"I witness our impact on companies on a day-to-day basis"

Creating a sustainability report comes with its own set of challenges - the biggest of which is often CO2 emissions. Why? Because before being reported, they need to be calculated. But Cozero, a Berlin-based start-up, has created a digital platform that helps companies overcome this difficulty and supports them with their decarbonisation plan. Helen Tacke, the founder of Cozero, explains how.

Klaus Rathje, guest author
9 minutes
Helen Tacke
© Cozero/Helen Tacke

Helen, you've seen your fair share of sustainability reporting. The quality seems to vary greatly from one company to the next. Why is that?

Some companies have structured and transparent reporting practices, but the majority still struggle with that. Many companies find it difficult to find the proper data management system, and to ensure the completeness and accuracy of their emissions data. And all three of these factors impact the quality of sustainability reporting. Some companies totally ignore the entire Scope 3 segment, which, for example, includes emissions generated through purchased goods or transport. The supply or value chain can account for 90 to 95 per cent of total CO2 emissions, so if companies don’t accurately identify these emissions, their sustainability reports ultimately end up omitting some very important information.

What advice do you have for companies that want to improve their sustainability reports?

Ideally, sustainability reports should contain more information on methodologies and limitations. In other words, they should be more clear about how the figures were calculated. Generally speaking the quality of sustainability reports isn’t yet very high, so companies should provide clear information on how they are addressing any shortcomings and explain any concrete measures they have introduced to address those. Our clients have found this approach effective. One of the keys to a good sustainability report is ensuring the company has a sufficient range of data and that that data is high quality. We therefore recommend that our clients first create a good basis of information and analyse their historic emissions data for one or two years to determine where they stand. Armed with that information, they are then able to set significantly better targets and introduce decarbonisation measures. Often, companies are too quick to announce that their climate management measures have been successful or that they are climate neutral, and as a result, they later have to walk back those statements because they were based on shaky information.

SChild CO2-neutral
© Shutterstock/Molenira

Is that why you decided to help companies calculate their key sustainability figures? 

Exactly. We take a data-driven approach to climate reporting and climate controlling. The approach is divided into three steps: log, act and share. “Log” is about creating transparency, so identifying and understanding the different sources of CO2 emissions and classifying them correctly. This first step can also be used to create reports for individual locations or products, for example. The second step, “act”, is about determining the company’s decarbonisation plan based on how it expects its emissions to develop over the next three or five years. If you think about it, companies already apply that strategy in a financial context. So we want to bring that same approach to climate-related matters. For example, we want to address questions such as: What kind of targets should we set for our company and what measures should I introduce to reduce emissions? Or: how much will the measures cost and how much budget do we need to implement them? “Share” is the last step, and is about sharing appropriate information with customers, the public and internally.

You have a finance background and used to work for a venture capital fund. 

Yes, I used to invest in companies, so I’m used to looking at businesses through a financial lens. During that time, I saw sustainability criteria become increasingly relevant, and that was the reason for founding Cozero. I wanted to turn sustainability into an important key figure for companies, which is something that many countries have actually introduced into their legislation. We’ve firmly embedded this approach into our platform by coupling climate controlling with financial controlling. This gives companies the ability to manage sustainability using emissions-related figures and parameters as they relate to traditional key financial indicators. By doing that, we establish a relationship between the company’s sustainability and its economic performance. But in order for companies to be able to use this information with the greatest possible effect, everything needs to be digitalised. When it comes to sustainability, many things are still done manually. But if things are done manually, it’s simply not possible to make better, data-driven decisions.

Sustainability calculations
© iStockphoto/Ralf Hahn

And your platform provides that data set?

Yes, data collection is key to what we do at Cozero. The data come from other systems that our customers use. When we do the first CO2 calculation, we do it in real time using activity data such as energy consumed, business trips and materials acquired for manufacturing. Our system converts these data into CO2 equivalents in real time.

But companies don't always have all the data they need for their sustainability reports, is that correct? 

Yes, companies are often missing some data when they start reporting. For example, a certain department might have a data point that isn’t digitised because the invoice in question is only available in paper form. That means, of course, that the people who have this information need to be involved in the process. By using our platform, companies can upload these individual data points, making it possible to retrieve data in a way that is decentralised. It’s also important to note that in many cases, a large number of data points are held by suppliers and not by the company itself. When I buy a product or a logistics service, it goes into my own emissions backpack. But I need information on it, there has to be an exchange of data, and that’s where our digital request form for suppliers comes in. It connects companies’ balance sheets.

Graffitti - Welt
© GettyImages/David Malan

What made you want to become an entrepreneur?

I’ve had positive experiences with entrepreneurship at different points in my life. I once worked for a start-up called Coffee Circle. They donate money for every kilo of coffee they sell. That was a great experience because it showed me what you can achieve if you have a specific goal in mind. Coffee Circle’s goal is to give back, so the company supports social causes. With Cozero, on the other hand, we knew that companies can make a big contribution to stopping climate change if they reduce their CO2 emissions. So my vision and that of my co-founders is to create a world dominated by green products and services. That should become the new norm for businesses. But getting there requires companies to undergo a real transformation. They need to move away from manual, strenuous, unstructured data collection and processes and become fully digital organisations. Seeing the impact this can have on a day-to-day basis is amazing and is something that really motivates me.

Containerschiff unter Brücke mit LKW
© iStockphoto/shaunl

How do you help companies decarbonise?

It’s important that they set the right goals and identify the right measures for achieving them. They also need to focus on evaluating those measures. Many companies shy away from that because they’re unable to do a detailed assessment of which measures will be helpful and how much they will cost. We’ve developed a methodology for this that we call ROCI, which stands for Return on Climate Investment. It determines how much of a CO2 reduction a company will achieve per euro it invests in a measure. And we help companies optimise that. It’s important to also analyse and implement decarbonisation through a business lens.

Has your professional focus on reducing CO2 emissions had any impact on your behaviour outside the office?

Yes, our team often talks about how we’re changing our lifestyles. And that’s led to me introduce a lot of new routines into my life.

What kind of new routines? And what's your favourite way of reducing CO2 emissions?

For me, it’s packaging! I only take short lunch breaks and often order food from a local delivery service. They have boxes that can be returned and reused. In Berlin, I like to travel by bike or use public transport. It’s often just as quick as driving. None of these examples are out of the ordinary. It goes without saying that we also use our plaftorm for Cozero. We log our CO2 emissions in a very granular way, which gives us a steady flow of insights into where we can improve. That information is very helpful.

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