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Hello, Sarah and Connor here!

Welcome back to Sustain, Sifted's newsletter covering the intersection between startups and sustainability. Please drop us any feedback on this issue, and forward on to your friends so they can sign up too!

What're we talking about today?
  • The startups dominating the climate tech scene
  • What's next for Bulb, Europe’s fastest growing startup
  • How to become a B Corp

\Top Five News Stories

💨 Climeworks’ new joint venture. The Swiss carbon capture startup is working with the Norwegian government and Northern Lights (more on them in the Green Glossary, below), to explore the potential of capturing CO2 on a commercial scale.

Get your ESG on. Plan A, a SaaS startup which helps companies improve their ESG (environment, social, governance) ratings, has raised $3m from top-tier investors including SoftBank and Demeter.

🌽 Knowledge is power. Octopus Ventures has led an $11m Series A round for Wefarm, a UK-based knowledge-sharing platform for small-scale farmers. The idea is that farmers can help to better the global supply chain by solving problems, sharing advice and accessing a marketplace of retailers.

🐕 Insect food for dogs. Swedish insect-based pet food startup Funcifur has raised an $880k seed round. The startup says it's reducing emissions by over 90% by swapping beef for insects.

🍕 More food funding. Capsa Vida, the food investment vehicle of dairy company Capsa Food, and equity crowdfunding platform La Bolsa Social have launched a food-focused impact fund. Companies need to hit certain criteria if they want to cash in, though.


What’s next for Bulb, Europe’s fastest growing startup?

Green energy startup Bulb has been busy.

On March 2, it was officially crowned Europe’s fastest growing startup, having topped the FT 1000 list, zooming ahead of Spanish recruiting startup jobsandtalent (which announced a €100m raise yesterday) and Estonian ride-sharing startup Bolt.  

The FT’s annual list found that Bulb's revenues had risen at a compound annual growth rate of 1,159% between 2016 and 2019, while headcount was up from 55 to 575 over the same period.

Its most recent accounts, filed today on Companies House and covering the year to 31 March 2020, also show that losses have halved to £63m (down from £129m a year ago), while revenues are up 85% year-on-year to £1.5bn.

So what's next on the agenda for Bulb?

  • Bulb's big plan is to help users control their own energy consumption and make it easier for them to do things like store their own solar energy and charge up electric vehicles more cheaply. It's currently trialling two new products in this area.
  • It's got some growing pains to overcome, and a C-Suite shake-up indicates that it's working on just that. In the past eight months, it has hired a new CTO, CFO and chief growth and marketing officer. These appointments preceded one big departure: the company's cofounder, Amit Gudka, who is leaving to start a battery storage business. 
  • As Bulb and the green energy sector as a whole gets bigger, the challenge of making sure supply can meet demand will become trickier. The problems this can cause are already being felt following snowstorms in Texas, where Bulb launched in September 2020.
Read our interview with Bulb cofounder Hayden Wood.

\A message from our sponsor Tech Nation Net Zero

Here's why investors are 'banking' on the UK's climate tech

UK climate tech is ramping up — but what challenges are sustainability scaleups still facing? What funding opportunities remain untapped? Tech Nation’s ‘Banking On Net Zero’ event will cover all this and more on March 24.

Find out why investment is heating up in the sector cooling the Earth down.

\Chart of the Week

Which climate techs raised the most in 2020?

A new dataset of over 800 climate tech companies — created by VCs Speedinvest and Creandum — shows some interesting stats on Europe’s climate tech space. The top 10 most-funded European startups have collectively accumulated a whopping $5.1bn.

$1.8bn of that comes from Northvolt, a Swedish sustainable battery manufacturer, which is no surprise after its $600m megaround in 2020 (the second biggest round on the continent last year).

Find out more about Europe’s climate tech startups — where they are and what they do — here.


Got a burning opinion on sustainability in tech?

Perhaps you have a controversial view on impact investing, or you want to vent some frustrations about the way your industry is tackling (or, um, says it’s tackling) its environmental issues.

Maybe you read something in this newsletter that you'd like to share your two cents on? And if you have something really spicy you want to share, you could send us an anonymous submission.

Sound good? See our handy op-ed guide and send us over a pitch.

\Reads and resources

👀 Compete for being green. Not one, but two competitions from the UK government. First up, £20m is being offered for electric vehicle projects. Also, it's giving up to £68m to companies creating energy storage solutions.

💵 Where does Bill Gates go to buy captured carbon? He’s come to Europe to offer his loyal custom to Climeworks and Icelandic startup Carbfix, according to this Bloomberg piece. See here for more on how Europe’s startups are capturing carbon.

🇵🇱 Polish citizens are transforming Europe’s biggest coal region. This good read from Forbes dives inside the southern Polish city of Rybnik, and how its local authorities and citizens are planning to tackle its mass coal production problem with a post-carbon plan.

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\How to...

Become a B Corp

Becoming a B Corp isn't easy — or cheap.

At software development company Netguru, sustainability lead Karolina Długosz says she spent roughly two days a week over a period of six months working on getting the company certified. B Corp’s fee, which is based on a company’s revenue, came in at €10k. 

Here, she runs us through the process.

One: gather the troops. One of Długosz’s first tasks on joining Netguru was to secure its B Corp certification. “I was the annoying person asking annoying questions to every possible department,” she says. “The core team that I was collecting answers from was [around] 10 people.” Input was required from payroll, finance, HR, operations and the board, and Długosz points out that if you make physical products, you may also need to collect insights from those in your supply chain.

Two: take the test — twice. The impact assessment, which consists of over 200 questions covering governance structures, environmental impact and treatment of staff, is a good way to benchmark a business and see what improvements need to be made. “After going through the assessment by yourself, your score might be 60 or 70. You need a minimum of 80 points to get the certification,” Długosz says. And getting those last 10 points might not be easy. Netguru, for example, hoped adding employee perks would give it a big boost – but it didn’t even give it a full point. “[The assessment] really focuses on the company’s key strategic commitments and areas of impact.”

Three: get approved. “Then you send all your answers to B Lab [the organisation that provides B Corp certification], and they choose which questions they want to audit,” Długosz explains. The audit process involves sending documentation to back up any claims, followed by a two-hour call to pore over the information. “They are willing to guide you though it,” Długosz says. “The call with the auditor was in December 2019, and after that they asked us to send more documentation. We got confirmation that we had enough points in February.” With 82 points, Netguru had become a B Corp.

Four: set KPIs for improvement. B Corps are reassessed every three years, and their score needs to improve each time. Długosz says Netguru is currently in the process of measuring its carbon footprint and conducting employee surveys to figure out how it can improve on diversity and inclusion metrics.

\The Green Glossary

The Longship project


A boat building contest? Nope. Longship (or Langskip in Norwegian) is a carbon capture project run by Norway’s government. It launched in September 2020, and the aim is to have a full-scale carbon capture and storage infrastructure network up and running in Norway by 2024.

That’s ambitious. And expensive. The Norwegian government has invested $1.8bn, and the cost of the project is currently estimated at $2.7bn.

Who else is involved? Northern Lights — a joint venture between energy companies Equinor, Shell and Total — is providing processing, transportation and under-sea storage services for carbon dioxide that’s been captured. This week, Swiss startup Climeworks announced it had signed up to help actually capture the carbon.

Sounds like they’re sorted. There are some key challenges that still need to be overcome. Carbon prices need to become standardised to make the fuel this project will create commercially viable. It’s reckoned operating costs will rack up to $864bn over 10 years, so customers beyond Norway will need to bite too.

Where can I read more? Northern Lights has more information on the project on its website.

Seen a sustainability term that's totally confused you — or want to have a go at explaining some often-misused jargon yourself? Let Sarah know.
Sarah Drumm
Sustainability Reporter

Get in touch with her at
She tweets at @sarah_drumm
Connor Bilboe
Editorial Assistant

Get in touch with him at
He tweets from @connorbilboe
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