30 years of “corporate social responsibility” has left our planet in dire straits.
Biodiversity loss, climate change, water pollution, micro-plastic pollution, air pollution, species collapse, ecosystem collapse…the list goes on.
What can we all do individually and collectively as business leaders and responsible humans to turn the situation around?
According to Simon Schillebeeckx from Handprint.tech it is possible to create incremental financial value while regenerating the ecosystems we rely on.
Simon and his colleagues at Handprint have written a manifesto for saving the planet, called Regeneration First, that tells us exactly how this can be done.
In this episode of Leaders of Analytics, we discuss:
- The current state of the many environmental issues facing us.
- The “Regeneration First” manifesto and the 7 action shifts needed in our approach to sustainability.
- Whose role it is to deal with climate change
- Promising climate technologies that will help us solve the negative impacts we’re having on the planet
- How we create more short-term environmental incentives to deliver long-term impact
- What we can do individually to contribute to environmental regeneration, and much more.
Simon on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simonschillebeeckx/
Some promising carbon removal solutions discussed on the A16Z podcast.
The Road to 100 Percent Renewables in Australia via Energy Insiders.
Jonas Christensen 2:55
Simon Schillebeeckx. Welcome to Leaders of Analytics. I am so happy to have you on the show today.
Simon Schillebeeckx 2:58
Thanks, Jonas. It's great to be here. Very happy to be here.
Jonas Christensen 3:01
Yeah, and today's show is possibly a little bit different to the shows that people have listened to before on this podcast. Because we are going to be talking not about data and analytics necessarily, although that is absolutely an element of the topic, but something much bigger and grander, namely, something that touches the whole of human race, which is the environmental impact that we are having on the planet, as human beings and as a global society. So really interesting topic that is very dear to my heart, and I know also yours, and we'll learn exactly why that is in a minute. So to kick off, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what you do?
Simon Schillebeeckx 3:42
Yeah, my name is Simon Schillebeeckx, I'm Belgian, I live and work in Singapore for the last eight years. My background is in academia. So I moved to Singapore in 2015, after finishing my PhD in London, and became a business school professor, teaching at Singapore Management University, a variety of courses focusing on business model innovation and sustainability. Back in 2018, I was working with my at the time a postdoctoral fellow Ryan Merrill on a project on studying innovation in the natural world. And we ended up travelling to Myanmar to look at the work that an NGO there called Worldview, what they were doing in terms of mangrove restoration. And we really got back from that trip, and became a little bit obsessed with mangroves and their potential for helping humanity in the fight against climate change and protecting biodiversity. So we decided to set up a nonprofit organisation called Global Mangrove Trust to improve data transparency, financial transparency and access to capital for an organisation in Myanmar, which as you may imagine, is somewhat excluded from the international financial system and out of that organisation about two years later grew in a social enterprise called Handprint, which now has about 40 people. We started working with Mateus, who was the CEO. And yeah, so I've become basically an intrapreneur while I'm still an academic as well, a little bit by kicking and screaming, it was never really my intention. I was a very happy academic, although I was frustrated by the lack of real world impacts that a lot of academic research had. And then I've been dragged into becoming an entrepreneur. And now I have two organisations that are both doing reasonably well. And, yeah, we're working on trying to help companies do good in the world in a way that makes sense for a business.
Jonas Christensen 5:43
Great. So congratulations on that achievement so far. You also mentioned Myanmar, it's one of my favourite places that I've been to, and probably because it is excluded from the rest of the world. It has a unique culture, and very, very beautiful people there. Now you are the co founder and chief strategy officer of Handprint as you mentioned, could you tell us what the company does and the problems that you solve for your customers?
Simon Schillebeeckx 6:11
So handprint is a regeneration as a service platform. So what we do basically can be understood in two ways. On the one side, we curate, digitise and productize nonprofit organisations. So what that means is that we work with nonprofits that come into our ecosystem, and that want to get access to international financing in new ways. So we help them transition from a donation paradigm towards an impact selling paradigm. And this has a lot of implications around the problems we really solve, I'll get to that. So basically, bring all these NGOs into our ecosystem, and then make them accessible to our global clientele. And for the corporates, what we do is we create the ability for companies to integrate and vet positive impacts like little handprints, handprint is a scientific term to kind of the opposite of a footprint writes, a footprint is all the bad you do. And print is all the good you do in the world. And so we enable companies to embed little handprints in any kind of activity that has a digital fingerprint. And if we then look at like, what are the key problems that this solves quite simple in its idea, but it's not easy to do. So back in 2019, Ryan and I were asked by the United Nations to write a report on sustainable digital finance, which we did. And then one of the findings that we had were like, there is a big problem in the impact markets, not specifically impact investing, but just in the creation of positive impact. And the problem can be understood in two ways. On the one side, companies have a difficult relationship with this simply because they don't really know how they can capture value from creating public value, right? So the age old problem in economics, and the tragedy of the commons and these kinds of things, like, how are companies going to join the fight against climate change, or biodiversity loss or any other kind of sustainable development goal if they can't capture value from doing so? This is a big challenge. And the other side is if companies say, Yes, we're going to do something, even if it's like, the typical way that companies would do this now is through kind of non strategic CSR, right? Corporate Social Responsibility or philanthropic donations. So if they do so then the question is, how do we make sure that the money that we are allocating to these good causes is actually well spent. So there is a trust problem. And the trust problem has a lot to do with transparency, with accountability with the quality of reporting. And so these are really the two problems that companies large and small are facing when it comes to creating a positive impact, and Handprint as an intermediator is solving those two problems in a variety of ways.
Jonas Christensen 9:01
And this is not just a small shop, you have already mentioned that there's about 40 people employed in the organisation. And you recently also received some venture capital from SingTel Innov8, which I believe is SingTel's venture and private equity fund. So SingTel is perhaps the biggest telecom operator in Southeast Asia, if I'm not mistaken, I think 700 million customers or something crazy like that. So you've received funding from these guys, and you've in total received more than 3 million US dollars in funding. So where's this money going to be spent? What are you going to do with that?
Simon Schillebeeckx 9:39
We're just going to buy a yacht and party. No, no, no, no. So yeah, so we received a small ticket from SingTel to kind of top our entire seed round to about 3 million US. And so our main goal for the SingTel money is to do two things. One is to scale our sales capability which is still in its kind of infancy as we've recently pivoted from a commission and margin model towards the more SaaS subscription model, so that's going to take some time. But the main thing that we want to do is to create more value for our impact partners. So first impact partners are NGOs, nonprofits, charities, a variety of social enterprises that are part of our ecosystem to actually do the good work, right. So these are reforestation organisations, ocean plastic cleanup, coral reef reconstruction, but also providing access to education or potable water. So all of these things that align with the SDGs. And so what we initially developed as an organisation is a an enterprise grade dashboard for companies to be able to track the impact that they are creating over time through our system, and then a variety of automations and integrations as I mentioned, so that companies can integrate the positive impact into their business processes. So a simple example would be, we have like Shopify and WooCommerce and Magento plugins that enable an eCommerce to demonstrate at the moment of transaction, like, Hey, if you're buying this product, now we're going to plant a tree or restore coral. But we can do this with very other things as well like for newsletter signups or for the number of unique website visitors or depending on how much attention an ad gets, or with credit card transactions. So the digital trigger doesn't really matter. Anything can be linked to a positive impact. So this is the stuff we already built. Now with this new money, what we are going to improve is our capability for impact partners themselves to actually digitise their processes. So right now, the tools that we provide to the NGOs' impact partners are mainly a mobile tool that enables them to do high quality and continuous reporting, which is very important for the corporates. But the NGOs have different challenges, they have different challenges in terms of tracking who their donors are, this is a big challenge, they want to know because not every impact organisation wants to receive money from any company. And so they want to have the capability to say I don't want to receive money from this company, I'm happy to receive money from this company, they want to have predictability in terms of financial flows, which means we need to do a lot of data work and doing forecasting and bring that into a model that will improve over time. But that gives our impact partners a way of planning for the future. Right now, this is still kind of in its infancy. So our key goal is really to take this enterprise dashboard that we built for the corporates and create, I would almost say like an impact partner twin, so that they can do this. And one of the big advantages of this is that once we have that digital impacts platform for impact partners, this will also enable the impact partner themselves to take handprints to market. So right now we are doing our own sales. But there's a lot of impact organisations that are reasonably big, that have a lot of donors, a lot of corporate philanthropist, or even in with like, just high net worth individuals or even small donors that give them money. But most of them really struggle with providing detailed reporting, and providing high quality reporting. And most of them also struggle to prove to their philanthropic donors that, hey, what we are doing creates value for you. The moment that these impact partners come into our ecosystem, and actually can use our tools so that corporate donors can then say, hey, we can use all of these Handprint tools suddenly, to improve the value that our donations bring, for us. That's going to be a really powerful engine for growth. And we hope that this is going to kick off the flywheel and kind of strengthen our moats on the on the impact side.
Jonas Christensen 13:48
So if I paraphrase what you've said, so far, you are about handprint footprint, which actually means it's less about limiting your environmental impact as a business or an organisation and more about, it's also about that, but it's much more than that. It's about actually contributing positively and actively to generation and regeneration of ecosystems and you know, the natural environment on planet Earth. And your platform is really there to make that a somewhat seamless exercise for businesses rather than having to piece together lots of bits and pieces. Is that fair?
Simon Schillebeeckx 14:26
Yeah, I think that's really accurate. So if you look at most companies in this space, what we call like the impact integration space, most are kind of stuck in this, what we would say kind of antiquated view on sustainability, which is sustainability means reducing your footprint. And so we are not working on this and many of our prospects approach us thinking that this is what we do. And then we have to expand this is really not what we do. We are not looking at your footprint, and then enabling you to buy indulgences for your historical guilt, which is basically buying carbon credits or offsets. So we're really focusing only on the regeneration side, the positive impact creation, and then quantifying that, making it really accessible. And then increasingly proving to our corporate clients that doing so, which obviously means there is cash going out of the company that is going through this positive impact project, that this actually may create more value than not doing it. So the whole goal of Handprint as an organisation is to make sure that companies can do good and do well at the same time.
Jonas Christensen 15:31
So when you say create value, who is it creating value for? Is it society, the business itself, its customers, who is creating value for?
Simon Schillebeeckx 15:40
So there is no doubt that whatever we do is creating value for society at large. So by regenerating ecosystems, both social and environmental ones, this has a positive impact on society. And one of the things that our impacting works on is to quantify what this positive impact is, which is highly complex. But from a business perspective, as the chief strategy officer working actively in business development, most companies will say they care about this as well. But really, when it comes down to it, care about this a little bit less, they are beholden to their shareholders, and they need to generate profit. So what we are trying to do, and increasingly successful at, is showing that if a company contributes to regeneration, they can actually capture part of the value. So giving you a concrete example, we did a an experiment with a ecommerce store in Australia called Ultra Football, a sports retailer online. And so what we did was we did A/B testing of their existing store versus the store that had Handprint integrated into their checkout process and demonstrated their commitment to reforestation, they chose reforestation on the front of the landing page. So basically, for a period of two weeks, any kind of customer that ended up on the website was randomly assigned to either the original, or the handprint embedded version of the website. And then we tracked using Google Optimise, we tracked what is actually happening, are behaviours different? What we found was astonishing. There was 16%, more sales on the website with Handprint integrated. And so we then did the maths together with them in terms of like, Okay, how much money have you now spent on impact versus how much more money have you made through sales. And then we found that it was about 9x. So that's where the business value comes from the ecosystem value, that's what we make sure like this is everything our impact team is doing is to make sure that we find curate digitise these super high quality projects that are highly cost efficient. And this is super important. And this has to be beyond reproach, otherwise companies will be accused of greenwashing. And our brand value is going to tank. So that has to be beyond reproach, but proving the business value. That's where the real growth comes from. Because if we can show that, hey, by doing this, yes, you incur cost will actually the net gains for you as an organisation vastly supersede the value of that cost, then it becomes just an engine for growth, an alternative to marketing, an alternative to process optimization, right. And so then it becomes much more scalable. And so this is really what we are working on as an organisation.
Jonas Christensen 18:25
That example is quite beautiful in many ways. It is encouraging that you can connect social values, social impact with business impact and get a positive ROI, on both, really. I also as a fellow human being find it quite encouraging that people actually care. Because that's the other thing that this is showing. So thank you for sharing that. And on a personal level, it's really resonates with me. So, a few years ago, I was looking at ways to limit my carbon footprint, I call it. Because that's really what it was. My initial thinking: How do I become carbon neutral? And how do I get my family to that even though I'm a modern human who flies from Australia to Europe to see my family and all these very polluting things, and there are some very, very cheap programmes out there where you can offset your carbon. They're not a lot of money. But when I looked into what they were actually doing, they were buying carbon offset credits, they were exchanging stove tops in African villages and oil lamps in Southeast Asia and things like that, where you go, Oh, hang on, it's actually not really that measurable or sustainable, or we can't really say that because a family in Africa got a different stovetop that I've actually thereby saved all the carbon that I emitted from a flight. And really my thinking personally was okay, well, I actually got to do something that adds to the planet, which is when I ended up donating to one of these platforms to plant trees like the one you have because you're actually regenerating, so it resonates a lot with me personally. And I imagine a lot of people to that we're actually adding back to the planet rather than just reducing, because it's so hard as a modern human stop polluting, because everything that we do is, is non natural construct, in a sense, right? Electricity, and, and so on, that we use, energy, packaging, all this stuff. So Simon, that leads us to probably changing the topic slightly to a much bigger topic, which is the actual impact we are having as a human race on the planet from an environmental point of view. And some of this is climate change. But I actually think it's much more than that, right? It's water pollution, microplastic, pollution, air pollution, species collapse, ecosystem collapse, you could probably come up with a longer list, when we dive into the detail here, could you start by giving us just the synopsis on how bad things actually are, in as much of a balanced view as you can give?
Simon Schillebeeckx 21:00
I think the balanced view is not very balanced. I mean, the situation is not good. So if we look at the historical records, and I mean, under the assumption that the IPCC, the International Panel of Climate Change, which basically constitutes the vast majority of scientists in the world, that are all reaching consensus, and all of countries reaching consensus on that this is the true state of affairs. Of course, there is always a miniscule caveat that we may be wrong. But let's assume that this is not the case. Basically, everyone really agrees on this. So if we look at at just climate change, right, then we see that where we are now in terms of the acceleration of increase in carbon concentration, over the last 20-30 years, has brought us to what is kind of described as the PPM, what is the carbon concentration in parts per million in the atmosphere, which is now around 420. Now, back, when we were signing the Paris Accords, in 2015, there was this big organisation called threefifty.org, which basically advocated that we should never allow the carbon concentration in the atmosphere to increase beyond 350. We're at 420 now. If you look at the historical records, which basically is extracted from ice in the Arctic, where we where we can do carbon dating, based on history, if we go back 800,000 years, what we see is a very cyclical carbon concentration that kind of oscillates between 200 and 300. To be at 420 is something we haven't seen in a very long time. It might have been 65 million years ago, when we saw this last. So this is an absolute aberration, right. And as a consequence, the interpretation of this is well, firstly, this is manmade, this is very strongly aligned with the Industrial Revolution, and with the amount of carbon that we are putting into the atmosphere, and this is causing an increase of the greenhouse gas effect. And as a consequence, planetary heating. So these things are beyond doubt. But these things are reasonably well understood. And importantly, the actions that have been taken primarily by governments, when it comes to their commitments, right, whether or not governments and countries will be able to live up to those commitments is something entirely different. But if we look at the narrative right now, in Europe, in Australia, Singapore, where I'm living in the US with the IRA, not the Irish terrorist organisation, but the Inflation Reduction Act, the commitments that are now being made, and let's not forget China, China is a massive player here. So the commitments that are now being made suggest that the likelihood of ending up in the worst kind of case scenarios that the IPCC had been predicting for the last 20 years has been significantly reduced. So we're looking at going to planetary heating based on the current commitments of between about 1.5 and 2.8 degrees. Now, that's still a very, very wide gap. And every 0.01 degree makes actually a lot of difference. But there's been a lot of progress in the electrification, there's been a lot of progress, I mean, very recently in there's been massive progress in nuclear fusion. So I think the carbon problem is something we will be able to address, it's probably going to be too late. And it's going to be much more expensive than it should have been. But I think it is something we will manage. We'll get that under control. Then the second big thing is nature, right nature itself and biodiversity loss. So right now, if we look at the data, again, we are going through the sixth extinction, right. So if you look at the history of the planet, there have been five mass extinction events in the past and right now we are experiencing a sixth extinction event, which occurs at a speed that's about 1000 times faster than historical extinction events with the exception of the Dinosaurs, which obviously, kind of went extinct through a meteorite hitting the planet, and that went very fast. But so this is a big problem. And right now, yesterday or this morning, the GOP 15 Convention on biodiversity, concluded that there are now 195 countries that are signatories to the 30 by 30 pact before COP, I think it was about 92. So that's a massive improvement, which means that 195 countries, so pretty much all countries in the world have committed to turn 30% of the Earth's land and oceans into natural reserves and improve their conservation and restoration by 2030. So this means we've got eight years to achieve this, we are at about 11 or 12% now. So this commitment is incredible, right to achieve this in eight years, is going to have massive repercussions for fishing is going to have massive repercussions for land allocation for like how countries make decisions about Alright, are we going to do a project development here and build a new city or are we going to preserve nature. So there's going to have, again, if countries live up to it, it's going to have big implications, which is very, yeah gives me a lot of hope, then these are kind of two of the main environmental challenges. Then there is eutrophication, which is acidity of the oceans, really big challenge for corals. And also very important in the in the fight against climate change. There are other issues, kind of the nine planetary boundaries, so especially the one around nitrous, basically everything that relates to phosphorus, nitrogen and phosphorus in the agricultural space, those are very big challenges that we are less close to solving than climate change. But I think the two most existential threats in the short run in terms of climate change and biodiversity loss, I see great signs of hope.
Jonas Christensen 26:57
That's great to hear. Because that's not always the message that comes through. There are probably 20 years behind us of lots of good intentions and very little progress. So that's probably where people have been jaded by that. But yeah, I hope you're right. And, of course, you guys are not letting it just play out in those meeting rooms. Because you've recently published a manifesto called Regeneration First, where you outline seven action shifts in our approach, our approach being the human race's approach to sustainability. Could you tell us what that's about and change the you're seeking to inspire in the world?
Simon Schillebeeckx 27:36
Yeah, I mean, you can obviously read the manifesto, because if I'm gonna go through that in detail, it's gonna take way too long. But I think the essence here is a realisation that we had early on when we started Handprint, which was the realisation that the way we have approached sustainability, we as the kind of companies, but also people really has been very limited. And so the way we've approached sustainability is by defining a company's environmental responsibility, as its negative impact on the planet, its footprint. And then telling companies increasingly, hey, you have to reduce your footprint, you have to reduce your carbon footprint, your water footprint, your environmental footprint, but mainly the focus is on carbon. And this way of thinking is problematic in the vast part of the majority of the developed world, not less so in the developing within the developed world, because most of our economy, and in Australia is a little bit of an exception to that. But if you look at the US, you look at Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe, the vast majority of people working in the economy do not work for manufacturing organisations do not work in transportation, and don't work in mining. And that's why Australia is a bit different, where you have, of course, a lot of mining, but so if you don't work in businesses that make, move or mine things, then your ability to reduce your carbon footprint is actually quite limited. If you're a service organisation or a digital organisation, you're an accounting firm, you're a consultant, you're a law firm, your hospital, your ability to reduce your negative impact is actually very constrained by the products you buy, which you don't build. So of course, you can do sustainable procurement, but it's constrained by the products you buy in use. And as a consequence, forcing companies to define their environmental responsibility as you have to manage your footprint is basically giving about 75% to 80% of people employed in the developed world, a very easy way to say there's nothing we can do about it, and they would be right. So the idea behind a manifesto was really to pinpoint this problematic interpretation of sustainability and to propose that organisations again, especially those that are not in the making, moving or mining of things should It redefined their environmental responsibility in a different way. And this would be than the handprint approach, right. So the shifts we're talking about is moving away from this footprint obsession towards the creation of a handprint. The idea there is very simple. Companies don't need to limit their capacity of creating positive impacts, simply to the amount of negative impact they create. This doesn't necessarily make sense. And as a consequence, what that means, again, for those organisations is that the way we look at sustainability is, by and large, defined by this reduce, reuse, recycle, and the Triple R of sustainability, also known as the Lansink Ladder. And most people, school kids and businesses, when they start thinking about sustainability, there'll be like, Oh, we have to reduce, reuse, recycle. This is the kind of thing that people associate with sustainability. Whereas what we're proposing from the Handprint thinking is that well, we have to focus on creating natural reserves, restoring nature, and then eventually, rewilding nature, which means taking humans out of the equation. Because we've by and large, with the exception of indigenous communities, we've really proven that we are not very good at living in nature without destroying it. And what that comes down to then is shifting our aspiration level from carbon neutrality towards something that is more nature positive. And as you're kind of talking about your own experience in wanting to live a carbon neutral life, and then buying some kind of carbon offsets. So I think this is one of the things that really backfires, when people like you are trying to become involved in this in a way and then are disappointed in either the quality of offsets, or carbon credits, and then potentially kind of zone out of this and say, like, we're not going to do this anymore. I think if we focus our attention much more on things that are deeply within our own power, and things that are not necessarily to hard, that becomes a much more sustainable way of solving this problem. What I like to remind people is that when you look at the evidence in social psychology, if you want to shock people into action, making them feel guilty is extremely powerful. This is why people donate when they see disasters on TV, or when they see the beginning of a war in Ukraine, and everyone gets motivated. But if you want to motivate people to engage in sustained action, over a longer period of time, making them feel guilty does not work. Because if that is the dominant emotion, people will stop paying attention because nobody wants to feel guilty all the time. So you need to address climate change. We need sustained action to address biodiversity loss, we need sustained action over time. And as a consequence, the narrative and footprint which is basically a narrative of guilt isn't working and hasn't worked for the last 30-40 years. This is really what the shifts are about, like how do we move society? How do we move businesses towards the exploration and the involvement into a handprint way of thinking such that they can tell a story to their customers that's credible? But it is much more aspirational, so that people actually want to get involved.
Jonas Christensen 33:10
So you touch on lots of things here that I want to explore. And we're going to get through all of it. But I'm probably going to go back to some of the earlier comments you made the idea of us working in the modern world, mainly in services industries that aren't the primary polluters, it's actually a really important lens. And it gives us this reason to be apathic to the problem, or a way out of sorts. But that's probably not what we're looking for, we're really looking for solutions that we can touch and feel, they're not there, right? So I work in a service industry. And the building has recycling bins and green bins and all this stuff. But I can't see what happens to it afterwards. And I put in the right effort. But that stuff very easily gets destroyed. I don't have a direct touch with being sustainable. I've done two things in my own life. I've done the carbon offsetting by actually planting nature, creating ecosystems, hopefully with my little contribution there that I give to offset myself and my family. And we've got solar panels on the roof as well. So that's also a good contribution of sorts, but I'm still leaving this huge trail of plastic, of car fumes and all this stuff around town and around the world. So there is a question in this: whose role is it actually to solve climate change? Is it government? Is it private enterprise? Is it grassroots? Is it the individual? You're probably going to say all of them, but I suppose sort of, what role do we play rather than whose role is it is perhaps the right question.
Simon Schillebeeckx 34:45
Yeah, I think right now, we're in a place where we have to differentiate between who's responsible and who should tackle it. And who's responsible for me the answer is, it doesn't matter. And this is pretty provocative because it is too easy for us to say we should blame the coal and the fossil fuel industry, because we rely on their jobs and we rely on their energy. And so attributing blame to those organisations in itself isn't really helpful, right. But I think whose role it is, I mean, everyone, every of the big stakeholders has a specific role to play in governments need to set regulation that is long term, predictable, and impose carbon taxes, encourage companies to do more recycling all of those things, which is happening more or less in different countries at different speeds, I think grassroot movements and civil society at large, our main role is to become more conscious, and make decisions that are aligned with our values. The problem of that expectation is that it imposes an undue burden on the individual to exert effort when it comes to making any kind of purchasing or purchasing decision or an activity decision. And so one of the tools that that's really interesting, I think that and this is something that we are working on at Handprint and other companies have done as well is like if you look at some of the research done on this, like by ecommerce platforms, when we see this in Asia, and I'm sure in Australia, it would actually be much more pronounced is that we see that 69% of people in Asia and Southeast Asia say that they want to buy more sustainably but only 4% do. So what does that mean? It means either two things, one of two things. One is people say they care, but they don't care. Right. So it's just kind of confirmation bias they want to they say what they expect, they think the whatever the interviewer or the survey wants to hear. The second option is, which I think is the more likely one people do care. But the effort it requires in terms of search is too high, or the price discrepancy between whatever sustainable and unsustainable is too high. And as a consequence, people forget or kind of abandon their values during the purchasing decision, and then adopt them right back. So if you can make the transactions themselves positive. So let's say you have a bank card that automatically, every time you buy something, 1% of the money you spent is going to be allocated to little saving spots that you can then choose to allocate to positive impact. So if you make the transactions positive, then you can do a lot because then people can not, I wouldn't say they can by guilt free, but you're taking away a massive burden from of them. And that doesn't mean that those companies making, moving and mining things should stop doing the reduction, this is really important. But I think this is a powerful way in which we can engage civil society more. And then of course, there's private enterprise, which has the biggest role to play, they need to develop new business models that are regenerative, that are circular, and they need to exert lots of efforts and budgets and invest in innovation towards decarbonisation, and other kind of the reduction of other negative externalities. And this is really where, yeah, where the key challenges, right, many companies are still overly beholden to quarterly reports and quarterly earnings calls. And as a consequence, I struggle with making these long term investments, while also still making a lot of investments that are indefensible. And then I'll go back to my example of the fossil fuel industries, not necessarily a big fan, but I also don't want to blame them for everything. But I do blame them for spending more than 56 billion in the last two years, 2020-2021, on oil and gas exploration. The fact that this is still legal is completely unacceptable. And it's a government failure. But it's also a failure of governance of those companies. Like why on earth would any oil company or any gas company invest in exploration, like we have more than enough oil and gas for the next 100 years. If we are at all going to take climate change seriously, we already know that 60% to 70% of the existing oil and fossil fuel assets will never be extracted. So these are really weird things. And it has to do with I think a lot of corporate governance failure to really understand and take seriously enough climate change and the policy risks that they are facing, given what is to come in the next couple of years.
Jonas Christensen 39:29
Yeah, so the way I think about this topic of, which is what you're talking about, to some extent is short term motivation, which you touched on earlier. So we're not very good at long term thinking. We're inherently short term thinkers whether we like to admit it or not. And you talked about how we motivate with with guilt mostly these days. The way I think about this is really, we've if you sort of step back a bit as a human race, we've taken out a bank loan on nature, which fossil fuels, that has bought us all the comfort that you could imagine. So you go back 150 years, that world was far less comfortable than the one we have now. Transportation, electricity in our houses, ability to get food wherever, whenever, entertainment, so much entertainment that you couldn't watch it in a lifetime. And you can get at the click of a button, your phone has all this stuff. Or none of that would have happened if we didn't have the exploration of fossil fuels to create the energy to create these things. So we've lent from nature, we've borrowed from nature to create this massive comfort and progress, if you call it then. And now we have to pay back the loan. Basically, maybe someone else enjoyed the fruits, earlier generations perhaps. But as a human race, this is kind of that it is, nevermind the individual. But the problem is we are really short term thinkers. And it's hard to motivate people to give up this short term pleasure or pain avoidance, right, we're also avoiding a lot of pain in the short term, typically, in return for something that's much more intangible that may not affect us directly today, or next year or in 10 years. How do we create more short term incentives today that deliver these long term impacts? And I think you talked about both corporates and humans being in this paradigm. That the quarterly reporting cycle is the the corporate world's version of short term thinking. And so is this the oil and gas exploration for instance.
Simon Schillebeeckx 41:35
Yeah, I think they're, I mean, if you look at the, like future studies, it's really interesting. They say, basically, if we don't destroy this planet, and as a consequence, are responsible for the genocide of the human race, then every person that could still live on this planet before the sun explodes in a couple of billion years, versus every person that have ever lived and lives right now, If you compare the numbers, it's 10,000, to one, according to future studies. So that means that for every person that's alive right now, maybe 20,000, or 30,000, more will live in the future if we protect the environment. So that should give us a sense of duty. But of course, that requires a very long term mindset, which, as you correctly point out, most people don't have. So the way you solve that problem is, I mean, it is very challenging, but so is by thinking almost like a social media company, I think. So you need to think about instant gratification, right now, especially Gen Z and even Millennials like us, we've really grown up in a world where stuff happens instantly. And where we get that dopamine rush for somebody liking our posts, or whatever, like these kinds of nonsense things that we do. And I think nature or nature, tech companies like Handprint are looking for ways to activate those same mechanisms for the support of long term public value creation. So what does that mean, in concrete terms, like you can't just, let's say you're booking a flight, and you want to do something good for the world. So let's say you're, you're planning to buy carbon credits. And you can do this on the website of Qantas or something. So right now, what that concretely means is that you're booking your flights, then you're asked to pay extra money to the airline. And that's the end of your experience, by and large. So this is a completely pointless experience, like you're just incurring extra costs, and you don't extract any value from this, you don't have any way of kind of being happy about this, the right way of doing this is saying like, Hey, you can support nature to compensate or more than compensate for your part of responsibility in taking this flight, but you should be the owner of the impact, you should have the proof, you should be able to track it. And you should get like an instant message like, Okay, awesome. You've done this, like this is the place in the world where this project is going to happen. This is the link with the satellite feed or with with the model, you can track this and then every week or every two weeks, you're getting a new message like a positive message, like Alright, awesome, the money is finally arrived, we're going to start doing this product. So I think this is the from both the corporate and individual level. This is really a powerful way in which you can work with it short, kind of counter that short term ism is by giving short term affirmations about a project that's going to take a very long time to really manifest to its full glory. And especially with going to nature regeneration, that's that is the key challenge, but it's also the key business opportunity. Because if you as a business, let's say you give a tree to every employee or you give a tree to your customer and that tree needs to be planted. And if that tree is cared for, well, that gives you 20 years of storytelling, 30 years. That's a very powerful bond you establish with someone and say, like we've done this together, and for the next 10, 20, 30 years, I can give you updates on this, that creates new touch points. So there's a lot of value for companies in creating these natural capital assets and think about it as capital in a way that we're investing in natural capital because it helps us build our relationships and maintain them. So that's what I would focus on.
Jonas Christensen 45:25
Sounds great, is my first comment. The second comment is it's it sounds like a lot like a blockchain, really, is that the concept of how you would actually operationalize something like that?
Simon Schillebeeckx 45:34
I think there is absolutely room for blockchain on this, especially what I really like about the potential for blockchain in this space is to empower individuals to port their impact, which could be all forms of tokenized impact, like, whether it's NFTs or whatever, they could be like, you can have three tokens, you can have mangrove tokens to get ocean, plastic tokens, corals, whatever. And you can all of those tokens could have like wallet-like capabilities so that you'd be you'd have a an emerging tree token that over the years receives carbon dividends, right. Or you could have a coral token that over the years receives updates on biodiversity improvements. And so building this on a blockchain is feasible. There are organisations doing this, we are experimenting with a variety of those approaches. But right now, I don't think that the individual, people like you and me are maybe somewhat different, but I think I don't think most people are necessarily expecting a blockchain solution. I still think many companies are not very clear on why a blockchain solution would be better than a centralised database where a trusted third party like potentially Handprint or another competitor of ours stores this information, so there are some challenges. But I do think the potential for blockchain in this space is massive, because the tokenization, the transferability, and affordability of impacts is really something that that needs to be cracked before we can really scale this at a very high speed.
Jonas Christensen 47:17
Right. So the key takeaway for me is make environmental impact an experience, not just a cost, an external cost or direct cost. Hi, there, dear listener, I just want to quickly let you know that I have recently published a book with six other authors, called 'Demystifying AI for the Enterprise, a Playbook for Digital Transformation'. If you'd like to learn more about the book, then head over to www.leadersofanalytics.com/ai. Now back to the show. Okay, Simon, this was good, because we're starting to get into some of the positive sides of this, right? Because there's actually a lot you can do. And I think we need to finish this conversation on a very positive note, because you started it a little bit like that. You opened the door and said, there's actually a lot of stuff we can do and you think we're going to solve a lot of these questions and problems. So could you tell us about some of the promising climate technologies that are there to help us solve some of these negative impacts? It doesn't have to be just climate, it can also be, you know, plastic pollution or regeneration of species or forests or whatever?
Simon Schillebeeckx 48:33
There's a lot, of course happening in this space. I think the most promising thing we've seen over the last few years is really the collapse in prices of solar and renewable wind energy, which is maybe not that exciting, but is incredibly powerful if we realise that in most countries right now, renewable energies are the cheapest form of energy creation. That's very promising. The breakthrough in fusion we had recently in the US is extremely promising as well, from the energy perspective, it's probably going to take another 40 or 50 years before we can really turn that into light bulbs and laptops powering. But there's a lot of progress there. I recently read about a really interesting, very simple invention, where they added LED lights to fishing nets in order to prevent shark bycatch, and it reduced shark bycatch by 95%. This is very, very simple, and it's almost embarrassing that it's taken us that long to do. I always liked this quote from William McDonough said like, if you have any problem with the concept of design humility, remember that it took us 5000 years to put wheels on our luggage. So there is a lot we can do in terms of the design. I think the the power of biomimicry and biofabrication which is really in its early, early days is really interesting. There are companies now that are mimicking the process of coral growth to create cement. There's a natural process developed by a bio-fabrication company that uses some kind of fungi to create breaks, and they can grow them without any kind of artificial heat. So I think we can look at nature as a map and as a guide for how specific problems are solved, and solve those problems in similar ways, we can do a lot around efficiency, by, for instance, looking at the branching of trees, because we've basically built like if we look at pipelines, and so we've built those in kind of straight lines and like with sharp edges, because that makes sense to us to our human brain. But this is not how nature distributes liquids or gases. And there's a lot to be learned from those kinds of ideas from, from looking at nature and seeing how nature solves problems after billions of years of experimentation. And yeah, and then of course, carbon capture and storage, direct air carbon, artificial photosynthesis, like there are lots of processes that are being developed that I think are highly promising, but the most urgent ones need to resolve around energy capture and energy storage, molten salts, really interesting experiments going on for long term storage of energy in molten salts. So there's a lot.
Jonas Christensen 51:10
There are a lot of initiatives. And actually, I'll put a podcast recommendation out there. So there's the a16z podcast, which is the Andreessen-Horowitz podcast, they had an interesting podcast series on some of these environmental solutions, just recently. And there was a really interesting, especially the third episode, really interesting feature, there are three very promising carbon capture solutions that actually sort of, to me highlighted that the technical feasibility is already there, we can actually do this stuff. We don't need to invent approaches necessarily, we need to invent the ecosystem around it, the financial viability to do it, the economic viability, it's kind of like we already have electrical cars, we just don't have any charging stations around the world. So it's not so easy to just replace all the cars with electrical cars, because we have a whole ecosystem that's not set up. I know, there's much more to that example. But it illustrates the point necessarily. So again, I'm always very optimistic and hopeful with this stuff and I also think that there is a lot of focus now from government organisations and semi government organisations on this. So again, I was listening to a podcast the other day, about the, and I'll try to link to these in the show notes for everyone, about the the change in the Australian energy network, electricity network to actually make it carbon neutral by 2050. So it's a huge sort of reset of the way the poles and wires work and how to transport energy. And I think I will quote the number not sure that it was exactly correct. But it was something along the lines of 60% of that energy will come from from people's rooftops. So it's very much a distributed energy network, rather than in coal fired plants and all this stuff. So there's so much promising work that has to be done. It just takes 10, 20, 30 years to do these changes, unfortunately.
Simon Schillebeeckx 53:11
Yeah, there's a lot of work to be done in that space. If you look at a podcast recently that I really liked to listen to: the Ezra Klein show from the New York Times, and there was someone who was involved in the development of the IRA, a professor. And he said, like, if if we're really going to do this, we're going to need all the land of that, basically, the equivalent of three of the US states are going to be have basically 100% with renewable energy, there's a lot of space. And it's also a lot of infrastructure work that needs to happen at the infrastructure level. There's a lot that needs to happen, but yep, we can't lose faith. We have to, we're fighting two battles. At one we're finding a decarbonisation battle, and we're fighting a regeneration battle. And both are the fight of the century, potentially the fight of the last 1000 years because the future of humanity to a certain degree is at stake. But it's a fight worth fighting.
Jonas Christensen 54:11
I think that's where we have to end it Simon, that is very beautiful words, and we just got to go and get after it now. I have two final questions for you. The first one is: Who would you recommend as the next guest on leaders of analytics and why?
Simon Schillebeeckx 54:27
I thought about this question, I find it a tricky question. Maybe you could talk to openforests.com. I can introduce you to these people. I'm biassed by recency because I spoke to them yesterday. And they were really interesting and really impressive. And they're using a lot of complex data and analytics in order to demonstrate and visualise what happens in forests over time and what that really means and then how can they use that to create more engagement? I think they're really interesting. Obviously, I'm picking someone in my space If you could talk to Bill Gates, I would also do it. But I think the guys from open forests are a really interesting group to talk to.
Jonas Christensen 55:08
We'll start with Open Forests and then if we can get them, we'll go to Bill Gates. Last question. Where can people find your stuff Simon, and connect with you?
Simon Schillebeeckx 55:18
So I'm very active on LinkedIn. So you'll need to know how to write my last name, which is going to be challenged, but you can try. It's Simon Schillebeeckx. Maybe it's going to be in the podcast notes. I'm very rarely active on Twitter. Otherwise, I think my, the Handprint page, so handprint.tech is the website. So let's say LinkedIn is really the best platform to engage with me, feel free to add me or follow me. And yeah, that would be the best place.
Jonas Christensen 55:46
Simon Schillebeeckx. Thank you for your contribution to this show, and to the future of human race. And we wish you all the best with your personal journey and the journey of Handprint and planet Earth. And yeah, thanks for being a part of the show.
Simon Schillebeeckx 56:02
Thank you so much. You're very welcome. It was great talking to you.
Jonas Christensen 56:08
Hi, dear listener. Just a quick note for me before you go. If you enjoyed this show, then please don't forget to subscribe to future episodes via your favourite podcast app. I have loads more great stuff coming your way. Also, I'd love some feedback from you on this show. So please, please leave a review on Apple podcasts, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks for listening and catch you soon.