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“The family farm has been decimated over the last 15 years” – Norman Crowley of CoolPlanet, winner of the 2022 ESG Leader Award

By Business & Finance
25 January 2023
Pictured: Norman Crowley, Founder and Chair, CoolPlanet

Norman Crowley is Founder and Chair of CoolPlanet.

What did it mean to win the ESG Leader Award at the ESG Awards? 

Any recognition is great. You spend your whole time grinding it out and fighting and arguing so it’s great to be recognised. It’s good publicity for the business as well and enhances the profile of the company which causes more business to come in. So we’re delighted with it.

What factors, do you think, contributed to this success? 

Many years of hard work from a very good team. Over 12 years we’ve built up a really strong team. Now what we do is very coherent and that’s led to this great success which is great.

How do you foster a company culture of high-performance? 

It’s taken us a long time to learn how to do it. It sounds cliche to say that it starts at the top but it is true. That doesn’t mean me. The managers here are very ethical, they’re in it for the right reasons. They want to see the team win and everything they do speaks of the culture. There’s a famous phrase: “Culture is what happens when nobody’s looking.” At our business, when nobody is looking, everybody is still doing what they’re supposed to do and operating for the right reasons. When you are a new graduate and see the senior people constantly living the values, then they just operate in that way. It just takes a long time to figure that out, sadly. 

Is there one piece of advice you would give to others who are seeking to make a difference? 

I think it’s to understand the facts. In terms of climate, if you’re not fact-based — if you don’t understand the actual numbers — then you can get carried away by a lot of messaging that’s out there in the world. Understand what the problem is, understand the economics of the problem and then you can always rely on those facts and that economics when you’re trying to solve the problem. It’s great to be passionate, but passion on its own doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to understand the numbers and drive from there. We find that very comforting, climate change is a huge challenge —  it would appear almost impossible. When you can see the progress in the numbers you can lean on that to grow. ‘Cause it’s a tough old game, grinding it out for a long period of time.

Some businesses rely on practices that damage the environment. Is that something you encounter in your work?

Yeah. I think it’s changed over the years and I think it might have to do with age. I think there was very much a thing before with senior business people that it was just like “good old boys” —  mainly men —  golfing on a Friday and that trope about business with a fella smoking a cigar and being smug. Whereas many people feel it’s changed. If you talk to anybody in the C-suite now around climate change, they don’t think it’s funny anymore. They take it very seriously. We would have some very big carbon emitters in our client base and they treat this transition very seriously. A lot of that is because they have kids and they’re part of the modern world. It’s changed massively in the last three or four years. I always use the example: if you’re in the pub now in 2023 and you say “sure climate change is a load of nonsense” then 95% of the pub will think you’re an idiot. Whereas if that was even 3 or 4 years ago you would have an audience.

You mentioned you have big carbon emitters. The buzz word of the moment is “green-washing.” How do you think a company like yourselves can enact proper change? 

Somebody who’s into green-washing wouldn’t really hire us because the first thing we do is plug into all their equipment, every single aspect of their carbon emissions, and our next thing is we create what’s called a “glide path to net-zero”. We take all that factual data and show them how to get to net-zero and then they sign up on our plan. If you were a green-washer you would hate that because you can’t hide from the numbers. We tend to only attract the companies that have a target and they have to go for it. That’s backed by Science-Based Targets. These guys have to sign up for Science-Based Targets, they’re the type that have to be audited. You just can’t green-wash them anymore. You can tell the companies that are only into spoofing it. They’re less and less because of Science-Based Targets. There’s been a lot of scandals this year. The investment banks, some of them can be spoofers. A lot of them last year, they got arrested. 

You have said before that you believe climate change will be largely solved by 2030, is that something you still believe? 

Yeah. My view is if the technical solution exists and the money is there to sort it, and it’s just a matter of time, then it’s sorted. Then you just wait around and it will get done. I do believe still that that’s the case. The ones we see now as pretty much done and there’s a trajectory that’s going exactly right is energy. Energy affects everything. It affects transport, factories, buildings, you name it. The one that probably isn’t sorted is biodiversity and meat. They’re linked together, if you knock half the rainforest to grow soil to feed cattle, then that’s a mess. That’s the one. Technologically we can get off meat but if we can get off meat then the biodiversity one will sort itself out and then we’ll be on the home straight at that point. 

What developments are we seeing that can facilitate climate change being solved by 2030? 

The one that affects our business directly is data. The cost of finding out what’s happening in a factory or building or a car has dropped dramatically with the price of electronics and the price of data comms and the price of storing data. That means we can give massive visibility to a client on where they’re going, what they need to fix and if they’re making progress. That’s our big win. We always say fix energy, fix transport, fix meat and you solve climate change. That’s not just us, that’s what the data says. 

In those areas: 

  • Energy is solar, wind, and battery which is like taking over the international energy agency, helping them revise their figures, that forecast certainly implies that this is going to be sorted. 
  • If you take transport and the arrival of electric cars, again have beaten every forecast in every country in terms of adoption.
  • Meat is kind of the last one really. That’s the one that’s technologically further behind. We believe that the thing that will sort meat is cellular agriculture which is the ability to grow meat in a bucket. That technology is coming up fast, it’s absorbing massive investment and once that gets cracked which is about 2025 then that’ll be the last one that needs to get done.

Irish people have a certain type of relationship with meat. What do you think can be done to change Irish culture and mindset when it comes to meat and agriculture? 

There’s a couple of things happening. The government used a rhetoric like “protect family farms” but the family farm has been decimated over the last 15 years. I’m from a family farm. That’s total rubbish. We call them out on protecting the family farm, because if you were protecting the family farm, you would have done a better job at it. The thing that changes everything is technology like everything else in life. If you think about cellular agriculture, for example, if I can produce mince meat that’s 90% cheaper than current mince, is way cleaner and uses 95% less carbon, then I win. People have been going on about electric cars for years. I saw in the UK the other day that 36% of all new cars are electric, Ireland will be probably better than that I think. So people will just vote with their feet. What we think they’re going to do and what they’re actually going to do are two different things. Government are just going to have to react to that in the same way technology blows through so many other things.

What are your plans for the future with CoolPlanet?

Our target for 2030 is to take out the entire carbon emissions of Ireland from our client base. And to use that as an example for other people so people will be inspired by that. Saying “my God, if this company in Ireland can wipe out the entire carbon emissions of a country then what can we do?” It’s a two-fold thing. It’s achieving that which will be great for our clients and obviously for us. Then it’s also using that as an inspiration to get other people to do more. 

The ESG Awards 2023 are now open for entries

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