What started as a lockdown project by two Cambridge alumni has grown into an award-winning business called 'My Emissions', which has since expanded far more than either of them could have expected.
Throughout the past two years one thing has remained constant. At all points both of us have loved what we’re doing, and feel incredibly empowered by the work we’re doing. We hope that we are making a genuine difference towards climate change and our labels will help people and businesses make more sustainable choices, and that reading our story will inspire you to do just that.Nathan Bottomley and Matthew Isaacs
My Emissions now works with almost 50 food companies to calculate, reduce and carbon label their food, has completed two investment rounds, been featured in the FoodTech 500 and Sifted’s Start-Ups to Watch, and in 2022 won a Young Innovator’s Award from Innovate UK, the government’s national innovation agency. Nathan Bottomley and Matthew Isaacs take us on their journey of discovery.
"In October 2015, we both moved into 'A' Corridor to start our studies at Girton; Matt studied Law and Nathan, Engineering. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cambridge, and graduated with excitement about what was to come next. At the start of the 2020 lockdown, we decided to research how we could reduce our own carbon footprint. Very quickly we realised that food is one of the largest sources of global greenhouse gas emissions (at least 25%), and offers one of the best and easiest ways to reduce our impact on the planet. Our initial research showed us that data on individual foods existed, but that it wasn’t being made accessible to consumers.
"With little else to do and only so many ‘virtual pubs’ you could attend before things got a little stale, we set to work researching the carbon footprint of different foods and building a comprehensive food emissions calculator. During and after our time at Girton, we had both gained some experience working in start-ups. It therefore felt natural for us to start a project together, and quickly our work on My Emissions filled our time.
"For the first six months, we focused on breaking problems down into simple projects and decided what to do based on what we’d learn from and enjoy the most. Our first project was chosen based on what we wanted to see: a simple food emissions calculator, that broke down the emissions by food item, as opposed to the ‘overall diet’ emissions calculators that were already available. Matt focused on finding existing ‘life cycle assessments’ for our database, whilst Nathan focused on developing our website and calculator.
"We finished this project in three months, and published our calculator for the world to see. It was a great moment as our friends, families and other visitors started using it to learn about their food. The calculator remains live on our website, and has now received more than 120,000 uses over the past 18 months. Crucially, it showed us there was an interest in food emissions, and provided the foundation for the model we use today to offer carbon assessments in a more scalable way.
"My Emissions helps companies understand, reduce and carbon-label their food. We believe clear climate data is the best way to inspire sustainable choices and reduce our impact from food. 67% of consumers are more likely to purchase from brands reducing their carbon footprint. My Emissions follows a data-driven life cycle assessment approach to efficiently calculate the carbon footprint of a product or meal. We collect information about each food product and meal, and rely on a mix of primary data from clients and secondary data from research to complete our calculations. All of our secondary data comes from ‘life cycle assessments’ published in peer-reviewed journals, and we are constantly adding new values as more research is completed. Every carbon label from My Emissions uses the same system boundary, which covers emissions from farming, up to when the food reaches a store, restaurant, or home. This system boundary covers the majority of a food’s emissions, allowing you to make an informed choice, and is standardised so different labels can be compared. My Emissions also offers full cradle-to- grave analysis, which covers the entire lifecycle of each product/meal. My Emissions recommends this analysis if you want a full picture of a product’s impact and/or want to go carbon neutral.
"The My Emissions carbon label rates a product or meal from A (Very Low) to E (Very High), based on the ‘per kg’ carbon footprint of the food. The thresholds are based on a statistical analysis of all the 3000+ foods in the My Emissions database and were audited by external consultants W2R Solutions. We believe the thresholds for a carbon label should be set by the Government (just like nutritional thresholds), and are actively engaging with regulators about this.
"As is the case for many businesses, we worked incredibly hard for our first client, but once they were on board, we hit a tipping point that helped us quickly pick up new clients and grow organically. Procuring clients has provided us with both the biggest highs and biggest lows. One client meeting particularly stands out: we were talking with our largest prospective client to date and they suggested if we submitted a proposal for them with certain conditions it was a done deal. We both proceeded to dance around the room, and pulled some all-nighters the following week to meet the deadline they set us. After submitting, we didn’t hear from them for three months, and it turns out they dropped the project.
"This was a humbling experience. When two months later a much larger company contacted us, we remained cool (no premature dancing) and waited until after they had signed to celebrate. It is also nice to be working with a company that your grandma has heard of so she finally understands what your job is.
"As we gained more traction, we quickly realised the scale of the challenge in front of us, and knew that we couldn’t tackle it on our own. With the help of some friends, The Prince’s Trust and an Accelerator run by NatWest Bank, we developed a business plan and started to think about external investment. The turning point for us was a hectic ‘sprint week’ in early 2021. We’d been introduced to an ‘angel investor’ with lots of experience investing in early- stage companies, with whom we had weekly calls. After a while, he turned around and gave us a daunting ultimatum: ‘I’ll give you one week to get together a pitch, and if it’s good I’ll be your first investor.’
"We spent the entire week developing plans, designing a presentation, and preparing for the call. Our pitch was focused on the size of opportunity, our initial traction, and why we, as two data-orientated graduates, were in the best position to make the most of it. He grilled us for 30 minutes, giving us flashbacks to supervisions, but eventually he told us he was ‘in’: we had our first investor.
"The next four months were occupied with emailing, pitching, and finding our remaining investors. A larger funding round was subsequently completed in May 2022, with a much better pitch and significantly more traction to show. The funding rounds gave us the opportunity to work full-time on developing My Emissions, but importantly we also gained a group of people who buy into our mission and have supported and advised along the way.
"From two people working out of our bedrooms during the pandemic, we’re now a full-time team of nine people committed to helping others make more sustainable food choices. Our current focus remains building a sustainable business that will survive in the long term. We’re gearing up to launch with our largest client so far and have plans to raise more funding, grow the team, and start working with more regions and sectors.
"Throughout the past two years one thing has remained constant. At all points both of us have loved what we’re doing, and feel incredibly empowered by the work we’re doing. We hope that we are making a genuine difference towards climate change and our labels will help people and businesses make more sustainable choices, and that reading our story will inspire you to do just that."