Case Studies

From celebrity chef to sustainability professional: Jared Ingersoll's climate journey

Ex-chef Jared Ingersoll is the Sustainability Lead at global design giant, Canva.

Article by
Amy Foyster

Award-winning chef, author, television personality, public speaker, ambassador, philanthropist and sustainability expert are just some of the many hats Jared Ingersoll has worn throughout his career so far. Nowadays, most of his time is taken up being the Sustainability Lead at Australian-founded design giant, Canva, but the transition from food to tech isn’t as extreme as it may sound.

Growing up with Maori culture in New Zealand, Jared says his Mum was extremely environmentally minded and his appreciation for the land and connection to nature was largely influenced by her.

From a young age he was interested in food and knew he wanted to be a chef. But as he grew up and started cooking professionally he was confronted by how much food was wasted and the disconnect between what people were putting in their mouths and where the food actually came from.

“When I opened up my first restaurant in 2002 I was very focused on sustainable food systems. We tried to have the lightest footprint possible, sourced all local, seasonal and sustainable food as well as managing our own waste streams with communal composting systems.

“As my interest and exposure to the world of food grew, I was lucky enough to gain some success, wrote a few books and did a bit of TV. I also started getting involved with various NGO’s. I was a founding signatory on the Greenpeace GM Free Charter and worked with the Nature Conservation Council, the Department of Primary Industry and the NSW Farmer’s Association.

“So, even though I was a chef and had my face on magazines I was very focused on supporting regenerative agriculture and small-scale agriculture and looking for better examples of decentralised, sustainable food systems."

Eventually, Jared made the decision to leave his restaurants and move into food and beverage consulting while focusing on sustainable business models. He spent over five years working on master plans and strategies for council dining precincts and national organisations, covering areas such as procurement principles and staff engagement, all the way through to waste management. He describes the work as “unsexy compared to the glossy magazine lifestyle of being a high-end chef”, but incredibly satisfying as it was where he could create the biggest impact.

The work Jared was doing began to diversify and scale, which eventually led him to Canva. Initially his role was split between events and drilling down on achieving their climate targets.

“The unique thing about Canva is that we’re one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the globe, but we’re also a really big restaurant with a focus on procuring sustainable produce. We feed up to 500 or 600 people for breakfast and lunch every single day, which includes staff and events.

"I think food is a wonderful metaphor for influential change. Everybody I’ve met has two things in common: they all eat and they all sh!t, in other words, we all require inputs and we’ve all got outputs. And that’s the key principle of most sustainable things."

“Obviously I’m biased as an ex-chef, but I think food is a wonderful metaphor for influential change. And I think there are a lot of sustainable concepts that are really easy to communicate using food as the analogy. Everybody I’ve met has two things in common: they all eat and they all sh!t, in other words, we all require inputs and we’ve all got outputs. And that’s the key principle of most sustainable things.

“And the other part that’s really important is that the most sustainable solutions are generally the ones that you don’t notice. At Canva, renewable energy is a huge one! This year, our Australian operations will be transitioned to 100% renewable energy, and our operations in the Philippines, China and the US will follow in the near future. We don’t want staff to have to think about where their energy is coming from when they switch the light on. We see it as our role to take on that responsibility. If you work at Canva you don’t have to worry about things like that.”

The philosophy of taking pressure off individuals and putting the responsibility back on businesses and systems isn’t new to Jared. As a restaurant owner he recalls having a “lightbulb moment” where he realised all people wanted to do was come in and have a yummy meal without spending too much time or money.

“Instead of making the consumer think about what they’re doing and me attaching all these morals to what I was presenting, I realised that my role as the business owner was to curate these principles and not make customers feel difficult or bad, because they just want to have lunch! It was MY responsibility to do it in the most ethical and sustainable way possible but then also be ready to provide information if they want it.

“A really cool example is people used to love the poached eggs at breakfast and they’d ask me ‘what’s your secret for poached eggs?’ And I’d say, ‘we use beautiful, biodynamic eggs from Cornucopia Farms in the Upper Hunter Valley’ and they’re like, ‘biodynamic? What’s that?’ And then all of a sudden there’s another piece of information you can give them, and you join a couple of dots for them. When I went to work in sustainability, the same shift happened – I went from saying ‘do this’ and ‘don’t use the wrong bin’ to ‘don’t worry about it, instead let's work on the systems, economics and designs so you don’t have to worry’.”

"Most sustainable solutions are generally the ones that you don’t notice. At Canva, renewable energy is a huge one! We don’t want staff to have to think about where their energy is coming from when they switch the light on."

Building on his own experiences, Jared’s advice to other employees looking to help their company become more sustainable is that every organisation, big or small, will have challenges, but there are lots of different solutions out there.

“The cool thing about sustainability is that it doesn’t rely on a silver bullet and there’s no single solution, meaning any positive contribution you make is going to have an impact. The first thing I always do (at Canva but also at other places), is just make a list.

“Put aside what you think you can or can’t do, instead make a list of all the things that you can see that should be done. Then categorise them from the most impactful one, or the one that would be mind-blowingly awesome to fix, down to the one that may seem too small to worry about. If it is a big list, don't stress, just pick one from the top one and the bottom one and work on both those things at the same time.

“The top, really hard one is going to take some time and you’re going to have to chip away at it, but while you’re chipping away at that, you can solve the bottom one quickly. And then move on to the next one and eventually the number of items on your list starts to chisel down. The reason I find that approach pretty helpful is you can feel good and keep things moving. If you only focus only on the big one, you’re going to get stuck.”

"The cool thing about sustainability is that it doesn’t rely on a silver bullet and there’s no single solution, meaning any positive contribution you make is going to have an impact."

Jared says he remains optimistic, despite having days where he feels a bit “funky” especially after reading the news about political inactivity or looking at the latest data. And that is largely due to the fact he is seeing a lot more companies setting targets for the immediate future.

“At Canva, we’re not just setting a target for 2030. That may be the end goal but we’re not going to announce a 2030 target without having one for 2022, 2023 and every year until we achieve all of our goals. You have to hold yourself and your organisation accountable, and a lot more people are doing that,” he says.

“Sometimes when you’re working in the climate space, you spend a lot of time looking at how big the problem is and it can feel kind of lonely and isolating and defeating. But if you just look a little bit to your left and your right and a little behind you, there’s a huge groundswell of people feeling the same way and we’re all walking in the same direction.”

As Jared says, any positive contribution you make is going to have an impact! If you're ready for positive action today, subscribe to our newsletter and learn how you can take climate action in your workplace.

Image via delicious.com.au

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