Startup Perspectives – Aline Consulting

In this instalment of Startup Perspectives, we looked at startup land from a different new perspective. We spoke with Chris Butterworth, founder of Aline consulting, a digital sustainability consultancy that helps organisations lower their digital carbon footprint. Did you know that if the internet was a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter in the world?

Name: Chris Butterworth
Role: Founder
Company: Aline Consulting

Tell us in a sentence what Aline does.

We help organisations lower the carbon footprint caused by their digital operations.

Where did the idea or the motivation come from?

Working as a web developer a few years ago, I was looking for ways of making websites even faster when I stumbled on a paper published by Greenpeace. This paper was all about the impact that the IT industry has on the environment including some statistics about the internet and its impact too; including that if the internet was a country it would be the 6th largest polluter in the world and that the internet is responsible for around the same amount of emissions as the aviation industry.

As soon as I read it I knew I needed to do something, I just needed to figure out how.

Tell us about your startup journey so far.

In a word, I’d describe it as interesting. Aline is the second company I started in the pandemic which has been stressful but has given me the huge opportunity to change direction and refocus. Aline is just me which gives a lot of freedom but comes with its own challenges too; meaning some long hours and a lot of planning.

I feel incredibly humble in the fact I am able to do this as my day job although I do call myself a “solo-team” due to the many hats I have to wear on a daily basis to be able to focus on different tasks and aspects of the business. Although many solo-founders go through the same thing.

Do companies need educating about what you do, how do you find customers?

I’m in a really lucky position where I’ve built up a loyal following who reach out time and time again as well as recommend my services to anybody they feel could use them. I also do some direct outreach with organisations who care about the environment too and know they could do even better or have recently discovered the idea of digital sustainability.

One of the key things I do at the minute is educate, including myself in how best to spread the message and get people on board. I’ve created a tool to help with this called Beacon which shows you the footprint of a single unique visit to a webpage. Beyond that I’m writing a digital sustainability handbook, creating a short course and a webinar too.

Can you make a dent in global carbon emissions doing what you do?

Absolutely, even doing something simple like reducing image size on your website can make a massive dent when you take into consideration the amount of unique visitors. The key thing is to measure the impact you currently have and learn ways of lowering it. Some are public like websites and email newsletters but a lot are behind the scenes such as file handling and sharing, both internally and externally.

There are ways of working out how much impact your digital operations have so that this can be measured and the results might shock you. Right now it’s a shame that almost all carbon accounting or carbon calculations don’t take digital operations into account – this is something I’m looking to remedy.

For cashflow-conscious startups, does focussing on keeping digital green mean breaking the bank?

Absolutely not; you may need to spend a large amount of time at the beginning thinking about greener options but in the long run it can help save you money when it comes to the growth of your digital service by keeping the amount of data needed to a minimum.

Also, you do have to have to be pragmatic about the choices you make; choosing a service that isn’t exclusively sustainable but has a lot of use can be better than using multiple vendors.

What does success look like, for you as a founder?

Having more people understand that digital isn’t as green as they think would be huge and help in a massive way in changing the industry! Having more people talk about it would be a great thing too. That’s what success would look like. 

Every penny earned goes back into the business, giving me the time needed to be able to work on things to make an impact such as public speaking. I’ve always had the thought of ‘as long as I make enough to pay the bills everything above that is a bonus’. Being so lean means not many bills and a bigger impact; although who knows what the future holds so keeping options open.

How has Covid impacted your own business, either positively or negatively?

Both, positive in that organisations have had to adopt more digital operations to enable remote working giving more opportunity. The biggest negative is not being able to have more public speaking engagements to talk about the issue and things we can all do to help.

What does the year ahead look like?

More conversations and consultations, bigger conversations and consultations, higher up conversations and consultations. More webinars, more courses, more people getting involved either as part of Aline or within their own organisation.

Favourite book or Podcast to recommend?

A couple of books:

Dark Matter and Trojan Horses by Dan Hill

Point of Purpose by Bård Annweiler

Thanks, Chris!

You can read the rest of the interviews in the series here.