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“Europe and the UK are leading the world in the fight against climate change”: Interview with Ellen Moeller from Watershed

Climate tech is one of the fastest-growing verticals in innovation at the moment. With governments, organisations and businesses all trying to catch up with ambitious carbon plans, tech innovation is proving pivotal in helping Europe reach Net-Zero. 

It’s been reported that globally more than $40 billion went to climate tech startups in 2021, however, the reality is many solutions are tokenistic with no real tech. Aiming to change this is fast-growing startup Watershed.  

Doubling down on how businesses manage, report, and reduce carbon emissions, the climate tech startup has set up European headquarters in London. The company, founded in 2019, empowers companies on the road to Net-Zero across the entire process – from the hardware they buy to how they build their HQs. It’s all part of the vision to help businesses build an actionable plan to become carbon neutral. Watershed’s clients include the biggest EU players in BNPL and streaming, and they’re partnering with critical EU thought leaders like Mark Carney and Christiana Figueres. 

We chatted with Ellen Moeller to find out more. She shared with us how fintech’s, in particular, can benefit from creating climate plans and why Europe is leading the way in global climate innovation. 

Can you tell us about Watershed? What is the company’s vision?

Watershed is the all-in-one climate platform that gives companies the tools and expertise they need to measure, reduce, remove, and report their carbon emissions—getting them to net zero faster. We have an ambitious mission: to remove 500+ megatonnes of CO2 from the world’s atmosphere annually—and companies that work with us play an important role in moving us closer to that goal.

Whether doing their first emissions footprint, shopping for clean power or carbon credits, figuring out how to decarbonize their supply chain, or navigating the alphabet soup of climate disclosure programs, Watershed gives companies a complete climate program in one easy-to-use platform.

Watershed just opened up co-HQs in London – what is the benefit of this?

Europe and the UK are leading the world in the fight against climate change, setting ambitious targets and legislation across multiple policy areas, and binding emissions targets for key sectors of the economy. Many of our largest customers are based in the region, including Klarna, Spotify and Revolut (to name a few). We’re deeply familiar with the unique challenges and opportunities companies face in Europe, and we feel strongly that our enterprise climate platform meets a critical need—but we’ll never be successful if we take a one-size-fits-all approach. I joined Watershed as the Head of Europe after spending six years leading EMEA Partnerships and Operations at Stripe, and am actively growing our presence in the region.

Watershed is helping companies get to net-zero – can you tell us how the company goes about this?

Watershed helps companies accurately measure their carbon footprint, then design and implement climate programs to help get them to net zero emissions, with a strategic plan built for their business that includes concrete emissions reduction targets. Our software platform is built by a world-class team of engineers, climate experts, and data scientists who previously helped develop data-driven products and climate programs at companies like Airbnb, Apple, Stripe, and Meta.

One of the big differences between Watershed and our competitors is that we measure your carbon footprint based on actual business data, rather than generic estimates. We do this by integrating with your existing technology systems, like ERP and CRM, to ingest unstructured data from millions of lines of invoices, spreadsheets, and documents. From there, each business can analyse its emissions and, in partnership with our expert climate advisors, design actionable strategies to reduce and remove emissions. Our customers also get exclusive access to a marketplace of high-quality, pre-vetted carbon removal partners who are actively developing technologies to permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere right now. Finally, we enable one-click reporting so companies can easily share progress with employees, investors, and regulators, instantly.

Why are fintechs emitting so much carbon? Surely they can easily be carbon-neutral?

The fascinating thing about emissions is that a vast majority of them come from a company’s indirect activities, rather than direct actions. These are known as Scope 3 emissions, and they’re the furthest removed from a company’s day-to-day actions (known as Scope 1 emissions), which also makes them hardest to control. So while fintechs and other technology or services companies may seem like they wouldn’t have significant carbon emissions because they don’t produce smartphones or mill wood into paper, a huge share of modern emissions are deeper in a company’s infrastructure or supply chain—like the servers and software that power a technology company, which can be very power-intensive. Among forward-thinking customers who want to address the full scope of their emissions, Watershed helps give them visibility into every scope of emissions so they can take meaningful action.

What exactly is a ‘climate program’?

A climate program is a company’s plan for reaching its sustainability target, such as net-zero emissions. A good climate program includes emissions from Scope 1-3 (as outlined above), and will be based on real-time data and analytics to put actionable goals in place. Climate programs should ultimately be integrated into every business decision, from which energy provider to use,  to employee travel policies and investing in permanent carbon removal.

What about funding in the climate space – how do you see it right now? Is there a lot of greenwashing, tick-boxing – or can we genuinely be optimistic about the space?

Both are true. While greenwashing certainly exists, there’s also plenty of cause to be optimistic. When we talk to customers, we find that they truly value the science-based, data-driven approach we take to measuring their emissions and helping them develop reduction plans. We’re seeing customers become a lot more sophisticated and discerning, very quickly.

How is Europe driving positive carbon reduction strategies? Do you think the majority of the initiative is coming from startups/entrepreneurs or the government?

Europe is leading the world when it comes to setting climate regulations, such as SFDR and the upcoming CSRD, which will affect an estimated 50,000 businesses in the EU. But I also believe that it cannot solely be a top-down approach—and our customers know that, too. Businesses have a real opportunity to make a positive impact by engaging their supply chain partners, employees, and competitors to drive bottom-up results, and in many cases, the private sector is leading the market

How can European companies embed more climate-positive strategies?

While there is no universal quick-fix plan for all companies, there are a few key tenets of climate-positive strategies that each business should consider. First and foremost is the switch to clean energy. Second comes more intense scrutiny of internal operations, from travel policies to cloud computing to supply chain partners. This is where a lot of work can be done, but also where each business will differ.  And third is a real investment in permanent carbon removal, without which we won’t achieve global net-zero goals. In sum, this means that carbon must be front and center of every business decision a company makes.

What are the biggest trends in the carbon-reduction movement?

There are a few interesting things happening right now. 1. Tech is being applied to more mature carbon removal methodologies, like reforestation. One example is our partner Living Carbon who is improving the carbon sequestration and durability of trees. 2. A more critical eye is being held toward ensuring carbon credits actually make an impact; we’re seeing new ratings companies come into the market to help with this, like Bezero. 3. High-caliber talent from across industries are entering the carbon removal market and bringing new entrepreneurial approaches, for example, Peter Reinhardt, the former CEO of Segment, who founded Charm.

How can we continue innovating and growing greentech initiatives?

It’s important that we see continued investment in critical climate technologies, such as permanent carbon removal, to help scale them over time and build a necessary market for their success. Early and sustained investment in these innovative sustainability technologies is a key lever to ensure they can be part of the solution to climate change. It’s one of the reasons we built a dedicated carbon removal marketplace into the Watershed platform—we want to give these really exciting, budding technologies a more powerful outlet for investment and awareness.

What do you think is next in this space?

Climate is increasingly top of mind for both investors and employees. We expect to see a tremendous amount of innovation in the climate space, and a large wave of funding to support it. Furthermore, we expect more and more individuals to transition their careers into the climate space as the impacts of climate change increasingly hit home. (p.s. Watershed is hiring quickly!) I’ll reiterate that even though the climate news we hear is dire, there’s a ton of opportunity and reason for hope, and we’re really excited to be a part of the solution.

Patricia Allen
Patricia Allen
is the Head of Content at EU-Startups. With a background in politics, Patricia has a real passion for how shared ideas across communities and cultures can bring new initiatives and innovations for the future. She spends her time bringing you the latest news and updates of startups across Europe, and curating our social media.
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