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“Every business decision is a climate decision” – How founder Lara Obst turns companies into climate champions
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“Every business decision is a climate decision” – How founder Lara Obst turns companies into climate champions

Kinga Bartczak
Jede Business-Entscheidung ist eine Klima-Entscheidung-Artikelbild

She’s a sustainability entrepreneur, climate activist, and beacon of hope: in today’s FemalExperts interview, we’re pleased to bring you Lara Obst, founder of THE CLIMATE CHOICE and organizer of this year’s Climate Transformation Summit 2023 on May 11 and 12, 2023.

Dear Lara, how nice to introduce you to our readers at FemalExpers! I’ll start directly with the interview and would be happy if you would give us a little insight into yourself: Who is Lara Obst and how did she become an expert on climate change?

Thank you Kinga, so glad to be able to share my Climate Journey! In fact, I never thought I would end up here. After school, I mainly dabbled in art and innovation. I have always been interested in solving problems and finding new ways to do so. However, I had my climate aha moment in 2014 when I was allowed to study the then IPCC report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with Prof. dr. That was shocking. Fortunately, the research report not only showed that our planet is in a desolate state, but also that there are already proven solutions to protect it. That was the moment when I decided to make these solutions visible and bring them into commercial practice. After all, it is not ClimateTech innovations that we lack, but their application and implementation. For example, many companies do not know that typically 90% or more of their emissions come from the supply chain. So every purchase decision and cooperation with business partners counts. This is exactly where we come in!

With the software platform you have developed, you are able to create more climate transparency in supply chain processes so that companies can directly involve their suppliers in their decarbonization strategies. How exactly does this process work?

Today, this process often still happens in a rather unstructured and confusing way. Climate officers send Excel spreadsheets and numerous emails to suppliers through Procurement to collect data and assess the climate maturity of their supply chain. Suppliers, on the other hand, are constantly receiving new questionnaires and are rarely familiar with the subject matter in depth. Overall, this makes the process top-down, unsatisfactory on both sides, and mostly yields poor quality data. We’re changing that. Through our platform, we enable uniform data collection along international climate reporting specifications, which can be matched with third-party data and ultimately be available in high quality comparable data. This basis then enables transparency on the purchasing side about where one’s own supply chain stands and how one can support it to reduce emissions. Suppliers/vendors on the other hand are given transparency on where their climate maturity lies, what best practices are helping them improve, and how they are performing in the relevant supply chain. It is precisely this knowledge that they have often lacked up to now, but this also means that no joint improvement can take place. Instead, we focused on collaboration and the joint implementation of measures. 

What do you personally see as the biggest challenges when it comes to reducing and saving CO2 together with suppliers?

Worldwide, 50% of all emissions are attributable to just 8 supply chains. That is enormous. And shows how complex the problem is. These supply chains include thousands of companies, most of which are SMEs. They lack the resources and knowledge to implement their own climate transformation. There have been a number of crises in recent years in particular. It is therefore necessary to focus more on competence building and cooperation. After all, we know that the UN’s Climate Goal 17 (#SDG17) is the most effective. When all participants in a supply chain have the same knowledge and tools to take the next steps, they automatically see an advantage of their own in using that knowledge. They can then simply participate and excel at decarbonization rather than be penalized. So there is an incentive to become a “Climate Champion” and thus part of the solution!

Now we live in a globalized world and we are not alone in facing this challenge with our climate goals. To what extent do personal, corporate, but also political perspectives influence the implementation of climate targets?

Man is always at the beginning. We all end up deciding emotionally and then looking for “logical” reasons. So you have to meet decision-makers and business partners where they are and make it as easy as possible for them to take the next steps. 

We can all become part of the solution, but often don’t know how. Here it helps to show how climate protection can reduce one’s own risks and strengthen customer loyalty, but also win completely new market shares for oneself. After all, the market is developing rapidly, especially as a result of political requirements. In the EU, we want to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. Companies that don’t get going now will be left behind very quickly. They then pay high taxes for emissions and become ineligible as suppliers.

What specific opportunities do you see here to steer influence in a positive direction?

The first step for me is knowledge. I firmly believe that if companies know how to implement climate management holistically and not only measure CO2, but also set up improved management, train employees and implement concrete reduction measures, they will do so. Most of them have now understood that this is the only way to stay in the market in the long term – regardless of the industry. After all, end customers and employees demand more from companies than just goals. They want to know what is happening and whether a company is implementing climate protection. Stakeholders are already exerting a very large influence. And that’s a good thing!

With the Climate Transformation Summit, you are equally committed to promoting diversity in light of climate transformation. Please take our readers with you on your journey: What are the concrete advantages (from a business perspective) of increasing diversity in companies?

This goes directly hand in hand with the logic of holistic climate management. Climate protection does not operate in a vacuum, but is part of the overall business strategy, business model and culture. You can’t implement that separately from everything else. It affects every business decision I make – and therefore my customers, business partners and employees. If I want to create synergy effects here in order to be successful, then it only makes sense to see climate protection as a driver of innovation. Many companies tie it quite naturally to digitization topics, but diversity in particular also lends itself to this. You rethink your culture, your way of working and doing business. Here, there is often also a need to catch up in terms of diversity. At the Climate Transformation Summit, we therefore deliberately offer a stage to female leaders, including those from DB, IKEA, Funke Medien, GLS Bank and B.A.U.M. e.V..

We are also active in this area with our magazine, and accordingly I can only agree with you that there are many opportunities here that will unfold if we tackle this challenge together. However, many companies are still hesitant and don’t know exactly how they should “tackle” the issue of diversity: Where do you see the first steps here?

First, invite everyone to participate, no matter how old, in what position, or from what background. Often, important topics are declared boss-only and then it affects exactly one person. If you want to use climate protection & diversity together as innovation drivers for e.g. employee attractiveness and strategic further development, you need to set up a #TeamImpact, colorfully mixed. 

To what extent can we women perhaps become more involved here?

I often experience that women can consciously come to the fore a little more and should also contribute their opinion from the second or third row. Just because 85% of all board members are currently male does not mean that this should remain the case. Women are in demand, and it is often highly valued when they actively become more involved and make it clear that they add extreme value through new perspectives and expertise.

I read that you also regularly organize women’s leadership groups via WhatsApp, what exactly is behind this idea?

I noticed at some point that I meet quite a few colleagues at networking meetings in the industry, but fewer colleagues. This is a great pity, as many women change makers are active in the field of climate protection. I started deliberately writing to them and meeting them for lunch, for example. At some point, the Whatsapp group came out of it, because everyone thought it was a great idea.

As a female empowerment magazine, we naturally welcome any form of collaboration, because women in climate research or in the innovation field of this challenging topic urgently need more visibility, hearing as well as virtual/analog stages. Do you have a concrete tip for our readers, for example, if they are interested in the topic, but fear that they are not well-read enough or not an “expert” enough to actively participate here?

Many people feel that way. Climate is very intimidating as it seems very scientific. So it helps to just be honest and ask for tips. Most people are happy to help. It just seems silly to feign knowledge. You don’t need that at all. We are all happy when we find ourselves in the other person and can drop the “mask”.

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Irène Kilubi in the interview article picture

In one of your LinkedIn posts, you wrote about how we all have a “climate power.” To what extent can each and every one of us also become active with regard to climate and environmental protection?

As I said, most emissions are tied to our purchasing decisions. This also applies in private. It pays to take a close look: Which energy do I use? How do I move around? What do I eat and consume? You can’t tackle everything right away, but there are alternatives for many things. The rule here is to reduce, reuse and rethink. 

In the wake of this, many criticize that using bamboo toothbrushes now won’t do much good, while big companies continue to harm the environment in excess. How do you personally deal with the feeling of powerlessness?

That’s right. At the same time, companies listen very closely to their customers. 10 years ago my vegan lifestyle was still very difficult, today I buy uncomplicated everything I want in the Späti. The product range changes when we ask. But it’s not just in consumption that you make a difference. You influence those around you. The so-called handprint can therefore be much larger than the reduction in one’s own footprint. If you have influenced 50 people around you, who knows what decisions they in turn make in their own company? I myself have friends at car manufacturers, large food companies, etc. I can reach them much better in private. In case of doubt, I can reach them much better privately. 

This year’s Climate Transformation Summit is a very exciting start to the topic of climate transformation: Could you give us a little “snapshot” of exactly who we will see there and what the focus will be?

Lara Obst, co-founder CLIMATE CHOICE and organizer of the Climate Transformation Summit; Photo: TCC

It is always important to us to bring together many different perspectives. That’s why we have 50+ experts from politics, science and practice with us – and from the group as well as from startups and NGOs. I am especially looking forward to Paula, the so-called inventor of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), as well as David, Climate Lead of the UN in climate regulation, our keynote from GermanZero, who will present which climate protection measures are important now to have a chance to stay within the 1.5 degree target after all. And many voices from the business community. From people who want to be part of the solution, even though or precisely because they work in large companies that do not always align everything with the climate. Among others, IKEA, DB, Ørsted, Danone, IBM, Allianz and Ericsson are among the participants. A special highlight are also the Deep-Dive Workshops, in which all participants can take part to work directly on one of their focus topics.

In this context, I always find it particularly exciting to venture a little “future prognosis”: What do you think are the concrete prospects and trends currently offered by the market for the climate transformation of companies?

It offers us a regenerative future. It will surprise us how we look back in 2050 and shake our heads at how we did business at the turn of the millennium. 

Finally, I would like to ask you: What questions and challenges do you personally and your company, THE CLIMATE CHOICE, want to address in the future? How will you continue to develop?

We have a great #TeamClimate and are currently fully focused on building our platform together with our customers, especially to empower suppliers to take the next step. Here, the circle closes as measures are implemented and, in turn, new supply chains are transformed. I am very much looking forward to this networking effect. We want to reach 1 million companies. So far we have 15,000 in the platform. 

Dear Lara, thank you very much for your time and this exciting insight into your work. We from the FemalExperts editorial team wish you lots of inspiration, strength and exciting comrades-in-arms to advance this incredibly important topic – because the climate and our environment concern us all.

About the author

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Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .

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