Carbon Literacy with Ilona Alcock.
We had the delight of being joined by the amazing Ilona Alcock, founder of Elevate.
- Ilona Alcock
- 52 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 13 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today I have Ilona Alcock, co-founder of Elevate, on the show, to talk to us a little bit about how businesses can do better in terms of the environment and also to hear more about Elevate. So thanks for coming on, Illona, how are you doing today?
Ilona: I'm really well. Thanks so much for having me on.
Tom: Yeah, cheers for coming on. I appreciate it. It was my Dad who put us in touch through a pretty random LinkedIn message, but I won't go on to talk about that too much.
Ilona: A nice blast from the past!
Tom: Yeah I know I can't believe you met him nine years ago. Yeah, anyway do you want to tell us a little bit about what you've been doing lately and also what's Elevate?
Ilona: Absolutely. So I've had a very varied career. I think you'd now call it the portfolio career but I've worked in recruitment, as a commercial litigator at the world's largest law firm, I wrote a tech startup with my husband, spent some time working in higher education.
And as we headed into the pandemic, I was working for an events based business development organization. Now, as you can imagine, given that what we did was to bring large groups of strangers together and put them into a combined space, that wasn't something that could continue once the pandemic hit. So we did about a month working from home and then myself and one of my colleagues were placed on furlough. So I spent most of that glorious hot summer where we couldn't go anywhere other than our gardens spent on furlough.
And then we found out in July that myself and my colleague were both going to be made redundant. So it was a bit of a weird feeling they made redundant the world not being anything close to normal and my industry just not really there at all.
And we had such a phenomenal network that as soon as they knew that we were going to be made redundant, we're starting to send through job opportunities and coming up with things that that just might be things that we wanted to get involved in.
And then my colleague Katie sent me a Whatsapp just saying 'do you think there's something that we could do together here?'. And that little spark was essentially the start of Elevate, we loved working together. We felt that there was a need for a really kind of fresh, agile approach to business development.
We very naively back in that kind of August thought things would be back to normal by Christmas 2020. We weren't expecting to spend so long online. But as soon as we started having those initial conversations around what the business might look like and what we waned to do. It became really clear that our values were much more aligned then we'd really appreciated.
We really cared about creating a great place to work. We wanted to work with nice people. We wanted to work with businesses who were doing really great, positive things. We wanted to have a positive impact on the environment, and we kind of felt like if we had our dream client list ten they were all the people that fit that mold. They were just people who really believe that like business can and should be a force for good.
So we kind of came out of that redundancy and we were like 'We're here, we're Elevate! This is what we're going to be doing.'
And the response was just absolutely overwhelming. Like, we literally launched on LinkedIn on my birthday, my husband had planned a surprise trip to the zoo. So I was literally like sitting by a penguin enclosure, like filing through like 1,000,000 LinkedIn messages and people offering support. People wanting to set up meetings with us, have conversations, and it was just this incredible outpouring of love and support from the whole Greater Manchester business community.
Tom: Wow, that sounds amazing. And I love how you kind of turned the negative of being made redundant around.
A lot of people would probably view that with a negative perspective, but you completely, you know, switched that on its head and managed to create something that probably aligns with what you want to be doing even more and with your colleague Katie as well.
That sounds amazing, and I love to hear that you were next to a penguin when it was first announced as well. And so was it difficult then? I mean, it doesn't sound like it was particularly difficult, but did you find it difficult setting Elevate up during the pandemic?
Alona: There's definitely been some really challenging times literally like trying to run events in business development during a pandemic is very challenging. And so I think at the beginning it was relatively easy and there was a low barrier to setting up.
It was literally like we bought a phone and a laptop and we were good to go. We didn't need a physical office. We didn't need any stock. A lot of the things that would kind of stop you from being able to set up on your own it wasn't the case because the type of business that we were running.
And we had that phenomenal network of support, we were really lucky that a company, Bruntwood works, who are kind of property people across the north, their ethos is around creating thriving cities, they very much want to be known as that good business and they literally supported us from launch. So we kind of had that work coming in straight away, and I could not be more grateful for them and taking that leap on us from day one.
But then just getting that time to kind of really set out what we wanted to do, in a weird way because it was so difficult because we were navigating this crazy world that actually kind of worked in our favor because it meant no one was doing what they'd always done.
We couldn't do that. So people were much more willing to have a conversation with a startup. They were much more willing to try new things. There were events that we literally had to replan three times because the restrictions kept changing, so we would start offering live and then it would change to hybrid.
And then we ended up in the middle of the second lockdown, literally just being able to bring people in and film and do the whole thing online. But we had the flexibility to be able to do that.
But absolutely like Christmas 2020 was a real struggle for both of us, things had kind of started getting quieter towards the end of the year. You'd be sending emails and not getting responses. We were thinking like what have we done here like, what's going to happen going into January?
Thought that as we kind of came into the new year, the world would be opening up again. And of course, the opposite happened. That little bit between Christmas and New Year, when it was suddenly like lockdown and we don't know when you're going to be let out again.
And my business partner and I were really conscious that over the Christmas holidays, we didn't want to be bothering each other with work.
So we kind of had our individual like little mini breakdowns over Christmas and didn't speak to each other. And then as soon as we kind of came back in the New Year, we started talking to each other again and realized that it would have been helpful all the way through.
And then everyone was just like, we're back in January, we'll deal with what we've got. You know, people responding to messages from weeks ago just being like 'I was on wind down, we're back we're ready to go.'
And yeah January was crazy busy to the point that we then recruited another former colleague in February. So she came to join the business, but the real kind of learning from that was that we just needed to keep that line of communication open, we keep each other safe essentially.
Like one of us, will be having a massive panic about where is the next lot of money coming from. Are we doing the right thing, what do we need to do and then the other one will kind of talk us down from there?
And that kind of to and fro has made it much easier than it would ever been to do it on our own.
Tom: Do you think by having those few weeks where you probably weren't talking to each other as much kind of made you stronger in a way now though?
Ilona: Yeah, definitely, I think it's really just like reinforced the importance of that relationship, like we joke now that we're becoming a shared brain. Katie and I will very often come out with exactly the same thing.
We will ask the same questions and poor Katherine because she will feel like she's just had the same conversation twice because she would've flagged something up with both of us and the response will have been the same. So knowing that you've got that complete alignment of values between all three of us just means you've got somebody there all the time.
And I've struggled a lot with anxiety over the last month or so, which is hugely out of character for me and it was coming out in a real anxiety about leaving the house and going to events, which is literally what I need to do each day for my job.
But Katie and Katherine picked up on me before I did, so they were there and then ready to support me with whatever I needed. So just having those conversations and if we hadn't have kept that just very open, honest channel of communication, I would have struggled a lot longer. And just been like, I need to power through pretend everything's fine. And luckily, now I'm in a much better place again and will be going through therapy, kind of ongoing things to kind of support that down the road.
But it was just that real constant learning that, you know, we have just got to be open and honest with each other. It's a small company. It's still a very difficult time going on around us.
If you try to bottle things up, and keep them to yourselves, you're going to damange the whole business.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. I totally agree. And I think that's something that I've kind of learned over the last few years is that to be doing my best work I have to be in a certain kind of headspace.
So that's kind of taken priority for me. And, you know, I feel like that's such as such an important thing. But it's amazing that, you know, your colleagues were able to sort of spot that something was maybe going on.
So that just shows how close and how well they probably understand you.
Ilona: Yeah it's so lovely to work in that environment, and it's like you say, it's knowing that you do your best work then you're happy and healthy and rested and all of those things and so if something slips, which it will, there will be things that don't get picked up, things that could perhaps have been done better, for all three of us, when we look at, you know, what went wrong? Why didn't we pick up on something? It's usually because we're too busy or we're stressed about something, and it's getting to that root cause and thinking, okay, so something slipped. What's the additional support that we need to put in?
Where-as we've all worked in cultures previously, where if something slips? It's like right who do we blame for it? Whose fault is it? 'If things are slipping, everybody needs to work harder' and actually like moving that back and being like, 'What do you need to do your absolute best work?'. It just makes sense that you're doing your best work when you've had a good night's sleep, when you're not worrying about things. In these very short dark days making time to get outside in the middle of the day when we have a little glimmer of sunshine is a really positive thing, so having the flexibility around hours makes a huge difference.
And we felt very passionately that we never wanted to build a company that we didn't want to work for. So when we've got the opportunity to put those processes in place, we're building the company that we want to work for.
So it has to work for us as people first and then also be commercially successful. There's no point in setting up a business that makes loads of money but runs us all into the ground.
Tom: Yeah, I totally agree. And I love what you said there about replacing blame with maybe a more compassionate approach.
I think if the whole of society and the world could do that more, the world would be such a better. place, to be honest
Ilona: Massively. And I think, you know, we have such a blame culture in places and it just creates this, this culture of fear around it. People are trying to cover up mistakes because they're worried about what will happen. And everybody has done it at some point. Where you've made your mistake, you've tried to cover up and it's just been so much worse than if as soon as you realized something had happened, you had been like, "Can I just tell you this has happened? And I think we need to sort it out."
And if you know that you can take that to somebody and it will get resolved and you will work through it. And that's whether that's internal or it's for a client, we'll never try and cover stuff up, we're all human, we're all going to make mistakes and we'll work through it. And if you do have that blame culture, you're just encouraging people to hide mistakes, which means they're harder to unpick later on.
But also, you don't learn anything, like if you don't know why a mistake was made, you don't know how something's able to slip through the net. It will just keep happening and happening and happening where as if you can understand what the problem is, you've got some chance to be able to fix it and make sure it doesn't happen again.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. And I think most mistakes are just, as you say, an opportunity to learn. So what do Elevate specifically do, so I know a lot of it is connecting the right people who have similar values and who are maybe interested in reducing perhaps their CO2 emissions or getting involved in other environmentally friendly projects or whatever else. But do you want to tell us a little bit more about what you do and what Elevate do because at the moment I am not sure I 100% understand what Elevate do?
Ilona: Absolutely, and I think part of the issue is that we do a lot of different bits, so sometimes it's quite hard to kind of package all of that up. So the way that we kind of officially describe ourselves is that we're a business development consultancy focused on innovation, sustainability and community.
So they are our kind of three pillars as to the kind of organizations that we want to work with. So our absolute sweet spot is where those three pillars overlap. So you can think of it as a bit of a venn-diagram. If we've got companies, who are innovative, they're focused on the community and they're doing great things in sustainability, then that is absolutely our sweet spot, we love working with them.
So Electricity North West is is a great example of that they've got a huge decarbonization agenda, very innovative business, constantly looking at new technical solutions, but also very community focused and in the storms that we have just had recently, they were out there delivering hot meals to people in Cumbria who were without food, they've done a huge amount of things in the pandemic as well.
So that's our kind of sweet spot, is the overlap of those three pillars. But then in terms of how we actually go about delivering that, we talk about one of our kind of areas is this elevate yourself piece.
So that's around your personal development. So that might be public speaking it might be personal branding it might be teaching people how to network, but it's very much about telling your own story and raising your individual profile. And that might be people coming to us as individuals who know that these are skills that they want to improve, or it might be organizations who see the benefit in upskilling their colleagues to be able to say, 'Well, we want you to be able to go out and talk about the business. We want you to be able to go and pitch so they'll come to us for that kind of public speaking support to enable their colleagues to be able to do that.
We then have the Elevate your business bit which is more of our kind of traditional BD approach. Events are a key part of that platform, so that might be our own events where we'll bring people in as speakers to talk on different issues, or it might be events that we run on behalf of clients. So we're currently working on a really exciting event for start-ups and entrepreneurs. So that will be an event for around 500 people around some support that they can access. We've done stakeholder engagement events, we've done webinars on sustainability, all kinds of different things in that space.
And then the carbon literacy kind of sits slightly outside of that. And I know it's something we'll touch on a little bit later as well, but essentially I was sitting on the Greater Manchester Green City Council board in my previous role.
And also on that board was Phil Korbel who's the founder of the Carbon Literacy Project. And as soon as he found out that I'd set up my own business, he was like 'you need to be training carbon literacy' so I was like tha sounds great, but I've literally not even done the course myself.
So I took the course in November 2020 and absolutely loved it, developed our own cause to be able to train, started delivering that in January 2021 and then in February 2021, Elevate became the world's first carbon literacy business development organization, and that really plays into all three of those areas.
I think when you hear about it, it's kind of it's immediately sustainability but actually it plays into more innovative ways of doing things. It's that support in the community as well. So it's a great one for us to kind of feel like we're making a real difference in taking that training out and delivering it.
But it's also really helped us solidify that reputation as being about good business, caring about the environment, and that attracts a lot of different organizations to us who would potentially have never come to us for that kind of upskilling piece.
They might have never come to us for BD, but they'll come to us for that carbon literacy piece, and it's just another great way of getting us in front of businesses.
Tom: Yeah, that makes sense. And the carbon literacy project seems to be kind of growing and growing, like a lot of businesses now are using that training. And it sounds like a really, really good course. Everyone who I've heard about taking that course has absolutely loved it. So what is carbon literacy and what does that really mean for a business?
Ilona: So carbon literacy, it's about understanding what climate change is all about, it's understanding what you need to be able to do to reduce your carbon footprint. It's about understanding where you can get help to do that, and then it's measuring what you've actually done. And the reason that we were very attracted to this course over other kind of trainings on sustainability is that it's pledge based so to become accredited, you have to do a full day's worth of training, demonstrate by a couple of kind of short paragraphs that you understand what we need to do to kind of get to net zero as a society. And then the most important part are these two pledges at the end.
So one personal pledge. So what will you do as an individual to reduce your carbon footprint? So things like moving towards a plant based diet, switching to a renewable energy supplier, reducing your travel? Obviously, mid-pandemic, we all just kind of did that.
So it's kind of looking as the world gets back to normal, what your kind of travel choices might be, then also making a grouped pledge, which for most people is the organization that they work in, so something that you do with a group of other people in your organization to help reduce its carbon footprint.
So that might be a whole raft of different things, depending on what industry you're in. So we've had a hospitality group come through who changed their whole menu model from going away from brunch, which was quite a high waste, high carbon footprint offering to pizzas which are very, very low waste, very easy to make vegan options move towards more of a plant based offering and that's had a massive impact, not just on their carbon footprint, but also on their cost savings. Because they've reduced that level of waste, and for other people, it might be around looking at the kind of circular economy.
So one of the property companies that we work with, every time a new tenant comes in, they rip everything out and then the new tenant comes in and puts a whole load of new stuff in. And sometimes it's near enough identical.
So it's looking at that and being like, right, well, this is what's here now. What do we want to keep? And then it's going well, actually, if we're going to take all of this stuff out, so take white goods out, are there other places within our portfolio where we can move them?
So that we are not just throwing this stuff away every three years. So that obviously has a huge carbon footprint. It can be things like looking at if you do a lot of internal events, for example, what food do you offer people, you know, is that plant based as standard? So there can be all of these different changes. And the idea is you kind of go through the course and look at the carbon impact of everything that you do and that it will start to flag up different areas that you might not thought about before where you can actually make quite a big impact.
So one of the ones that's a really easy change that can make an absolutely massive difference particularly for large organizations is where your company pensions are being held. Can you move those to somewhere where they're being ethically invested?
Because that's a huge, huge pot of cash. But individually, we're only responsible for a little piece of it, so we maybe don't think about it as something that we have a lot of contorl over. But, we've worked with organizations who have then raised this with the management of the company, and they've either given staff the option of being able to to go towards ethical investments or have moved the full pension scheme over so that everybody who's in that company, their pension is in an ethical investment. And we are seeing now that ethical investments are as valuable, as effective as non ethical investments, and that is going to keep changing as well. So we're going to get better returns from investments as the world changes and goes in that direction.
Tom: Yeah. Does the government have any sort of initiatives or incentives as well as far as you're aware in terms of incentivising businesses to make investments in more ethical goods and services?
Ilona: Yeah, absolutely. So I always think of it as being a bit of a carrot and stick approach. So there will be some things where it's like, here's this lovely incentive for you to do something that we think is the right thing to do.
Say, if you look at now, if you are getting a company car, why would that not be an EV now? Because the incentives are so good that it just doesn't make sense for it not to be an EV. And and then you look on the regulatory side where you'll be fined for doing things that damage the environment.
So you've kind of got those two elements and then kind of everything in between that's a bit of a mix of being like these are the behaviours that we want you to do. So we'll reward good behaviour and kind of punish the bad behaviour. I think generally, people would say that governments nationally and internationally are not going anywhere far enough, fast enough for what we need. And so you start to see that thing driven a lot more by the private sector. So the organizations that we talk to, the very large organizations are starting to get caught by some of the reporting regulations.
So they will have to report on things like climate change related financial disclosures, they're going to have to report on what their carbon footprint is, they're going to have to show that they're tracking and measuring all of that stuff.
Smaller organizations aren't seeing that yet. So what's really driving their behaviour change is either customers want more sustainable products, and we've shown time and time again that customers are prepared to pay a premium for sustainable goods. It's their employees and their talent pipeline.
And so one of my favourite facts is that the average age of a KPMG employee is 25, because of the number of junior staff that come in. So a lot of their sustainability changes have been driven by wanting to attract the best talent.
So like, we cannot have an office where people have single use plastics like we'll be called up on this straight away. So having that really strong environmental policy is now just expected and by that generation, who's coming through.
At a senior level, we're seeing it where if you want someone to work in comms and PR and you want someone to work in quite a complex and controversial industry, something like tobacco, you have to pay a real premium to get those people because they see it as damaging to their long term career prospects because they've worked in that industry.
You're starting to see that now with things like your oil and gas companies, your kind of biggest polluters. People at a senior level are shying away from those industries to move into ones where they can see that they're making more of an impact and have those real kind of positive stories around them.
You will find investment funds that are only open to people who are making a positive environmental impact. So if you look at people like the Co-op Bank they've been in this space for quite a while, Nationwide, their mortgages are only kind of for sustainable homes and then there's things like palatine private equity, they have an impact fund so to be able to access private equity, your company has to show that it has a positive impact to be able to access those funds.
So as a business, you've kind of got those eyes all the time on 'Where's your money coming from like investment? Where is it coming from, potentially through debt financing? Where is it coming from your customers? And then the people that you work with so which suppliers want to work with you? Who are the employees who want to work with you? If everybody is pushing you to become more sustainable, even if you don't care about it, it becomes the only sensible commercial option. And we're seeing a lot of businesses going down that journey now that it wasn't on their radar a couple of years ago, but they would struggle to stay competitive if they weren't putting these policies in place.
Tom: Yeah, I guess that's really important because in like an ideal world, obviously everyone would care about all of this stuff natually, like intrinsically. They wouldn't have to have all of the external motivators, but because we don't live in an ideal world, I suppose you do need some these motivations and these incentives.
Ilona: And I think, don't get me wrong, like there are people who absolutely should care about it and like they just don't believe it's happening or they just genuinely don't care about the rest of the world as long as they're doing fine, and there are absolutely that group of people. But there's also huge swades of people who don't have the headspace to be able to care about this because they're focusing on just keeping their businesses afloat. We've been through a very, very difficult 18 months.
So the thought of kind of worrying about everything else when you're literally just trying to, like hit your bills every month to keep your business afloat, you don't have the headspace to be able to think about this stuff. If you think about families who are already living in fuel poverty and they're making choices between heating their homes and being able to feed their family, like trying to talk to them and asking them if they've considered more plant based options or have they switched to a renewable energy supplier when they don't have control over what their energy supply is like. That's not the right conversation to be having, and that's when I think it falls on those of us who are in a more privileged position to be able to make those choices and drive that change that we take it on. And certainly, if you look at where the biggest carbon footprints are, the vast majority of carbon is released by the top 1% of earners globally.
So it has to be those of us both at a country level and an individual level. If we're earning more money, we're living more privileged lifestyles we're consuming more, we're creating more carbon than we need to be taking more responsibility for those changes.
Tom: Yeah, that's a really good point. And I think survival, like obviously that's always going to come first like some people yeah, as you say, they're just not going to have the time or the headspace to think about some of these issues.
So I guess that's why it means like those you do have the headspace, the time, the privilege to think about these things, it's on them. It's their responsibility really to do something about it.
Ilona: It is and it's also our responsibility to engage with those of communities as well. There's a brilliant TED talk from David Lammy that he recorded towards the end of last year, and he talks about the Black Lives Matter movement and climate change. And a brilliant kind of play on that 'I can't breathe' slogan, because when you actually look at the air quality and how disproportionately that affects black communities around the world and here in the UK as well. It should be something that we see more black people talking about climate change, but generally our black communities are living in the more deprived areas they're breathing in the worst quality air, they have a lot of other things that they need to think about and we look at the climate change and all we see are these kind of, you know, white leaders. There's been this kind of complete divide between it being kind of being a racial issue and it being a climate issue and actually they're completely interlinked.
So if people are leading on climate change, what more can we do to encourage people of color to be part of that conversation? And as part of that video, he shows a picture from Davos of five climate change leaders, it's got the picture of Greta Thunberg on there, and they crop the photo so you don't see the Ugandan delegates and everyone kind of watches that video like how terrible is it that basically when we do have this young black woman involved, she's cropped out of the photo.
And then we did exactly the same again to literally the same woman. You might have seen the picture over COP26 and it's Greta Thunberg siting down with Nicola Sturgeon. Actually, that whole photo also has this Ugandan woman on the picture as well. But that's been cropped and has been sent out to the press.
So it's just being alive to those kind of issues, and being like who are we excluding from the conversation in the narrative? And if we are the people in a position of privilege, then that really kind of sits on us to make sure that we engage all of the communities, in particular communities who were most impacted by climate change. And that absolutely isn't yet the rich Western countries. We are not seeing the same impact of climate change as people in sub-Saharan Africa or some kind of low lying island nations.
Tom: Yeah. And again, like here as well, we're just consuming more than other areas of the world.
And that's the thing with climate change as a whole as well, eventually we're going to get to a point where everyone in the world is able to consume as much as we do here and in America which would be an absolute disaster and I don't know what would happen.
Ilona: Well, we're not far away from there anyway. So we are currently living as if we have the resources of 1.6 Earths. So you have to go back to kind of pre 1970 to find a time when we lived as if we have the one earth that we do. And that's with having this massive disparity. So at a global level, we're already as if we have like 1.6 Earths.
It's if you look at people like, you know, the US and the UK, we're at the very high end of that and other people much, much lower. So there are countries in Africa who's annual carbon footprint is the same as what we produce in the UK in a couple of weeks. It's that level of disparity. So as you say, it's, you know, we want everybody to have a better standard of living and to bring everybody up. But the way that we need to do that is by massively reducing our consumption at the top, or consuming in a much more sustainable way because the answer can't be that we don't allow countries to develop, you know, we industrialized our country very early. We chopped down all of our forests very early. We've reaped the benefits of that for the last like 150-200 years. It's quite difficult to then turn around and like 'Yeah, but you can't do it now.'
And so we want to protect things like the Amazon rainforest around the world. We want to cut down on deforestation. We need to be doing that hand in hand with other countries and be like right, well, there also has to be a financial incentive for you to protect this rainforest.
There has to be a reason why this makes commercial sense for the country and the people living in it. We can't just try and stop people from doing the things they need to do to develop countries.
Tom: Yeah, people aren't really going to do things unless there is a reason for them to do it and we don't want to. I don't know. I feel like it's wrong as well for us to kind of tell other people what they should or should not do because their circumstances are just completely different to ours.
Ilona: That's it. It's understanding it isn't it, there are always people who are much, much better off than you. And we have this kind of push back, don't we when we see celebrities fly around the world in a private jet and then tell us that we should be traveling less and it's quite jarring, but we need to understand that for most people in the world, we're that celebrity level, you know?
You know, the fact we can fly around the world, you know, 80% of flights are taken by 20% of people. So it's looking at that bit that is actually being like, right, well, when I look at that very kind of uber rich, top level with superyachts and private jets and everything that's actually how I look to most of the world and that really kind of jarring conversation that I might see from a celebrity is actually the same kind of narrative that a lot of the world will see from us.
So it's really kind of understanding that and it's taking that personal responsibility as well. There are absolutely people who are not going to be doing the right thing, who are going to continue polluting, they're going to continue lobbying for industries that we know are hugely damaging. That can't be the reason that we stop doing the right thing.
And literally voting and also kind of voting with your feet and voting with your money. So choosing where to shop. Choosing which kind of businesses to support and buying less, but buying higher quality items that lasts for longer.
Those kind of things then, that then start to drive a different kind of demand. You know, we won't have fast fashion, if people aren't buying huge quantities of very, very cheap clothing, so actually changing that behaviour, and if I'm like righ if I choose to spend my money in certain places that will create a demand and that will start to solve the problem. We can't just look at it and be like, well, everybody else is doing this, so it won't make any difference if I do. It's like, if everybody did that, we wouldn't have any change whatsoever.
Tom: Yeah, I think it's definitely hard for people to change their ways of thinking and their habits and also just being mindful of this in the first place. And there's a lot of stuff that you spoke about today, which I was just oblivious to before this conversation.
So I think education is a big part of this too. And so what can small and medium sized tech companies do to help and reduce their CO2 emissions?
Ilona: So enrol on our Carbon Literacy training, that's the first one, I've got to say that.
And I mean, it just comes down to that education piece. First and foremost, whatever your company do us, you're a collection of people. So actually having those conversations, educating the people in that business because we'll all do things in our home lives.
So having that conversation, first of all, what is it that they can do individually and then looking at starting to measure what your carbon footprint is? You know, what are the activities that you're doing that are creating the most carbon?
So for some companies, that might still be the office. So having a conversation like do you own the building? Are you renting the building? What's the kind of setup there? So there might be things that you can do there around renewable energy, replacing normal lights with LEDs is a relatively cheap, easy thing to do.
You'll get your return on investment within a few years, but has a massive reduction in your carbon footprint and having a look at what kind of food you offer. Do you use plastics in offices, are you recycling everything in the office? All of that stuff can change, from a more techie point of view, we're seeing a movement around green coding. So actually, when you're developing apps, how much energy are they using when you don't need them to be? So actually building them at the very first level to be more energy efficient?
Where's that information being stored? How's it being accessed? I think we sometimes see tech as being this like incredible access to everything that, you know, if it's online, that's better than it being on paper. We kind of forget how much information is being stored.
And one of the great facts that that we do on our carbon literacy course is if you look at the carbon footprint of a letter, that can be up to 350 grams, depending on the type of paper that you use and whether it's recycled and where it gets sent. An email, a short email between two laptops is more like 0.3 grams. So we kind of then have this thing like 'We're brilliant, we're sending emails, we're not sending letters, so we're massively reducing our carbon footprint.' But in 2019, on average, every single day, we sent 294 billion emails and about 55% of those were spam.
So we've kind of got this tech solution that on the face of it, we're using a fraction of the amount of carbon, but it then has just made it easier to send more and more and more and more emails. And they're all sitting on servers somewhere, they're all being stored.
That is actually creating problems as well. So looking at kind of, you know, green servers, things like cryptocurrency is hugely energy intensive. So looking at those kind of choices, using 4G or 5G is more energy intensive than using Wi-Fi.
So just looking at those things and being like, where is it that we're actually contributing most to the problem? Because that's probably the easiest thing for you to be able to change.
Tom: Yeah, there's a lot there, and I'm sure companies, tech firms could definitely learn a lot from your training and consultancy.
So what is an ESG strategy? And should every business have one?
So, ESG, it's become a little bit of a buzz word recently, but it's environmental, social governance. So it's looking at what you do for the environment.
How do you treat your people? And are you being governed in a kind of responsible way? Now at a huge corporate level, absolutely, like you have to have the an ESG policy, like people are going to ask for it, you're have to report on stuff.
People need to see that, they will expect you to be aware of what the carbon footprint is and what measures you are taking to be able to reduce that. You will have to sign up to things like the modern day slavery policies.
You'll have to show that you kind of understand your supply chain, how people are being treated, and you will have to comply with huge amounts of regulation. You will have to show how your company is governed properly, if you're a listed company that brings with it a huge amount of other kinds of governance and compliance issues that you will need to think about.
When you bring that right back down to a small company, do you really need a full ESG policy? Like is that a good use of your time to create this very kind of detailed policy that's probably been adopted from something that's from much a larger organization?
I would say you probably don't need that full policy, but that doesn't mean that you don't need a strategy, that doesn't mean that it doesn't need to be kind of embedded in what you do. It's just kind of about taking a step back.
You know, it's a small company. Your governance restrictions, you know, aren't particularly restrictive. You know there will be things that you need to report to companies house, certain legislation that you need to follow. But generally, like if you're running your businessin a w ay that's keeping it afloat and isn't breaking the law, like you're doing okay.
So we can kind of leave that one a little bit, then think genuinely, you know, how are you treating the people that you work with, you know, whether they're internal or external? And again, like if you are being just like a good human, so you're coming from this from that compassionate point of view.
So are you paying everybody fairly? You know, is everybody getting the time off that they need? Are you being fair with your suppliers? Are you paying freelancers on time? All of those sorts of things. It's just been like as a good person, running a business, how do you treat the people around you?
And that very kind of people first approach and then from the environmental point of view again is just understanding what is the environmental impact that you are having and making positive steps, you know, you're not necessarily going to be able to get to net zero.
As a small company, you won't have that much influence over your supply chain, so you might not be able to get to net zero because there's things outside of your control. But what are the things that you can control?
So I'd just kind of have those principles in mind when you're running the business as being like, how can we just do better? You know, how can we do better for the environment? How can we do better for our people?
And hopefully you are already working very firmly within that kind of legal framework that you know you're paying your taxes properly. You know, you're reporting everything that you should be reporting, that should kind of look after itself in a small organization.
Tom: Yeah and I guess things like satisfaction surveys and just making sure that everyone's happy and doing well is a big part.
Ilona: Absolutely, and as your company grows, obviously it's hard, you know, Elevates a team of three. We're a very tight team of three who used to work together, so we know each other really well, and it is still a constant piece of work to make sure that that culture stays, that we look after each other. You know, as we mentioned earlier on just, you know, having an eye on how each other are doing. We've just signed up to a brilliant platform called Spill, which a company can sign up to and then it offers online therapy.
So over the course of a year, we have like 30 therapy sessions. We have five courses of six therapy session for anyone who's struggling a bit more. And it was really important that we brought that in for us now so that as we start growing the organization, that's there because whilst we're all happy to talk to each other and flag these things up, somebody new coming in won't have that same relationship with us.So, just knowing straight away that there is a platform there if you're struggling, you can just talk to a therapist. You don't have to ask us. You don't have to get it signed up.
Literally, you can just speak to somebody straight away and access that support that you need. And it's just around that whole, what's right for those people like just keeping on top of it all the time. And as you go through kind of bigger organizations, you might find that the reporting of bad behaviours is more difficult.
If you're a few rungs away from somebody, you're not necessarily aware of what behaviours are going on. People might feel uncomfortable, reporting to HR. They might feel uncomfortable having their name on something. So, there's another brilliant organisation called culture shift that's an anonymous reporting tool.
So that's just a tool that sits online within the business. And if anybody suffers bullying or sexual harassment, any kind of negative behaviours that can be reported anonymously. So they've not got that fear of it coming back to them, they're not putting that name on it, and it increases the amounts of reports that go through the organization and they then work with the organization to kind of manage those to put in changes to make sure that doesn't happen again.
So it's just be kind of mindful of how big your organization is. Things that work when you're very, very small might need to change as you grow because you won't have that same relationship with everybody in the company.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. And it's going to vary just depending on the size of the business. And also whether you're remote working as well.
Ilon: Absolutely, it's much easier to see how somebody is doing if they're physically in the office with you. And it's much easier to just be like 'should we grab a cup of tea and have a chat' if you spot something that's not right.
If everybody is working remotely, it's much easier to jump on teams or Zoom. And you know, everything looks fine and the world can be falling apart around you and nobody sees it. So just making that extra effort to check in with people if you're not physically seeing them is really important.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And I was quite pleased to see actually at Hive IT the other day, we did a satisfaction survey and the results came back and Jonny went through them and they were pretty good really. Just high 8's and 9's.
But I guess there's always room for improvement in any business and that's the main thing.
Ilona: It is and it's a constant piece of work as well isn't it.
And it's not that like, you know, you do it once, everybody's happy and you pat yourself on the back 'alright cool', it's looking at that and being like brilliant we've got the results that we wanted. What is it that we're doing well and how can we do more of it?
And if people are coming through with slightly lower scores in different areas, how can you do more to support? And then just constantly measuring that stuff is is really, really important.
But it's brilliant to see, you know, organizations doing that and taking it really seriously.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. And there's going to be some individuals who might have like a six or seven or five or even lower and I guess figuring out those problems and resolving it is just dead important.
Ilona: And if there's any patterns as well.
I'm absolutely not saying that this is the case in your organization, but sometimes you have a person in the organization who's responsible for quite a lot of the issues, you know, having the wrong line manager, which is either the person isn't suited to it or quite often they've not been trained or supported to be able to line manage other people. That one person can cause a lot of issues within an organization. So having those kinds of surveys across, if you found, for example, you're getting all eights or nines apart from a certain team who are much, much lower, that flags up quite quickly, that there's an issue in a certain part of the business.
And so you could start to spot trends, and that might flag up issues where nobody's directly reported this as an issue, but you can see it's affecting a group of people. So it's just so important to stay on top of that.
And there's many ways that you can open up that conversation and just kind of empower your colleagues to talk up. And we said, right at the beginning about understanding how you do your best work and what makes you more productive.
Have those conversations with the people around, you know, if you work better at certain times of the day, if you need to have that physical interaction, it would really help you to have some time in the office. If you know having certain days where you can be at home, because that really helps you to get through some of that kind of head down admin stuff, having those really open conversations that should just be good for everybody, like the business wants you to be as productive as possible. You want to be as productive as possible, so working out how you can best manage that should be good for everybody.
But I think sometimes we forget to have those conversations or we assume that everybody wants to work in the same way that we do. So we think we've created a process and environment that's wonderful because it works for us.
But then you potentially bring people into the business who that doesn't work for and they need a different type of support.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. And I think we've seen that sort of agile methodology that flexibility, like that focus on each individual a bit more throughout the pandemic with people working from home and then that being a bit of a catalyst for other decisions and people having more choice and freedom to do what suits them.
Ilona: It's just blurred that line a little between work and home.
And if there is a silver lining to everything that we've been through, it's like I sit on calls now and my business partner's got two young children and the amount of times that one of them will end up on the call, things will be going on.
And it's now just like that's part of her world. Like one of the things that she is, is a mum of two right. Like that doesn't need to be hidden. Like that doesn't impact her ability to do her job.
She's phenomenal at what she does, and she can do that with two kids running around, which in my mind makes it even more incredible that she can juggle all those things. And that's just fine now.
Nobody challenges that you'll have business meeting and there will be children or pets or builders or Amazon deliveries or whatever is going on around us. And it's kind of like we look a lot more like people now. We're not just sitting in very sterile white meeting rooms pretending that we don't have a life outside of the office.
And I do really hope that as we go back into normal and hopefully we are kind of getting closer to that, that we can bring that with us, that we don't have to pretend that like home is alone and work is alone.
It's just like 'I'm Ilona and this is like the whole mess of my life.'. And, you know, we'll just crack on and do that.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. I couldn't agree more. So my final question for you and this is a little bit more broad, is what can people do to make things better?
Ilona: So I think, my key thing here would be to listen, there's very, very few situations that wouldn't be improved by you spending a little bit more time listening, in world where we have so much information thrown at us all of the time, are we actually listening to that information? Are we taking a bit of a step back, you know, listening to what people around you are telling you because generally people will tell you if things aren't okay. So just listen to those things.
And if people have got different viewpoints, people have learned different things. Just listening to all of that stuff and it makes you a better person and it makes us a better business. You know, most of what we did for the first three months Elevate was listening to people who we wanted to work with and then creating what they needed.
If we'd just gone in kind of all guns blazing being like, this is what we want to do, we wouldn't have had that same response, and we've kind of kept that going all the way through. We always want to talk to other businesses.
We always want to talk to other people like I'm dead nosy so it helps. It's like, I want to know what your world looks like. I want to understand what your business does. So I constantly listen to those stories.
But then it is really listening to each other as a team, you know, the culture and relationship that we've got, we've got because we all take time to listen to each other. And so there's absolutely more we can do there.
You know, as I'm saying it, I know I'm guilty of not slowing down and listening enough on all of those occasions. But I think we did just all take, you know, just a few minutes every day to just think have I listened properly to what people are trying to tell me, it would have huge changes.
Tom: Yeah, I agree. And I think there are so many distractions now so listening is becoming increasingly difficult because people's attention spans are getting lower. You've got apps like Tik Tok and Instagram where it's just like constant videos, and people aren't really focusing or listening to that content often.
Ilona: The amount of times I'm having a conversation with my husband whilst Netflix is on and I'm messing around on my phone and am I actually listening to what you're saying to me, or have I got like half an ear on you telling me about your day and half an ear on like Dynasty because it's incredible on Netflix and I'm like scrolling through Twitter. None of these things need to be going on in my head at the same time. So just setting aside that time and things like just going out for a walk together is useful because it takes that distraction away.
And we do some work with the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester, and they're just incredible in what they do but that first trip back to the theater in the summer. And it was an emotional play anyway, it's called Bloody Elle and it was incredible. But like, we were all in tears by the end of it and part of it was like that was the first time since the pandemic started that I was completely transported away from my work and it's not the same as watching a film.
It's not the same as reading a book, there's literally nothing else going on around you. You are completely immersed in somebody else's story and what's going on and taking those kind of things out, it just make you realize how constantly distracted I am by everything else.
So just really dedicating time to certain things, investing in that and really listening to what's going on. And it's hugely important.
Tom: Yeah, a it's a great point. And I think kind of transporting yourself away from work is a wonderful thing to do from time to time and also just on Dynasty, yeah, I've got to like, literally ask my girlfriend, please, can you pause that every time I FaceTime here because she's addicted to that.
Ilona: I've got such unrealistic life goals as a result of Dynasty, like Carbon Literacy straight out the window I want a private jet now.
Tom: Yeah, I feel like I'm going to try and avoid that. Otherwise I will end up desiring things I don't want to desire. Okay, anyway, where can people find you Ilona and where can people find Elevate?
Ilona: So as I've just said, I'm on Twitter a lot. So @ilona_alcock on Twitter and Elevate is @ElevateGM we're also on Insta @Elevate_north. I'm very active on LinkedIn. Just search my name. There's not many Ilona Alcock's in the world, so very easy to find on LinkedIn. I share a lot of content there.
And yeah, just drop me a message, the emails on the website. Drop me a message. And if you want to have a chat about anything, I genuinely want to listen to your story.
Tom: Ilona, thank you so much for coming on.
It's been really good talking to you. I've learned a lot and I hope other people have too. So thanks a lot for reading today's podcast, and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
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