Our journey into the world of being a truly climate conscious business. Join us as we talk to fellow entrepreneurs, founders, marketing folks, and campaigners to help us build our new product, EcoSend: the climate conscious email marketing tool.
Series 2 Episode 1 - Dan Sherrard Smith
[00:00:00] James Gill: Hello. And welcome to the EcoSend Podcast. A weekly podcast on becoming a climate conscious business. Every week we'll be interviewing founders, marketers. And leaders who are championing the climate. The podcast is hosted by myself, James Gill co-founder and CEO of GoSquared and the makers of EcoSend.
[00:00:21] If you run a business or responsible for growing one, and you want to have a positive impact on the environment. Then listen, on every episode, our goal is for you to learn something and be inspired to take some action. Every single one of us making small changes and some knowledge changes will add up. We're all in this together. So let's get on with the show.
[00:00:43] Thanks so much for listening, now let's meet today's guest.
[00:00:53] James: Hi there. Welcome to another episode of the EcoSend Podcast. The EcoSend Podcast is a weekly show where I speak to people involved and interested in the world of climate. And it's at the intersection of business and climate where people are building businesses with a view to making the planet a little bit better. Each week I speak to someone who is always interesting, fascinating, inspiring to help us on our journey to becoming a more climate conscious business. And every week the show comes out on all major podcast platforms.
[00:01:25] Thank you for listening to series one. We've had a fantastic response to the first series and we're now well into Series two. And in this episode, I'm incredibly excited to be joined by Dan Sherrard Smith, who was on the founding team and previously built Product at a company called Look After My Bills.
[00:01:43] They were a Y Combinator backed business and helped customers automatically switch energy providers. Now, Dan is the founder and CEO of Mother Tree, which calculates your money's carbon footprint and helps you switch to a greener solution for free. I'm incredibly excited to have Dan on the show.
[00:02:02] Sounds like the perfect guest!
[00:02:03] So, hello Dan. How are you doing? Good to have you with us.
[00:02:07] Dan: Hi, James. Great to great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:11] James: Awesome, awesome. It's great. I'm so excited to dive into some of these topics and and hear a lot more. So before we go too much further tell me about what you're up to and how you've gotten to this point. What's your journey to where you are today been like?
[00:02:27] Dan: Yeah, that's that's a great question. So I where to start. I started OVO Energy on their grad scheme, got to work in a bunch of different departments from marketing to customer service, and ended up launching OVO Communities, which was local generation, so local employment, local generation, built on overs, infrastructure.
[00:02:45] Loved the kind of entrepreneurial aspect. And then left OVO to, to launch my own social business, which was connecting volunteers with elderly people in their area. Didn't hit the impact that I wanted. And learned a bunch of stuff about how to not run a business I think! But was head hunted by the founders of what was then called 'The Big Deal' and became 'Look after my Bills'.
[00:03:07] And I think they liked that kind of aspect that I'd worked in energy and I'd also had this kind of entrepreneurial experience and they said, look, we've got this idea for auto switching people's energy bills. But we need someone to go and sort of figure out how to make all of that work. And so they brought me in for the first six months.
[00:03:23] I ran that on my own. So figuring out, you know, do customers pay us or is it suppliers?
[00:03:28] I mean, I kinda, I love those kind of questions. I think they're so much fun to answer. First 300 customers had my mobile number, so literally anything Product I found out about and could not escape, which I think is really crucial.
[00:03:43] And on those efforts, we, we got into Y Combinator the founders went on Dragons Den the following year and smashed it out the park. We went from 10,000 to 50,000 customers overnight.
[00:03:53] James: Wow.
[00:03:55] Dan: And ultimately 'Look after my Bills' grew to 800,000 customers and just had a really kind of amazing three years rocket ship journey and very, very lucky.
[00:04:05] It meant when I stepped away, I had a chance to think, well, what do I want to do next? And I knew the next thing was going to be how can I contribute in a positive way to the climate crisis. But I didn't know exactly what that meant. And so in October, 2021, I launched the Climate Challenge. So the climate challenge was basically a way for people to discover ways to live more sustainably. We got rid of single use plastic, we looked at our carbon footprint. And the thing that people got pretty shocked by and took action on, was when we found out what our banks were doing with our money and what our pension providers were doing with our money.
[00:04:47] And I thought, well, this is just really interesting. And the more I researched into those two aspects, the more I realized how much influence each of us have in terms of what we fund. And I think what we fund now is, slightly glib, but what we fund now is what we're gonna get in the next five to 10 years.
[00:05:07] James: Yeah.
[00:05:08] Dan: And so I built, I built mother tree. So mother tree is a money carbon calculator. So there's lots of carbon calculators out there that'll show the impact of your diet and your, you know, your flights, et cetera. Nobody's showing you what your money's doing! And that's why I built Mother Tree. So we show you carbon impact of your bank and your pension providers.
[00:05:29] If you have 5,000 in a current account with Barclays, that equates to about a ton and a half of carbon per year.
[00:05:37] James: Interesting. Crikey. Okay. Wow.
[00:05:39] Okay, so I've got so many questions on that. Before I dive into that, you said when leaving and then figuring out what to do next, you decided to start with the climate challenge. What what made you interested? You know, a lot of people have an interest in the climate, but it takes something else to really go and say, I'm gonna start an endeavor or a venture of some sort.
[00:06:01] What was the buildup to that? Was it just you woke up and thought, I wanna do something in this space or you know, was it a purely business decision or were there things in your personal life that made you want to dedicate more time to this?
[00:06:15] Dan: Yeah, there's three things that made me want to dedicate more time. . The first is my son was born about two years ago. Just as I was leaving 'Look after my Bills'. And I know at some point he's gonna ask me, you know, dad, once you realize the extent of what we're doing to the planet, what did you do about it?
[00:06:37] And to look him in the eye and say, I did all I could with the skills that I had. The second thing is, when I was working on the social business, we interviewed a bunch of, of people of all ages, and the person who had the most sort of energy and lust for life was this 95 yard chap.
[00:06:55] James: Wow,
[00:06:56] Dan: Yeah. It was amazing.
[00:06:57] And his secret was to have purpose and his purpose was to help people. And so I kind of started to think, well, when I'm 95, what do I want to sort of look back on my life and say that I did? For me, it's to have made a, a meaningful contribution to the planet to have left the planet in a better state for people and the kind of biodiversity that we share, share this planet with.
[00:07:19] And then the third reason is, and this is kind of an an odd one, but I feel lucky to be on this Earth right now. At the point where humanity faces the biggest challenge it's ever faced.
[00:07:32] James: Some people feel quite unlucky about that, but you feel lucky, huh Dan?
[00:07:36] Dan: I feel empowered by it because, look, I love solving problems. This is biggest problem we're ever gonna face,
[00:07:44] James: Yeah.
[00:07:45] Dan: And that's pretty cool in all of the years that humanity's been on this earth, this is the problem that we get to solve. And you know, some generations get a war, some generations get nothing at all.
[00:07:58] We get the most important thing, and I...
[00:08:01] James: Something to fight for. Yeah.
[00:08:03] Dan: I'm totally in for doing whatever I can to help, to help on that.
[00:08:08] James: That is an absolutely brilliant way of looking at it. I think that's such an incredible backstory to tee you up to be working on this. I guess, you know, everyone says like, starting a business is always a longer journey than anyone thinks.
[00:08:20] And it there's a lot of ups and downs. And if you don't care deeply about it, then you're never gonna get through those. And so it sounds like the foundations for what you're working on couldn't be stronger. It's absolutely amazing to hear the reasons for getting into this. And yeah, I definitely feel inspired by that motivation.
[00:08:40] I'm sure a lot of listeners will too. So, yeah, so I don't know which way to tackle some of the things you talked about, but, so with, with Mother Tree, I don't know how much I wanna know this information... I feel like it's gonna terrify me. Tell me more about where our money sits, and why this matters?
[00:08:59] You talked about the carbon calculator for our money, but can you explain a bit more about sort of the basics here of, okay my money sits in a Barclays or at NatWest, or, I dunno, I guess American listeners a Chase, I believe, and those folks. How's that affecting the environment? Like that's just my money sitting in an account, isn't it?
[00:09:18] Dan: So let's take Barclays. So Barclays invests 20 billion pounds into the fossil fuel industry every year.
[00:09:25] James: Wow. Billion. 20 billion pounds per year. Wow. ,
[00:09:30] Dan: And just to sort of put that in perspective, The banks in total have put in 50 times more financing into fossil fuel projects than the fossil fuel companies themselves.
[00:09:42] James: wow.
[00:09:43] Dan: So the banks are driving the expansion of oil and gas. Now that is a huge lever for us to pull. And anybody who's got an account with Chase or an account with Barclays or an account with any of the big banks, because they all invest in fossil fuel, has skin in this.
[00:10:01] James: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:02] Dan: So we can do two things.
[00:10:04] One is we can lobby our bank to change. We should, and people like 'Make My money Matter' in the UK are doing amazing lobbying efforts. And I think if the bank isn't willing to step up and start actually funding the sources of energy that we need we don't need fossil fuels. We need renewable sustainable sources.
[00:10:24] We don't need new technology that already exist. But we need the financing to replace the old tech fossil fuel. So if the bank's not doing that now, I would say, switch. And that's what Mother Tree does. We highlight how much your money is contributing to those fossil fuel projects in the shape of carbon emissions.
[00:10:43] And we suggest banks that you can switch to who are greener and rule out any fossil fuel investment.
[00:10:49] James: Wow. I'm sure a lot of people will be opening their eyes listening to that. I know I certainly am. I guess, you know, the same thing for consumers as businesses as well, right? Like when you think about the businesses that we all buy from, or maybe the businesses we run, we also have, you know, varying degrees of money sitting in bank accounts that is also having that same kind of consequence.
[00:11:14] So it's not just consumers, but businesses too.
[00:11:16] Dan: Absolutely.
[00:11:17] James: It makes me wonder, some of the huge companies portray a very friendly, environmentally caring image . Where do they keep their money then? It begs a lot of questions actually, when you start peeling back the layers .
[00:11:28] Dan: Yeah. And there's a really interesting report that a chap called James Vaccaro and Paul Moinester produced. The name of the report is escaping me, but...
[00:11:38] James: I'm sure we can find it for the show notes.
[00:11:40] Dan: Thank you. Much appreciated. That report showed that for major companies such as Salesforce, Facebook, Apple, the money they hold in their accounts contributes as much carbon as their entire supply.
[00:11:56] James: Wow. Wow. So you're saying that... okay, look at us. We're doing a great job of our supply chain. We're powering things. We are trying to do our best, but it's really hard. But comparatively, the actual story is over where you wouldn't think. Not where the factories are; the production, but it's where the money is sitting that's actually having the bigger consequence.
[00:12:17] Dan: Exactly, and as with big companies it's the same with individuals. So when you look at your pension and your bank account together, for a UK average consumer it contributes about 10 tons. And 10 tons is the entire sort of lifestyle emissions for a UK average consumer ,when you think about diet and transport and stuff.
[00:12:36] So it doubles our emissions.
[00:12:37] James: That is phenomenal .Crikey. Wow. So, okay, so what can we do about that? So Mother Tree is helping solve this. How do you find out even where to start on this? I'm sure Mother Tree can help with figuring a lot of this out. But how do you folks find out the good banks are and the bad banks?
[00:12:56] How do you go and figure this out?
[00:12:59] Dan: Yeah, so we look at data sources that are publicly available and we use something called the Bloomberg terminal. So publicly available sources. We look at what the bank's already published. So that's sometimes through an organization called PCAF. But that's sometimes directly from the bank. Banks will publish their Scope one and two emissions.
[00:13:17] And most banks have started publishing some of their Scope three. Scope three is where the biggest kind of emissions are because that's what they invested. We then supplement that data with online reports. So things like 'Banking on Climate Chaos', which done amazing work highlighting where Chase and Barclays are investing as well as other big banks.
[00:13:36] We look at Greenpeace reports, 'South Pole Data' who are another data organization. And then we use the Bloomberg terminal. So the Bloomberg terminal allows you to see, it's a trading platform, but it allows you to see where banks are lending their money. And so when they're lending it to carbon producing activities, we know that.
[00:13:54] And so what we're doing is we're building up what we think is a more comprehensive view of a bank's emissions. Scope one, two plus the investments through Scope three. And then we look at the amount that you have in that account. So let's say you have a thousand pounds with Barclays, and let's say Barclays have a hundred thousand pounds in assets. Obviously it's a lot more, but if you've got a thousand and they've got a hundred thousand, then that's I think that's 1%. So you then have effectively 1% of Barclays. And we say, okay, well that's 1% of their emissions.
[00:14:26] James: Got it. Got it.
[00:14:28] Dan: That's the calculation. What I would say here is obviously the money you put into an account, the bank will tell you, well, that's different to the money that we invest. And it is, those two are separate, but what we say is it endorses a policy.
[00:14:44] That's the key link for me is, just like it endorses a policy when you buy vegan food versus you know, meat.
[00:14:51] James: You're voting with your wallet in a way. Yeah.
[00:14:54] Dan: You're voting with your current account.
[00:14:56] James: Yeah. Wow, that makes so, so much sense. It's making me think, well, one the first things I'm gonna do after this call is have a little look at where my money sits and have a little bit of a think of this. I guess there's another aspect here where, you know, at least in the UK where we're going through some challenging times. There's a real crisis on our hands, the cost of living crisis. And people are struggling with making ends meet. How do you get people to think about this in the context of everything else? Because I guess, some of these big banks lure people in with great rates and great offers and deals. Are those some of the challenges that you face at the moment with, with trying to build a business like this?
[00:15:38] Because I guess on some level most people want to do the right thing for the environment, but sometimes as humans we get persuaded by other factors and don't always make rational decisions. So what are some of the challenges for you at the moment? If I could be as bold as to ask that. I know we have a lot of other people who run businesses who listen to this and, it's always fascinating just hearing the good and the challenging from other business leaders and founders. Unless there are no challenges right now, Dan, which is totally fine. I understand.
[00:16:07] Dan: It'd be quite a boring business if there were no challenges, and I suspect not a very successful one. Unfortunately, there's always challenges. I think there's two things to your question. One is the kind of cost of living piece, and then what are the business challenges? So on the cost of living side. The more I've researched this, the more I've realized the idea of a green premium. The idea that you pay more to be green is a myth. Let's take banking and then we'll take pensions. So banking, every year since Triodos have been in the UK market, Triodos are one of the , in terms of their carbon emissions and where they invest their money.
[00:16:40] Every year they've been in market, they've outperformed Barclays on interest rate. So actually, by being with a greener bank, you can also make money. Nationwide is another good example. They're currently giving 200 pounds to people who open up a new account. And they've got a competitive interest rate. Nationwide don't invest in fossil fuels. From what I can see, they're kind of the the lowest carbon emitting High Street Bank. So, you know, there are ways to make money and be green here. And on Pensions, really interesting. So for the last five, six years and probably longer green and ethical funds have outperformed the default fund.
[00:17:15] So, you know, your company puts you into a default fund. You don't really think about it fine, but actually just by asking your Pension Provider, you know, are there other options or asking a independent financial advisor, are other ethical options?
[00:17:29] Not only is it good for the planet, it could actually, it's not financial advice, but it could be good for for your wallet as well.
[00:17:37] James: That's very positive and uplifting to hear that, that actually. Yeah, I guess on some level, again, not a financial advice podcast, just to clarify. But it makes sense from my perspective that, you know, a fund investing in more green and ethical options, is going to hopefully continue to perform well as the general mindset of the population pays more attention to this, spends more, thinks more about this, cares more.
[00:18:06] So hopefully that all seems to make sense. But it's very reassuring to hear that. It's easy to think that it could be a big trade off there and a big added expense or cost to you as an individual for making better choices, but actually often they're quite aligned. That's so that's good to hear.
[00:18:24] Dan: Yeah, and it's an important message. We're kind of told that it costs more to go green, but that's not always the case. And then you asked me about business challenges, I think.
[00:18:35] James: Oh yeah. I think you said there weren't any! No?
[00:18:37] Dan: There's always challenges. So for me, the big challenge at the moment is, so we've got the Mother Tree website up and running. But what I want to really make happen is make it effortless for UK consumers to go green and save money on all life's choices.
[00:18:52] James: Right.
[00:18:53] Dan: We've identified 32 areas from banking to pensions, but also from our diet to the clothes we wear where we can help people go green and save money.
[00:19:03] And so the, the challenge that I'm looking at right now is how do we make that as effortless as possible?
[00:19:08] James: Hmm. That's pretty exciting. And what's been your progress so far on that? What are the big hurdles in the way for people? I guess there's some smaller things people can change. There's some bigger things people can change, but any areas where you're finding people are really struggle?
[00:19:24] Dan: Finance is one, and it's huge, but it doesn't take much to change and that's why we set up the, the Climate Challenge. We're trialing ways to help people to make these habit changes and the climate challenge. Five days, five actions and you go through it as a group.
[00:19:39] So there's a kind of community element to it, and each day we take on one of the big changes we can make in terms of reducing our carbon footprint; creating a more positive world. And we've been running it for over a year now. So we've really distilled those challenges into the ones that really matter.
[00:19:55] And I would say to your question, you know, what are people kind of struggling to do? Well one is just look at where your money is in terms of your bank. Doesn't take much. You know, Mother Tree is one resource of many out there. Bank.Green is also a good one to understand is your bank investing?
[00:20:12] And then take a view on actually what's important to you from a bank perspective. And often, I mean, if you like me and have switched when you were a student for the rail card, right?
[00:20:21] James: Yeah. Oh, everyone. Everyone got the rail card?
[00:20:25] Dan: And actually what NatWest was providing me is probably a worse service than say a Starling or a Monzo who invests less in fossil fuels.
[00:20:38] James: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:20:39] Dan: I made that connection. It didn't say much. And to switch is actually pretty easy. You fill in a form, you switch all your direct debits or your standing orders over.
[00:20:48] It's done. Takes seven days, but it's done. And similar with pensioners, it's a higher bar with pensions in terms of to switch, but it doesn't actually take that much to figure out what's going on. It's just setting aside a little bit of time. But all the information is there
[00:21:00] James: I was gonna say on pensions, it's actually a really interesting one because I think, you know, a lot of people don't care about their pensions at least in their, the majority of their twenties at least. People I have spent time with in my twenties myself included, couldn't give a damn about their pension.
[00:21:17] It's so far off thinking about that; I think it's quite hard to get people to care about something. It is similar, I guess, to the wider climate emergency. How do you get people to care about things that are quite uncertain and far in the future? But maybe this is actually a very big reason to care about your pension in earlier on in life where you think every single penny going into that is a penny that is a vote for the kind of world I wanna be living in when , I'm older and maybe it's actually a, a bigger reason than ever to care about your pension actually at an earlier age. .
[00:21:49] Dan: That's exactly right. Two things here. One is I saw a program which said, what kind of world do you want to retire into? And we really do have a choice. It's, you know, do we retire into the kind of the world that we're on the default to get? Which is polluted air and polluted rivers and we can't go outside in the summer because it's 40 degrees plus.
[00:22:13] Or do we, do we retire into a world where, yeah, it is a hotter world, but we can enjoy our summers and the air is clean and our rivers are clean and we can enjoy the planet. And that's not that far away. You know, that's 30, 40 years. It's not, I mean, it can feel quite far and it's quite easy, but it's not that far. And one of the big ways we can do that to make sure we have a retirement we can enjoy is making sure our pensions going to the right place. My second point is, you know, I, I totally went through this. I didn't think about my pension in my twenties. But when I looked in my early thirties where it was invested it really woke me up.
[00:22:47] Like 2% of it was in oil and gas. A percent was in mining. There was some in nuclear weapons, and this was just the default pension fee. I'm like, 'I don't support any of that stuff!' I would never like, choose to invest in one of those companies, and yet by default, I'm giving them money every month.
[00:23:06] James: Yeah. That's incredible.
[00:23:09] Dan: You know I had to change it.
[00:23:10] James: Yeah. Wow. I feel like this has only been a very short time we've been chatting down, but I feel like I am, I'm like so motivated that I just wanna get off the podcast and go change some things in my life now
[00:23:21] Dan: Great!.
[00:23:23] James: And hopefully listeners might feel like that too. So if anyone has that urge right now to go do something about this, take it. There's a few places you'd recommend and one of those would be the Climate Challenge site and, and Mother Tree itself, right? Those are two good ones.
[00:23:40] Dan: Yeah, definitely. It's mymothertree.com and the climate challenge is on the menu there. Yeah, definitely. That would be great.
[00:23:47] James: Awesome. Well, well that's great. I and if anyone wants to keep on up to date with you, Dan, is there anywhere they should go? Are you on LinkedIn or Twitter or just, or head to the Climate challenge site? Or the Mother Tree site or anywhere else they should find you?
[00:24:03] Dan: Yeah, so LinkedIn, Dan Sherrard Smith or email dan at mymothertree.com. Very happy to to chat.
[00:24:10] James: Awesome. Dan, it has been such a pleasure speaking with you today. I genuinely feel so motivated to go and make some changes. I feel guilty beyond relief about not pay more attention to some of these factors in my life so far. Thank you so much for joining us and. Thank you to everyone for listening to this show as well.
[00:24:29] It's great to be back with another series and if you are enjoying it and if you've enjoyed this show in particular, do let us know and please give us a rating on whatever podcast player you are listening to to this through, and hopefully tell your friends as well and help them make some changes.
[00:24:45] It's a new year. Make the world a bit better. And thank you again, Dan. It's been a pleasure and hopefully catch you soon.
[00:24:52] Dan: Thanks for having me, James.