ratings you can help us guide our organisation: you give input on the decisions we make. Our stakeholders must be a part of the journey and that is the democratisation of business. Our mission is to change consumer habits into a force for good, so we are re-investing 100% of all profits into sustainable initiatives.
You have experience in consulting and accounting. How has that shaped your vision of sustainability and your tool Earth Ratings?
The financial reporting world has worked very hard towards one set of accepted standards that guide the way information is disclosed. This is essential when comparing the information of companies operating globally. Unfortunately, sustainability reports do not have that kind of structure and comparing them not only takes time but requires a high level of knowledge and expertise. My background helped me build our scoring algorithm, which takes into account that company policies are not always the best yardstick for measuring performance. The everyday consumer, who cares about sustainability and making responsible choices, has to overcome so many hurdles every time she spends money. Sustainability is seen as an inconvenience and, with the urgency of the global catastrophe we are facing, cannot be allowed to remain a bothersome afterthought.
How can we better the world with business?
Businesses have a global reach, something politics tends to struggle with. Businesses currently operate as a type of monarchy. If the management board decides something, procedures are formulated and it gets implemented. If you consider the wealth and power that some organisations command, they can be a major force for good! They, like many of us, play by the rules they are given. If they are not required to make more sustainable goods, they won’t. Luckily, some business leaders are seeing that we are all in the same boat and are pushing for better solutions. The problem is that financial markets only reward financial gain, but that is a very one-sided measure of value. We need to evolve away from that.
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Can entrepreneurs change or help change corporate practices to make business more sustainable?
Yes, they can. Entrepreneurs are changemakers, a risk-taking bunch that are willing to try new things and corporates have recognised the need for this. That is why most of them either run or are a part of an incubator or accelerator. The main problem I see with this approach is that corporations check out startups and, if they see something they like, gobble them up. My call is for the co-workers (and customers), the people enabling corporates: you shouldn’t work for a company that pollutes the environment and mistreats people and animals. I’m not saying quit your job: I’m saying change the company from the inside.
You are currently fundraising for Earth Ratings and you have decided to reward each €75 support by making a donation to Plan A. How did you get this idea to mix investment and donation for the planet?
Plan A has always been a company we wanted to work with. The concept, the data and the team are something that we admire and want to contribute to. Plus, the fun and easy way of supporting efforts to combat climate change is epic. We wanted to give our supporters a chance to use the platform so they can see how sustainability can be fun and engaging. Because we share this message, we naturally wanted to join forces.
What is Earth Ratings’ best recommendations to become more sustainable in our every day (or not!) consumer choices?
The most sustainable consumption choice is abstinence. No two ways around that. If you do buy something, you should find a company that wants to create a bond with you as a customer. Ask them questions and see if they are transparent and communicate what they are up to. The companies doing the right thing in terms of sustainability want to tell you about what they are doing. They have invested time and resources into creating a conscious and sustainable organisation and should be rewarded for that. In contrast, those that haven’t spent the time will quickly become apparent and you should not support them in any way.
What would you say to the people who want to support climate action but do not know where to begin or how to go about it?
Firstly: question everything. Traditional media is often not a good source of motivation for change, so choose your sources wisely. There are people doing amazing things to re-generate natural systems and you can draw inspiration from them. Secondly, talk to people about your fears in order to work through them. You will see that you are not alone and people have formed support groups, sometimes called Plan A and Earth Ratings. Thirdly, realise that we are running out of time and you need to start being a part of the solution. And reduce your meat consumption, if you can’t let it go altogether. Let’s make it happen!
To support this project and make a donation to a Plan A project at the same time, head to this fundraiser page. For each €75 donation, Earth Ratings will give back a part to sustainable action projects on our platform!
Carsten Roland was raised in Namibia and with a post-graduate diploma in Financial reporting as well as tax law and as a qualified chartered accountant, he started his career at Deloitte & Touche which eventually took him to Europe and into the start-up world. He launched Earth Ratings because of the belief that consumers need to know how their daily lives affect the planet and it’s ecosystems and that everyone, armed with the right knowledge, will make more ethical choices.
Adria Grau was raised in Barcelona and studied at London College of Fashion and Middlesex University. Having worked for Spanish retailer Desigual and German e-commerce giant Zalando, he gained an insight to the reality of global supply chains and their consequences, as well as how unaware consumers are regarding the origins of the goods they buy. He joined Earth Ratings because he believes e-commerce provides a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on a global scale.