Renat Heuberger, CEO, and co-founder of South Pole tells us about the reduction of carbon print through innovation.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Renat Heuberger: These are difficult times for everyone, but we’re doing our best to adjust to everything while keeping happy, productive, and healthy. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re keeping focused on that to help get us through this together with our friends, coworkers, and families.
I have to say that focusing on my climate change work this year has actually helped. So much is happening in this space – in fact, the number of governments and companies setting a Net Zero target doubled in the past year – and this progress gives us hope and has helped in these otherwise difficult times.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded South Pole.
Renat Heuberger: I co-founded South Pole back in 2005 on the principle that our economy and society can only thrive if businesses can embed sustainability and the environment into the heart of their activities. We placed specific emphasis on working with partners in developing countries in the southern hemisphere, hence the ‘south’ in South Pole.
This is a belief that has driven me throughout my career and it is something that we prove every day at South Pole. It is possible to move toward a low carbon economy, combat climate change, and create massive new business opportunities at the same time while keeping our high quality of life, and I love that I get to devote myself to this challenge every day.
How does South Pole innovate?
Renat Heuberger: At South Pole, we pride ourselves in being able to anticipate trends and stay abreast of the most recent developments related to climate change and other sustainability issues. Through a decentralized, open culture and flat hierarchy, our global, multi-disciplinary team of climate experts is highly resourceful in developing solutions that fit the needs of our clients as they develop and progress. It’s this approach and openness to innovation that gives us the edge and has established us as one of the leading providers of climate solutions on the planet. For example, in parallel with our work to lower greenhouse gas emissions, we just developed a Plastics Practise with plastics credits, which is really on the cutting edge of innovation.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Renat Heuberger: Just as the pandemic has been difficult for individuals and families, so too has it been difficult for businesses. Yet despite the difficulties of the pandemic, businesses recognize by now that climate change can pose even greater challenges. They see the enormous impact a virus can have on supply chains and resources – human and material – and realize that the same – and worse! – can happen with major climate catastrophes.
That’s why we have seen in a recent survey conducted by South Pole that most organizations’ climate mitigation efforts have either remained the same or accelerated through COVID-19. While South Pole has had its difficulties throughout the pandemic as well, we are fortunate to be working in a space where organizations realize that taking action on climate change simply can’t take a backseat to the pandemic or to anything else, and our business is growing.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Renat Heuberger: The main difficulties we’ve been having with respect to human resources have been connected to rapid growth across all of our offices! In the last year, we have added over 120 full-time staff across our 22 offices and representations worldwide. It’s a problem we’re lucky to have, but again, it demonstrates the pace of ambition with respect to climate action across organizations in many key sectors.
When we work with our clients we sometimes see that this increased ambition isn’t yet reflected in their business planning, but that’s where South Pole comes in. The fact that we’ve been growing so fast and able to continue providing services to clients despite the pandemic is actually very promising.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Renat Heuberger: As the pandemic has taught everybody new ways to interact digitally, it has also given us an opportunity to further digitize the way we work with our clients. We have upgraded our CRM systems and are now fully based in the Salesforce ecosystem, including Pardot integration. This was part of the realization that we need to create personalized digital journeys for each of our clients and is a major accomplishment in our broader quest to migrate to fully digital formats. Taking such a client-centered approach allows us to really engage in the right ways and benefit from local context in all the regions where we’re active. (As I mentioned before, we have 22 offices and representations across four continents).
Internally, we have developed guidelines and policies to help our employees identify and mitigate challenges related to working from home. We also encourage employees to take advantage of some new opportunities, like reclaiming commuting time for health breaks or embracing even greater decentralization by regularly having less formal staff ‘catch ups’ in our offices around the globe. We have found that relatively simple things like regular meetings, using video as much as possible, enriching discussions with tools like Jamboard, and other practices related to good “netiquette” have gone a long way.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Renat Heuberger: We haven’t had to rely on any government grants. For those businesses that have had difficulty staying afloat, we wish them the best and we are always here to advise them on how to insulate against climate shocks once they get back on their feet.
Your final thoughts?
Renat Heuberger: The pandemic has been a major shock, but it has also taught us some important lessons. Those organizations that are able to embrace innovation – whether by going fully digital, working to retain quality talent, or investing to protect against future shocks related to the climate emergency – are the ones that will have the best chances to really take off in the post-pandemic world.
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