As we get ready to select our semi-finalists for the 2018 Sustainable Brands Innovation Open, we wanted to check in with last year’s semi-finalists to learn about the impacts they continue to have on the business world. Here, we catch up with Rapport.
Portland, Maine-based Rapport is on a mission to “democratize sustainability.” The four-year-old startup, which describes itself as “sustainability software for the rest of us,” designs, builds and sells software that helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) track and reduce their environmental footprint — and has been making the rounds of tech accelerators and racking up awards, accolades and seed funding along the way. We caught up with co-founder, president and CEO John Rooks to learn more about how and where Rapport is achieving its mission.
How does Rapport help “democratize sustainability”?
John Rooks: Big companies require big, complex software. Big software is expensive. 99 percent of companies in the world are SMEs, and Rapport is designed for them – simple and inexpensive. Our mission is to make sustainability accessible for the 99 percent. We are the gateway drug of sustainability data.
As the need for reliable sustainability data grows, so does the suite of tools available for organizations to improve in this area. Where does Rapport fit into this landscape?
JR: In the SME market, there are a handful of software providers that are focused on the footprinting of buildings. Rapport is more interested in data ecosystems – like SMEs that complete supply chains, or SMEs as customers of utilities. Functionally, we are all good at calculating impact, but what sets us apart is our approach to broader, more distributed and fragmented systems of data.
What inspired you to target SMEs?
JR: That’s where the biggest impact is. The collective impact of SMEs is 4:1 that of the Fortune 500. We know that the Fortune X are having real difficulty getting verifiable (not self-reported) data from their SME suppliers. We can get it for them.
JR: We have some new tools, like employee engagement sustainability chatbots that are unique to us. But it’s really the ecosystem approach that sets us apart. Think of a data packet that carries environmental impact (CO2, water, waste, etc) alongside a financial invoice for goods bought and sold throughout a supply chain. The environmental impact adds up, much like the financial cost adds up. We’re building a system that is not just a standalone environmental impact calculator, but also one that operates in concert with purchasing practices and systems. Financial and environmental costs are two sides of the same coin.
How can Rapport be used to shape, set into motion and communicate sustainability goals?
JR: For SMEs, the first step is making impact visible (even beautiful). This is the first catalyst for them to start paying attention, which is required for any goal setting. Then, the system monitors their impact, and the impact of others in the same or similar business category. When we see a reduction, we prompt them to share a new best practice (anonymously) with other. When users logs in, they are greeted with a notification that says “companies like yours have done X, Y and Z reducing their energy costs by 9 percent.” It’s all incredibly practical and predictable.
Can Rapport be applied to the public sector, as well? How do governments, for example, stand to benefit from the use of Rapport?
JR: It can. We have a number of municipalities on the platform that use Rapport to understand their environmental footprint, and then use public dashboards to engage citizens in the conversation of greener and more resilient cities. The same principles that work for corporations can work for municipalities.
Can you give some examples of where Rapport is already in use?
JR: Our customers run the gamut: banks, breweries, manufacturers, food producers, utilities and towns. We have seen companies save 12 percent on energy costs, reduce water use by 30 percent, save 75 percent on solid waste disposal, and see their supply chain sustainability survey score increase by 18 percent.
What developments in the business world are you most excited about? Are there companies, organizations or initiatives that you think are really driving sustainability forward?
JR: I love the shift in the metaphors being used to define sustainability. Interface’s “Factory as a Forest” metaphor is a great example of that. The dialogue is moving from less bad to restorative and regenerative. This is a powerful shift. We need more audacity.