Why Canva’s net-zero pledge is so important for the Aussie startup scene

Canva founders

Canva founders Cliff Obrecht, Melanie Perkins and Cameron Adams. Source: supplied.

Canva has become the first Aussie company to sign The Climate Pledge, committing to net-zero emissions by 2040. It’s a big move for a private company, but it could also have ramifications that ripple throughout the whole startup ecosystem.

“Like many technology companies, we’ve been vocal about our stance on climate change and the urgency in which we need to take serious action,” Canva co-founder Cameron Adams said in a blog post.

“As one of the fastest growing technology companies in the world, we’re also in a unique position to help champion this effort.”

For one of Australia’s fastest-growing companies, and one of it’s biggest startup success stories, to be making such a pledge so publicly, is not exactly out of character.

Just last month, Canva hit a massive $55 billion valuation, after raising $270 million. At that time, co-founder and chief executive Melanie Perkins unveiled the business’ ‘two-step plan’, which she said has “become a core part of Canva’s DNA”.

Step one is to become one of the most valuable companies in the world, she wrote. Step two is to ‘do the most good we can’.

As part of step two, Perkins and her co-founder and partner Cliff Obrecht committed the “vast majority” of their wealth to charitable causes. The pair own 30% of Canva, putting their combined personal wealth at about $16.5 billion.

Already, that pledge is being pegged as something that could have an impact on other founders in the Aussie ecosystem. Perkins, Obrecht and Adams are household names in these circles, and people look up to them as business leaders.

Their commitment to net-zero emissions could have a similar effect. Already, more and more businesses are focusing on impact; this could be the news that nudges others into action.

“I think what Canva is doing is fantastic and does provide leadership,” Airtree founder Daniel Petre tells SmartCompany.

“We need all companies to commit to net zero,” he adds, while acknowledging that some will find it more difficult than others.

However, he says in a lot of cases, there’s no reason more companies can’t be doing more than they already are. If nothing else, perhaps Canva’s commitment will start a conversation about business’ emissions goals, and put the pressure on.

“If large global mining companies are working towards this, then surely a lot more can and should,” Petre says.

Alan Jones, founder of M8 Ventures and new ecosystems partnership director at Impact X, also notes that it’s “a really interesting time” in Australian society more broadly.

“We’re at (or at least rapidly approaching) a tipping point, at which the vast majority of Australian society, industry and culture flips towards a wholehearted, collaborative, ‘war effort’-scale focus on reducing our carbon emissions,” he adds.

Speakers at Impact X’s climate summit next month include the likes of Mike Cannon-Brookes and Richard Branson, he says, as well as the CEO of Investment NSW and other corporate executives.

Suddenly, industry and state government leadership are on board for “a focused, determined decarbonisation effort”, Jones says.

Canva has a track record of being ahead of the curve when it comes to movements like this, he notes. And he doesn’t think it necessarily needed The Climate Pledge to achieve its zero-emissions goals.

“I’m certain they were working on achieving the same goal anyway,” he says.

“But if it amplifies the message and gets more individuals and organisations to make their own pledges, that can only be a good thing.”

That itself raises another question, as to why Canva opted to join Amazon’s net-zero pledge rather than simply creating its own.

While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has committed considerable funding to tackling climate change, Amazon itself doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to emissions — or worker rights, for that matter. Also, Bezos’ own space tourism endeavours are not exactly carbon neutral.

However, Jones doesn’t believe Amazon’s past record is any reason not to get involved now. If we’re going to make any headway, he says, what matters is how we start changing behaviours.

“Any time we invest in being sceptical about future action based on past inaction is time that could be spent reinforcing what positive changes we see,” he explains.

“And it gives anyone sitting on the fence, or determined to take a contrarian stance, another reason to delay doing anything themselves.”

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Peter Reed
Peter Reed
11 days ago

Go woke…go broke.