Do your research. Gain a working understanding of climate change and the science behind it so you can sift out misinformation. When I started Carbon Off, I found a lot of schemes, scams and frauds that purport to benefit environmentally sound projects. I focused on organizations and initiatives that were scientifically validated and metrics-driven — and I could only determine which were the right fit for us because I’d done the research.
Although the United States has had a long trend of non-renewable consumption, the tides are turning. Many companies are working hard to break this cycle, moving towards renewable consumption. In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who are sharing the steps they are taking toward renewable consumption. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Yoko.
Chris Yoko is the CEO of Yoko Co, a digital marketing agency, based in Washington, DC, committed to working with clients on projects that will make a positive impact for the world. He channeled his passion for the environment into Carbon Off, a low-cost, easy-to-implement carbon credit platform designed for businesses to offset their workforce’s emissions. Outside of work, Chris can be found playing ice hockey, with his nose buried in a book, or having adventures with his incredible wife and two daughters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
First, the personal side of growing up: My parents were still in high school when I was born and we spent my first four years living just outside Pittsburgh. After my dad finished college, we relocated to Newport News, VA, where he worked at Newport News Ship Building. My sister and I lived with him after my parents split up. Our family grew when he remarried and adopted my two younger sisters.
Now onto the professional side of growing up: The entrepreneur bug bit me early in my college years: I decided to obtain my real estate license to help cover the cost of my classes at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. The experience in real estate plus the momentum of running my own small business gave me the confidence that I was ready to strike out on my own. So I did. I dropped out my senior year and pursued my real estate career.
As time went on, I realized that real estate wasn’t my true calling. I enjoyed my clients and the business marketing side so joined CBS radio to help them with “new media” — which included all things web, live streaming, social media — you get the idea. I spent a few years at an ad agency then took the leap to launch Yoko Co in April 2009.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had so many people help me along the way, but I’ll narrow it down to three.
My dad was an amazing role model to me growing up. He did everything he could for us as a single father and still managed to excel in his career. He has a work ethic and commitment to family that’s shaped who I am today.
Jim Weiskopf, my mentor at CBS Radio, was a huge proponent of “working to live, not living to work.” He modeled that adage in his day-to-day and helped guide me through some toxic work situations. Most importantly, he was one of the only people who wholeheartedly encouraged me to start my own business.
Alison Whitmire, my coach and advisory board member, helped me figure out my personal “why,” how to articulate what drives me and find common ground with other likeminded people. Working with Alison inspired my company’s motto: “Do Good. Better.”
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve? What is your “why”?
Put concisely, we strive to “Do Good. Better.” We help organizations develop their digital identity and connect with their stakeholders, from branding to website and platform development to designing high-impact creative. We’re committed to working with clients who have a passion and purpose beyond profit to make a bigger, positive impact on the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
We had a prospective client, in the mass transit space. They had put out an RFP, and were entertaining a number of agencies to work with them. We were on the fence about working with them, their industry has a major environmental impact, and they didn’t make any mention of it.
Rather than ignore it and forge ahead, or ignore it and simply decline the work, we decided to make things interesting. We offered to work with them, at a discount no less, if they agreed as a part of our contract to include a section of their website to awareness and reduction of environmental harm, as well as agree to have a session about the same topic as a part of their annual conference.
We assumed, knowing they had multiple other agencies in the running, that they would simply tell us to pound sand and work with someone else. But that wasn’t the case. Rather than refusing the proposal, they engaged with it. Initially, it was different enough, and showed enough confidence in our capabilities and belief in our impact, that they paid attention. And, after some discussion of why we asked them to do it, they did.
During the time period we worked with them, adoption of electric vehicles in their niche increased over 500%.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
In the words of Isaac Asimov: “There’s no way I can single-handedly save the world, or perhaps, even make a perceptible difference… but how ashamed I would be to let a day pass without making one more effort.”
I believe that it’s my calling and my privilege to try and make the world a better place wherever I can. Whether it’s developing Carbon Off, a carbon offset platform, or helping clients achieve their true purpose, I’m driven to do the most good in my corner of the planet.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to help break the cycle of non-renewable consumption? What specific problems related to non-renewable consumption are you aiming to solve?”
As a technology company, our focus has been on pollution we all create just in our day-to-day business. Every document sent, every website visited, every post shared — all of those actions have real energy costs and associated potential greenhouse gas emission. You can’t see those impacts just by looking because data centers and energy plants are doing the work.
At Yoko Co, we’ve focused on reducing our carbon footprint. We look critically at the energy we’re expending and how can we minimize our impact. Employees are invested in breaking that cycle so we’re collectively working, as individuals and together, to tackle climate change.
Can you give a few examples of what you are implementing to help address those issues?
We evaluated our current ways of working and decided where we could cut back. Long before the pandemic sent everyone home, employees were encouraged to work remotely and meet virtually when possible. A remote-first workforce meant we didn’t need as much office space and commuting impacts were significantly reduced.
From the client perspective, we overhauled our infrastructure to host client sites and software on carbon neutral and renewably powered servers.
The results saw us with a carbon footprint down to 10%, as compared to our peers by headcount or revenue. The company offset that 10% of carbon outputs and then offered to offset employees’ personal carbon footprints as a benefit.
I was driven by the success in our organization to expand the employee benefit option to other companies. Through a collaboration with George Washington University’s Environmental and Energy Management Institute, we developed Carbon Off. The Carbon Off platform enables employers to offset their employees’ carbon emissions, with funds directed to scientifically validated, metrics-driven projects that are making a difference for the planet.
How do you measure the impact of your company’s sustainability initiatives, both in terms of environmental benefits and business growth? Can you share any key metrics or success stories?
We measure our carbon footprint through our carbon inventory, broken down into scope 1, 2 and, 3 emissions. We aim to keep them as low as possible while we continue to grow, and aim to keep our ratio of revenue to emissions the same or better each year.
Environmental impact is equally as important as revenue growth to our company. We prioritize what we know is right for society and the environment, rather than sacrifice our values for a little more profit.
We evaluate our carbon footprint each year as a key measurement, publishing that data and our offsets. That transparency allows us to be a role model for other small businesses that want to focus on sustainability but may not know where to start.
The launch of Carbon Off is a success story — one that we hope will continue to grow with new, committed, like-minded partners. Our goal is to offset 1 billion metric tonnes through this platform and make a long-lasting impact to shift climate change trends for the better.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Business owners often associate sustainability with added costs and huge time commitments. But starting small by evaluating small ways to reduce a company’s impact can add up to a huge difference for the environment while building employee loyalty.
Three-quarters of Gen Z and Millennial employees believe we’re at a tipping point for climate change and many of them are already involved in environmental activism. Involve your employees in sustainability efforts and they will ultimately help you achieve those goals, while keeping an eye on profit. Both sides of that coin benefit them.
An example: Post-pandemic, employees want to work remotely more often and commute less. Evaluate roles that could be mostly remote and downsize unused office space.
Take a look at your business model and look for efficiencies with an eye toward sustainability. I’d wager that many leaders would be surprised at how many options are available for companies that want to be cost conscious and environmentally conscious.
This is the signature question we ask in most of our interviews. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started promoting sustainability and climate justice” and why?
1 . Launching a sustainability initiative is easier than you think. Calculating my company’s carbon footprint seemed like a huge undertaking. But in the last few years, carbon inventories have become much more affordable, thanks to easy-to-use online tools. Once you understand your company’s carbon footprint, you can make a plan to reduce your environmental impact.
2 . Small efforts add up to meaningful change. Climate change feels like an impossible problem for any one of us to solve. There’s not a single one-size-fits all solution but it’s up to all of us to minimize our impact where we can. All those individual actions can and do make a difference.
3 . Do your research. Gain a working understanding of climate change and the science behind it so you can sift out misinformation. When I started Carbon Off, I found a lot of schemes, scams and frauds that purport to benefit environmentally sound projects. I focused on organizations and initiatives that were scientifically validated and metrics-driven — and I could only determine which were the right fit for us because I’d done the research.
4 . Companies will prioritize sustainability if it gives them a market advantage. What I’ve found — and understand as a CEO — is that many businesses want to be good stewards of the environment. But they’re held back by cost or level of effort. If you’re working in the sustainability space, look at your position from the C-suite’s perspective. How will your program or project help them make a positive impact on the environment without negatively impacting their bottom line?
5 . Successful sustainability initiatives breed more success. I started Carbon Off as an employee benefit to offset my team’s carbon footprints. After launching the platform for my team and a few of our clients, I collaborated with George Washington University to see if we could expand Carbon Off. We started crunching the numbers and seeing the aggregate impact of going carbon-neutral for thousands of people and companies over time. Our goal is to remove 1 billion metric tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere — and we’re on our way. We’re positioned to help other companies adopt sustainability solutions that are easy-to-understand and affordable with transparent metrics.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In the short term, course correcting for climate change by changing the way we think about the invisible waste and greenhouse gasses.
In the long term, changing the way we look at things as a society to realize how much potential we have to create the world we want to live in.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
ChrisYoko.com, YokoCo.com, CarbonOff.co
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
About the Interviewer: Monica Sanders JD, LL.M, is the founder of “The Undivide Project”, an organization dedicated to creating climate resilience in underserved communities using good tech and the power of the Internet. She holds faculty roles at the Georgetown University Law Center and the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. Professor Sanders also serves on several UN agency working groups. As an attorney, Monica has held senior roles in all three branches of government, private industry, and nonprofits. In her previous life, she was a journalist for seven years and the recipient of several awards, including an Emmy. Now the New Orleans native spends her time in solidarity with and championing change for those on the frontlines of climate change and digital divestment. Learn more about how to join her at: www.theundivideproject.org.