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This couple are on a mission to make Grantham carbon neutral

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A business run by a Grantham couple is set to reduce CO2 emissions by 250,000 tonnes in their first year.

ZeroSmart, owned by partners Eliana Vanekova and John Munn, is a social enterprise that reduces its customers carbon footprint by funding green projects all over the world. The couple hope to one day make Grantham the first carbon neutral place in the UK.

Since starting the business last year during lockdown, it has gone from strength to strength, with Eliana named as a finalist for ‘Sustainability Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

ZeroSmart founders, Eliana Vanekova and John Munn. (48926877)
ZeroSmart founders, Eliana Vanekova and John Munn. (48926877)

ZeroSmart is a subscription service which uses the customers money to fund scientific climate solutions, including a hydroelectric plant in Uganda, and reforestation in Papua New Guinea, directly removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Eliana said: “We have a project in Eritrea in North East Africa that provides efficient food stoves for families. We’re talking about families who would usually cut down wood in order to burn it to cook their food.

“Not only are we reducing that deforestation happening in and around their villages and all the benefits of doing that, but also there are many health benefits to doing it, reducing the smoke caused by burning wood or coal.”

Women in Eritrea using energy efficient cookstoves - part of a ZeroSmart project
Women in Eritrea using energy efficient cookstoves - part of a ZeroSmart project

John and Eliana work in tandem with global organisations, such as The UN and The Gold Standard, which help the pair find projects to support, before they are vetted by ZeroSmart.

John explained ZeroSmart’s strategy: “We need to address [climate change] now, and address the problem long term.

"For example, with our tree planting, we don’t just plant the trees, we also make sure that the trees are protected long term and have forest guards and things like that, to ensure that they don’t just get cut down three years later.

“We’re on track at the moment to remove 250,000 tonnes of CO2 this year, which is the equivalent of driving from Earth to Mars 18 times in this first year, which is crazy.

ZeroSmart fund a Hydropower plant in Uganda. (49502731)
ZeroSmart fund a Hydropower plant in Uganda. (49502731)

“We didn’t think that would be happening within the first year, so we’re happy with the way things have gone.

“Long term, we want to have an impact on the UK’s entire carbon footprint. So, based on our growth, we think that we can reduce the entire of the UK’s carbon footprint by 5 per cent by 2025. We’re hoping to scale that up.”

John and Eliana are dreaming big and have a plan to put Grantham on the map, while continuing to cut carbon emissions in the UK.

John said: “We were thinking about trying to make Grantham the first carbon neutral town. We’ve not fully committed to it because we would need to get the council on board and businesses, but it’s something that we’ve been interested in.

“I’m from Grantham, so anything I can do to help the town, I’m up for.”

Eliana continued: “Being able to say you’re from the only carbon neutral town in the UK, that would bring some tourism in and help with people’s pride, especially after the pandemic.

“Something like that would be very positive, but it’s a big challenge and we’ve got so much to do.”

John added: “It’s something that people would need to get behind with cooperation on a big scale. Anytime that we can provide advice, we’re happy to, whether that’s to the council or local businesses.”

ZeroSmart has been helping to reduce the carbon footprint of businesses by making their workforce carbon neutral.

John said: “One of the things that we’re bringing in at the moment is business options, because we’ve found that businesses really want to achieve their net zero goals, but again it’s very difficult to do.

“People prefer to work with businesses that have a sustainable outlook, that are doing something for the world.

“It makes business sense to do these kinds of things. It’s a win win situation.”

As a social enterprise, ZeroSmart has a legal obligation to ensure that their work has a social impact.

Eliana explained that a social enterprise is “a business with a social cause”.

“The aim of the business is not necessarily to achieve financial profit, but to achieve a social benefit,” she said.

The pair previously ran another social enterprise called Global Digital Week, which provided digital education for university students, operating in 97 countries around the world.

Eliana added: “As long as we managed to educate a certain number of people in one year, we’d achieved our goal. We didn’t want to turn over a million pounds or whatever it is, we wanted to make sure that the education happened, and it’s the same with ZeroSmart.

“We need to be financially profitable in order to sustain ourselves, but that’s all it is. The main goal is helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and make an actual difference on climate

Starting a new business during the pandemic may have come with its challenges, but having ran Global Digital Week remotely for three years previously, John and Eliana were ready to work under the ‘new normal’ with ZeroSmart.

Eliana said: “We knew how to be efficient remotely. We know what each other’s strengths are.”

John added: “We live together and work together and that can be a bit stressful sometimes, so having experience of knowing how to do that is important.”

The beginning of lockdown actually inspired the creation of ZeroSmart, with Eliana noting how the River Witham and other water had never looked cleaner, while John said that seeing how the river was supposed to look was “a big motivator” to make a real difference, but realised how hard it was to do so individually.

John said: “For a normal person, if you really want to have a impact, you can’t really if you don’t have a million pounds to put into a project, so the idea is to group people and make that collective action, that power of community, so that we can have the firing power to make a real impact on things.

“There are lots of people that want to have an impact, but it’s not easy. “

Eliana added: “ We very much see the big picture. We want to help the whole world and to make a real difference and climate change is not something that is the UK only. It’s affecting every country in the world equally.”

Eliana also stressed the importance of realising that the climate crisis is not in the future, but the present.

She said: “I think making people aware that it iss already a problem that affects you, is really important.

“The crisis is here, but it’s still changeable. We can still make a difference.”

To find out more, visit: www.zerosmart.co.uk

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