Q+A with the husband and wife team behind Giki Zero

Jo (L) and James Hand

Here at Business Leader, we recently spoke to Jo and James Hand, Co-founders of Giki Zero, the carbon footprint calculator, about their inspiration for the business and the pros and cons of running a business with your partner.

What is your background and when did you first take a vested interest in living in a more sustainable way?

James: I worked in finance for 20 years as Co-CIO at Ninety One and Jo was on the executive team at Carbon Disclosure Project, the climate change charity. Our interest, and concern, about the climate crisis started when we first met and then from 2011 we decided to start measuring our own carbon footprint. From here our interest grew and grew as we saw the complexity of making the right decisions and the challenges of picking the changes that really matter. That’s why we launched Giki – to help people as we believe that with the right information people are ready, and willing, to make more sustainable choices.

Now every week seems to bring more reasons to live sustainably as the impact of climate change is felt by so many people around the world.

How valuable were your experiences working on the board of the Carbon Disclosure Project and on the ESG team at Investec Asset Management respectively for informing the creation of Giki Zero?

Jo: I don’t think I’d have started Giki unless I had the experience I gained at CDP. From meeting hundreds of people who were passionate about reducing emissions, to gaining insight into how companies in the vanguard were changing their businesses CDP provided an amazing perspective about all things sustainable. It also showed me what parts of running a team I was good at, and which I was not, which is an invaluable lesson!

James: Working for 20 years before starting Giki was invaluable as it gave me a range of skills that are crucial for any founder. This included researching hundreds of business model types around the world as a fund manager, managing a team and budgets, gaining an understanding about the importance of process and governance and, in my case, learning about the climate crisis when I helped establish Ninety One’s ESG team. However, for all that experience nothing really prepares you for a start up! It’s all-encompassing, requires an even wider set of skills and, above all else, a certainty about your goal even as people queue up to tell you why it will not work.

Was launching the company during the first national lockdown a hindrance or beneficial, or both?

Both: The benefits were that the team could focus just on launching the product and it was much easier, and faster, getting meetings with companies who were interested in Giki Zero Pro as people opened up their diaries for video calls in a way they’d never manage to when working in the office.

We also hired during the lockdown and overnight it shifted us from thinking that we needed to have some sort of London base to being properly remote with colleagues all over the country which has allowed us to build a much better team. The big con was the uncertainty that lockdown brought and the fact that, quite rightly, companies and individuals were more focused on COVID than they were in trying an innovative new product.

What are the pros and cons of running a business with your partner?

Jo: It’s been almost all positive because we have almost no overlapping skills so we cannot tell each other what to do!

James loves the data science and tech and I love meeting people and running workshops, kick off sessions and coming up with ideas to get more and more people involved. However, at the start, we realised that it’s really important to have some very clear boundaries between work and family life. For example, we designate certain parts of the house as “no work talk zones” and, once the working day is finished, we always check before asking a work question to make sure it’s the right time. We try hard to not to talk too much about Giki when we’re with our children. Although they’re also passionate about the environment so they don’t mind too much!

What are your biggest success stories so far for Giki Zero?

James: Giki Zero’s only been out for a year, but we’ve got everyone from small community groups to global companies using it and, more importantly, seeing the results in terms of people learning about their carbon footprints and taking steps to reduce it. It still shocks many people that we need to have 2.5-tonne carbon footprints by 2030 (the UK average is around 9). This can sound like a daunting target to hit but it motivates us to keep going.

Do you believe that Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan goes far enough in addressing the climate crisis? Do you think more needs to be done?

Jo: We need to cut emissions by 50% this decade, across the world, and the only way to do that is for people to start doing things very differently. The 10-point plan contains some very important initiatives but does not cover the size, and speed with which we need to change. As an example, the 10-point plan does not mention diet and food waste even though it accounts for 25% of most carbon footprints.

James: It also fails to help individuals know what to do right now. We need a plan for individuals that helps them with all these decisions and that’s why we’ve built Giki Zero. The 10-point plan needs to cover policy, companies and people as we all need to do everything we can as quickly as possible. 10-point plans and other global events such as COP26 can also be hard to relate to. That’s why we’re excited to roll out our guide to COP26 which explains how people can start supporting the aims of the crucial talks in their daily lives.

What are your future plans for Giki Zero?

James: Around 10% of the world’s population accounts for the majority of all carbon emissions. If we can help as many of these people as possible to cut their personal carbon footprints, then we can have a really significant impact in cutting carbon across the globe. To do this we want to launch Giki in more countries. We cover ten at the moment, with a global option for everyone else, but we want to provide detailed carbon information to more and more people. We’ll also be working on providing more content to help people in every way we can when they’re taking carbon cutting steps.

Jo: We also want to work with more businesses to show them how to keep their impact on the planet as low as possible, or even positive. We’re developing and testing a lot of measures internally to cut Giki’s footprint and recommend to other businesses. For example, we currently have a no-fly policy and paid time off for green admin (for example switching to a renewable energy provider and green bank account), climate activism and extra days holiday if our colleagues need to take the train rather than the plane when they go away. We hope to come up with lots more ideas like this and share it with the business community.

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