A look behind Canva's 2020 sustainability goal
Christopher Low

A look behind Canva's 2020 sustainability goal


When a company experiences strong business momentum, it’s not just about the impact we make on our business metrics - it’s also about the impact we’re having on the environment we work in. Huge growth leads to needing more resources, culminating in more waste. In this blog, head of Canva’s Vibe team, Christopher Low, shares his thoughts on why paying attention to the impact we’re making on our environment is just as important as growing our business - and the steps we’re taking towards a zero carbon footprint.

Canva has grown incredibly fast as a company, and had a positive impact on the lives of many people in the process. We’ve heard stories of people achieving their goals - whether it’s to fundraise, win new business, create invitations for a first birthday party, up to creating posters for a lost pet.

As we’ve scaled to more than 350 people in the past 5 years, we’ve always made a conscious effort to stay true to one of our values, which is to “Be a Force for Good”. For us, this value is about making the world a better place, through positive actions, inclusion and diversity. It’s about being mindful of each others needs by embracing a meaningful kindness that reaches beyond our product.

Canva’s 2020 sustainability goal

At Canva, we choose to work sustainably by making a concerted effort to change behaviours, both big and small, so that we put the right blueprints in place to care for our environment whilst enhancing our workplace.

This is our 2020 sustainability goal - to be environmentally sustainable while maintaining business as usual functions across all our Canva offices. It is our goal to have a zero carbon footprint. Yes, it’s a big audacious goal, but by introducing small initiatives in the office so that everyone can participate, we believe the goal is not that far away.

After all, it always starts with that one baby step to reach the top of the mountain.

In this blog, I’ll outline the initiatives we’ve introduced to help us minimize our office’s impact to the environment, and how we’re tracking against these metrics. But firstly, I’d like to introduce the concept of team buy-in before anything else. Without this, we will not have the same impact with any of our sustainability efforts. We need to have everyone on board.

Our journey so far

As with other working groups at Canva, the Vibe team (which is primarily responsible for ensuring everything in the office is running smoothly - from serving lunch to managing office equipment) has a goal every season that we aim to achieve.

For example, one of the goals we set out for ourselves was to ensure we have a more sustainable waste management system, especially as we continue to grow our headcount which inevitably means more waste. It’s not unusual for an office space of 300+ to expect 5 tonnes of waste a week. It quickly became apparent to us that judging by our growth rate, our impact to the environment would result in horrendous numbers in no time.

One of the many things we all agree on at Canva is that we all have a role to play in reducing our impact on the planet. Everyone is responsible for reducing our overall carbon footprint. This is why it’s important for us to involve the team in our decision-making process - for example, why we choose to have a bin for food scraps, and why we choose to ban plastic straws in the office. By explaining the reasons behind these decisions, our team are aware of our goals and are more likely to get on board with our initiatives. This can be seen in our combined efforts to think smartly about our:

  • Waste management
  • Energy consumption
  • Food services
  • Transportation requirements

I’ll go into more detail below.

Canva's office

A note on our office plan

We have designed the office to be completely open plan with glass meeting rooms against the back walls and workstations, which can be configured in any way. It’s a very industrial style office with large windows and concrete floors, where everyone has added their little flair to their own height adjustable desks. We have dedicated lounge spaces and kitchenettes on each floor. We encourage different working styles and creating spaces where people can collaborate.


Canva's office


How we’re introducing a more sustainable workplace


Canva's office

One of the goals we have is to be carbon neutral and fully sustainable by 2020. We haven’t got an answer for everything yet, but we’re hoping that some of the practices we’ve shared in the list below will help keep us on track, and also inspire everyone to think about how easy it is to initiate a more mindful workplace that is conducive to productivity, while being protective of our environment.

Waste management

According to World Bank researchers, the world generates at least 3.5 million tons of solid waste a day, 10 times the amount of a century ago - and if nothing is done about this issue, we can expect to see the number grow to 11 million tons by the end of the century. As Canva continues to grow, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re not contributing to landfill and thinking about strategic and innovative ways to help with waste reduction in an office environment.

  1. Recycling: It may sound like an obvious one, but finding a good bin solution for a growing company is no easy feat - in fact, at one point we had to build our own custom bins! Working with Method Recycling, we introduced a waste solution that complements our aesthetic, is clear to the team, looks neat and is scalable for our fast growing company. More importantly it helps us divert waste from landfill. Not only have the team found the bins easy and functional but the hospitality staff have also found the bins easy to clean, re-line and maintain. The clips between the bins also allow the bins to easily fit back into the same spot after being emptied.

Canva's office

  1. Bottle deposit scheme: On the 1st December 2017, the New South Wales government introduced a container deposit scheme. Return and Earn began rolling out across the state, making it super easy for everyone to reduce drink container litter. At Canva, we’re taking full advantage of this initiative, ensuring all our drink containers are dropped off at collection points, and then using the money we earn for charity. This year we chose to donate to the Rural Aid Limited, which supports farmers in rural Australia. When possible, we forgo bottled water altogether and opt for Zip taps on every floor to keep us hydrated.
  2. Composting: A huge part of our culture is to leave a place better than you found it. As such, we use a JJ Richards composting solution and are moving to a complete composting cycle ourselves, which will include all organic waste produced from our kitchens. With clear bin signage and plenty of options we can divide our waste appropriately making the process much more streamlined and efficient. Just something as simple as scraping our plates into a special bin can help reduce waste through composting! As a result we now organize approximately 3 bin pick ups every week, holding about 240 liters of organic waste each, that can be composted. As mentioned, we’re currently investigating having our own organic recycling compost units, which should turn all food waste and ‘brown’ waste into compost reduce food waste in 24 hours.


Our values in action: Be a force for good

One of our values at Canva is to be a ‘Force for good’, and everyone in the company is encouraged to find ways to make the world a better place. Tomas Brambora, an engineer at Canva has created a free app to help bring compost donors and composters together. ShareWaste connects people who would like to recycle their organic waste but lack access to necessary space and facilities with their neighbours who are composting, worm-farming or keeping chickens. Its mission is to encourage people to see their organic waste as new soil they could make, and fresh produce they could grow. For more information visit www.sharewaste.com

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ShareWaste founders Eliska and Tomas Brambora. Photo: Yasmin Mund


  1. E-waste: As a fast growing software as a service (SaaS) company, we’re fully conscious of how much e-waste gets created each month. That’s why we make an effort to repair laptops by using parts salvaged from multiple broken laptops, or repurpose them for non-engineering work.

    And it’s not just about laptops and whitegoods either. Something simple as a software CD or a DVD box set is redundant and contributes to unnecessary e-waste, especially when using cloud-based solutions or streaming content would provide just the same content, if not better. As e-waste can contain toxic materials, we have a dedicated e-waste collection point at Canva to ensure we’re keeping it out of landfill.

    In addition, we encourage everyone to think before they print, but at times when hard copies are required, we ensure all empty printer ink cartridges go to Planet Ark, a nonprofit that makes sure they get remanufactured and reused through their Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program. Not to mention only using 100% recycled paper.

  2. Lost property: Lost property is common in schools, gyms and restaurants - and offices are no exception. We keep lost property on premises for 3 months; if no one collects it, we clean and donate the items to St. Vincent de Paul Society, a charity that gives new life to good quality clothes, books, music and bric-a-brac.

    While we do as much as we can to recycle and reduce waste, it does come at a price and can be very energy-intensive. So as much as possible, all Canvanauts are encouraged to think twice before buying something new, or search for items on our #RentalsSwapSales Slack channel.

RentalsSwapSales Slack channel

One person’s trash is another’s treasure. A conversation in our #RentalsSwapSales Slack channel.

Energy consumption

First and foremost, whenever possible we try to incorporate natural lighting into our workspace. As a result, we are now saving US$6,000 each year through lighting upgrades alone. But for other times, we need to be smart around our energy consumption practices.

  1. Green energy: With natural lighting, we have managed to bring down our energy consumption to extreme lows. But when that is not possible, we choose to use green energy from our supplier. We are also investigating solar panels for our HQ in Australia to see if we can bring our energy consumption rates even lower.
Green energy guide

Greenpeace Australia and the Total Environment Centre have create a list of criteria to help you determine which companies will actually help customers reduce their carbon footprint; these include:
  • Carbon emissions
  • Support for energy sector decarbonization
  • Carbon offset products
  • Support for local energy projects and renewable energy
  • Fossil Fuel Policy and Investment
  • Fossil Fuel Policy and Investment
  • Energy efficiency and demand response
  • Corporate sustainability, responsibility and transparency


  1. Bulbs: If natural lighting is not possible, we opt for LED rather than traditional light bulbs, which significantly brings down our energy consumption levels, reducing our energy consumption related to lighting by almost a third.
  2. Laptops: Every Canvanaut receives a laptop when they join the company. Laptops consume up to 80 percent less electricity than desktop computers, and this was a simple yet efficient switch that we have been able to roll-out across all of our offices worldwide.



RentalsSwapSales Slack channel

Canvanauts are mobile with their laptops and encouraged to work from anywhere

Food service

One of the team benefits we have at Canva is fresh, healthy meals for everyone every day - breakfast and lunch. So for us it is important to reduce any food wastage and be mindful about where we source our ingredients.

  1. Farm: The movement towards choosing to consume locally grown foods continues to grow, and we’re starting to see the benefits it brings to our lifestyle and community. We have a little farm in regional NSW that provides us with fresh produce, including herbs, vegetables, eggs. Not only are we guaranteed seasonal, organic ingredients bursting with nutrients, we’re also supporting our local farmers and minimizing any need for unnecessary packaging or store handling.
  2. Sustainable protein sources: We choose our protein (seafood, meats and eggs) from sustainable sources - also because food from these sources just tastes better.

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  1. Leftovers: If you ask me, food wastage should be criminal. This is why we monitor our team attendance dashboard every week in advance to understand how many people will be taking annual leave or working offsite. This helps us ensure we’re feeding the right number of stomachs, rather than blindly following headcount. More importantly, whenever we have leftover food from lunch, we encourage the team to enjoy it as a late afternoon snack or take it home for dinner.
  2. Reusable serviceware: The impact of single use items and packaging can last thousands of years. That’s why we choose to have real plates, glassware and cutlery rather than disposables. We have a huge stock of cloth napkins, reusable cups for coffee runs, and if absolutely necessary, our team can choose to use a paper or metal straw for drinks. If disposable tableware is a must, we provide compostable and biodegradable serviceware.


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We have an onsite cafe that caters to our caffeine fix, with sustainable beans from farmers in Uganda

Choosing our suppliers wisely

There are many social enterprises out there making a difference in the world we live in by providing environmentally friendly products to serve our day-to-day needs. Here’s a snapshot of some of our office suppliers for our headquarters in Australia.

Biopak
We choose to stay away from single use packaging for our takeaway containers, but when we absolutely need them, we choose Biopak’s compostable packaging for an eco-friendly alternative.

Bugisu Project
Other than offering aromatic coffee beans, Bugisu Project is a zero-waste coffee supplier, with 100% of its profits used to drive gender equality and environmental conservation programs in Uganda, where their beans are harvested.

Thank You
Thank You makes fantastic body care products while funding projects that provide safe water, toilets, hygiene training, safe births and healthcare to empower people in need.

Who Gives a Crap
Other than having a funny name, we like Who Gives a Crap for our TP as they only use environmentally friendly materials - made without trees. They also donate 50% of profits to build toilets in the developing world.

TOM Organic
We choose to provide feminine hygiene products and choose Tom Organics because not only do they source their cotton from certified organic farms, all their products are 100% biodegradable, and all outer packaging is recyclable and FSC certified, plus they use only soy-based inks when printing.

Green Clean Australia and Enviro Clean
Our office cleaners in Australia, Green Clean, have planted 50 trees to help us offset our carbon footprint in cleaning Canva. They also only use Clean Mission products, where all profits are donated to charity.


Transportation

When thinking about office space, we make an effort to set up shop at a central location that is easily accessible by public transport. Simple measures like using public transportation more often can go a long way in reducing our environmental impact.

  1. Bicycles + servicing: Other than bike racks for parking, we offer free bike servicing through our partners at The Rolling Fix every 3 months for all Canvanauts, ensuring their bike ride to work is safe and sound.
  2. End of trip facilities: One of the most common deterrents of riding a bike to work is coming in sweaty from the effort. By offering a fully equipped end of trip facility, we’re making it easier for our team to choose to ride, jog or walk to work. This includes showers with towel service, as well as toiletries including shampoo, body soap, as well as an iron and hair dryer. Other than our towel service, we also provide reusable hand towels and Dyson hand dryers in our bathrooms, as an alternative to one use only paper towels.
  3. Collaboration facilities: To lower our carbon footprint, when possible we choose to collaborate with our teams in other offices through online communication solutions such as Slack, Google Meet, Zoom, Trello and Jamboard to reduce our need for travel. Great for our travel budget and the environment.


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Final thoughts

Despite all our current efforts, there are still many things we have yet to figure a way around, such as smarter temperature controls for the entire office.

That said, many of the above initiatives are being rolled out across all our offices around the world. Some markets are easier than others, but it’s definitely our priority to ensure all our team members across the globe are conscious about keeping their impact to our environment to a minimum.

Lastly, while we haven’t touched upon our Canva Print facilities or our merchandising (I’ve tried to keep this post strictly to our sustainability initiatives in our Sydney office), we have implemented our guidelines around using material from sustainable resources in those cases as well, and whenever possible, we recycle material with our vendors. We also choose to only work with suppliers that embrace environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes.

If you have any other ideas or tips on how we can reduce our ecological footprint, please do share your thoughts in the comments below!




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