About fourteen months ago, John Beckett, the co-founder of Irish e-commerce technology company ChannelSight, was sitting down with his team in a meeting room overlooking the Liffey at number 1, Connell Street, Dublin 1. 

ChannelSight was at the time in the middle of closing a $10 million funding round, but its focus that day was on company culture. 

“Someone said, we should try and go carbon neutral,” Beckett recalled. “I said I would do a bit of research around what that involved. I assumed it would be a straightforward project, but it ended up being an absolute rabbit hole.”

Beckett, who is best-known for building Ryanair’s first website as a 17-year-old, realised quickly he needed to learn a lot.

“The townie or techie in me thought all we needed to do was buy a bit of land and lash a few trees on it,” Beckett said. “In reality, there are dozens of considerations from soil yields, to seed types to permits.”

On top of this, he said, there was the challenge of working out just how much carbon dioxide ChannelSight created every year that needed to be offset. “We built a tool to capture our own carbon footprint,” he said. This measured things like Channelsight’s energy usage, use of aeroplanes to meet customers and staff daily commuting patterns. 

Forestry Partners targets 150 Irish firms

Having done this for his own company, Beckett decided to see if other Irish indigenous tech companies would be interested in using his experience to go carbon neutral. The result was Forestry Partners, a company limited by guarantee that will reinvest all profits in planting more forests that will be held in trust. Beckett said Forestry Partners had established a board to oversee its work. This includes Professor Jennifer McElwain of Trinity College Dublin’s botany department, tech investor Brian Caulfield and Kevin Black, a forest and climate change consultant. 

Beckett said Forestry Partners hoped to have 150 Irish firms signed up to going carbon neutral by the end of 2020. It has already signed up 60 firms including well-known tech companies like Version 1, Phorest and iCabbi. 

“Forestry Partners has a recurring revenue type model,” Beckett explained. “People who offset this year will offset again next year. If this gets the take-up which I believe it will, we will be the biggest private planter of trees in Ireland from next year on.” 

Forestry Partners has set itself the target of planting 200 acres in 2020. “We have sites in Roscommon, Tipperary, Cork and Mayo lined up,” he said. “This is not techies from Dublin coming down and saying we are going to fix climate change. We are working with communities to ensure that the forests we plant can be used and enjoyed by people.” 

“We have done partnership deals with all the main private forestry companies,” he said.

Forestry Partners is planning native woodland rather than Sitka spruce or coniferous trees which are favoured by commercial planters. 

“We need to massively increase forestry in Ireland and build a community of businesses who genuinely care and are prepared to contribute financially to solving this problem.” 

“Trees are the best technology that we have,” Beckett said. “We want to not just sequester carbon but also restore native woodland as forest cover.” He said Ireland had one of the lowest levels of afforestation in Europe as well as less native woodland than elsewhere. “We want to address that deficit and create new habitats that will support more biodiversity.”

Beckett said the cost to a typical tech firm of going carbon neutral was between €50 and €100 per employee a year. “It can depend a lot on the amount of travel required for employees,” he added. 

“Ireland is one of the worst global performers when it comes to meet our climate change commitments,” Beckett said. “People say, I don’t use plastic straws – that isn’t enough. There needs to be a fundamental shift in how we approach climate change. We need to massively increase forestry in Ireland and build a community of businesses who genuinely care and are prepared to contribute financially to solving this problem.” 

“This is the first time anywhere in the world the tech community has come together like this,” Beckett said. “I would like to in time inspire this kind of activity elsewhere.”

A new website called gocarbonneutral.ie has been set up by Forestry Partners to on-board new members and help them calculate their carbon footprint.  

John Beckett
John Beckett: “We need to massively increase forestry in Ireland and build a community of businesses who genuinely care.” Photo: Bryan Meade

Beckett said he believed that the young mobile workforce that staff Ireland’s tech industry expected their employers to be concerned about climate change. “Tech has a white-hot labour market,” he said. “Staff care about climate change as do many customers. There is a business benefit in going carbon neutral.” 

He said that companies were also including environmental considerations in tender documents for services. “It is becoming more and more a part of business, so being able to say you are carbon neutral can help win more business,” Beckett said.

“This is not a complex thing to do and it is not restrictively expensive,” Beckett said. 

“I have always had this level of anxiety about the environment that a lot of people do. You think someone will fix this right? But the answer is nobody is going to fix it. We each need to take personal responsibility for this problem, whether as individuals or businesses.”

Bulking up staff and board ranks

ChannelSight’s technology gives companies detailed analytics about how their content is being received. It has also created a “where to buy” button that allows users to move from consuming digital content about a brand to spending with approved retail partners. It has over 200 customers including big brands like Sony, Philips and Mondelez.

Beckett co-founded the business with Niall O’Gorman and Kieron Dundon in 2013.

Since the recent $10 million fundraising, ChannelSight’s staff numbers have increased to 80 people in Dublin, Romania, London and Switzerland. “I don’t measure success in terms of numbers of bodies. We will probably hit 90 people next year. We are hiring on the East Coast of the US people to work on client engagement and sales,” he said. Beckett said that ChannelSight was privately owned, so it did not disclose its financials. “We will next year,” he said. “All I can say is that our growth was 110 per cent last year.”

John Beckett

Lessons from Ryanair

John Beckett’s first claim to fame in business is that he built Ryanair’s first website as a 17-year-old. The now 38-year-old readily admits this deal launched his career. “Talk about learning a lesson on pricing,” he laughs.

“We charged €20,000 and the next cheapest quote was €3.5 million. Knowing what the competition is charging is an important lesson! I have no regrets however about what we charged! I learned so much from Ryanair. ”

Since the fundraising, ChannelSight has also bulked up its board. John Flynn, managing partner at ACT Venture Capital, has become a director. Tech entrepreneur Garry Moroney, who co-founded and led Similarity Systems and Clavis Insight before becoming chief executive of Roomex in July, is also a director. 

Boardroom veteran Richard Burrows, the former governor of the Bank of Ireland and chairman of British American Tobacco, has also become a non-executive director. Burrows is an angel investor in the company. 

Connected Capital, a Dutch B2B software-as-a-service investor, has also taken a directorship. “We have a clear strategic plan for the next 12 months. At the moment we are very focused on growth,” Beckett said. 

“It is not in our strategic plan to become a unicorn. I also don’t think we are an IPO play. I think we are about building relationships with key clients and creating strategic partnerships over the next five years. After that, we will see.

“We are continuing to grow strongly. We know the numbers we want to hit and we are hitting them. We are launching five new products in the next six months which are complementary to our core offering. I am really excited about what we have achieved as a technology team. In 2020 we will become the very clear leader globally in what we do.”