Photo: Veronica Tay

It all started with a conversation between Maya Hari and her tween daughter. “She returned from school one day, deeply concerned about the future of our planet and feeling helpless because she couldn’t join the global climate marches alongside peers and figures like Greta Thunberg,” the CEO of Terrascope shares.

That helplessness led to the pair sharing home-grown plants with their neighbours and the community. Still, while rewarding and meaningful, Maya knows they weren’t enough to make a significant impact. “This realisation sparked a deeper reflection on how I could leverage my skills and resources in technology to address the pressing issue of climate change. It then evolved into a professional mission, leading to the creation of Terrascope.”

Based in Singapore, Terrascope is a decarbonisation software designed to help large businesses reduce their environmental impact. Terrascope uses advanced technology, like artificial intelligence (AI), to provide businesses with clear insights into how much carbon emissions are generated throughout their operations and supply chains and then helps these companies find effective ways to lower those emissions.

With Terrascope’s help, businesses can easily see their effect on the environment. More importantly, they’re guided on taking tangible steps to reduce their carbon emissions in their immediate operations and throughout their entire supply chain and product range. This approach helps companies make a positive change for the planet while continuing to grow their businesses.

The corporate crusade

Photo: Veronica Tay

“I see myself as an activist by nature, pragmatically working within the system to effect meaningful, lasting change,” Maya tells me when I ask how she would describe her work to someone she’s meeting for the first time. “This perspective drives me to advocate for long-term, sustainable thinking about the durability of our lifestyle and the health of our planet within the confines of the existing capitalist systems.”

According to Maya, the business world within these systems is divided into those who recognise the need for sustainability as an intellectual exercise and those who see it as a fundamental aspect of their corporate identity. The latter also acknowledges their role in preserving the planet for future generations. If Maya is to be believed, the binary is ripe for bridging. 

Regardless of where companies are on this spectrum, services like Terrascope are pivotal in offering visibility and transparency throughout this transition. “The goal,” Maya reminds me, “is to empower companies to make decisions that are not solely based on financial gain but also on their carbon footprint.”

Terrascope’s Product Carbon Footprinting allows brands to see at a glance the emissions from a single product type. (Photo: Terrascope)

Services like what Terrascope offers couldn’t have come at a better time. On July 6, 2023, Singapore announced that it is set to enforce climate reporting for its listed companies starting from the financial year 2025 and will extend this requirement to large non-listed companies by 2027 based on their annual revenues. One of the first in Asia, this regulatory step aligns with international sustainability standards, aiming to cover around 1,000 businesses to enhance environmental transparency and performance. 

It’s news that Maya welcomes with open arms but wants companies to go further. “Terrascope and tools like it make considerations of carbon impact a standard part of business decision-making, moving beyond marketing benefits to becoming a normalised, integral aspect of corporate strategy.”

This shared experience, this collective feeling of the consequences of climate change, drives the urgency and the need to act.

The talent hunt

Still, as a player in a relatively nascent industry (Terrascope was only established in 2021), challenges in all shapes and forms abound. For Maya, the most pressing one is talent — finding people with sustainability know-how and expertise in technology, machine learning, and AI.

“The talent pipeline for environmental specialists like lawyers and engineers is already quite thin, far from meeting the current demand,” the former X (then known as Twitter) VP of Global Strategy and Operations opines. “Even before the sustainability push, the global demand for engineers and AI experts was outstripping supply. Now, we’re looking for talent that understands both the intricacies of sustainability and the nuances of cutting-edge technology, making such individuals incredibly rare and valuable.”

Maya often has to spend precious and significant time training people from the ground up. That it’s happening in a world rapidly shifting from an unregulated to a regulated environment in sustainability within a critical three-year window makes the challenge even more pressing. 

The industry’s newness also means that companies like Terrascope are usually merely ahead, at least knowledge-wise, by a hair’s breadth. Maya is aware: “Maintaining a ’15-minute advantage’ is vital in these early days. The situation will likely be very different in three years, but for now, having even a slight lead is crucial.”

Terrascope helps businesses in the Grown Economy, spanning various sectors like food, fashion, retail and hospitality, measure and manage emissions – especially those related to Forest, Land, and Agriculture (FLAG) as defined by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). (Photo: Terrascope)

From personal to global

I asked Maya what was causing this sudden demand for companies to be eco-conscious. After all, the acknowledgement of carbon emissions and the introduction of emissions trading using carbon credits date back some 27 years to the 1997 United Nations Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. Companies are certainly not unaware of their work’s impact on the environment. Have they suddenly grown a conscience, or do regulatory frameworks drive them?

“I truly believe that people have always possessed a conscience,” Maya, ever the optimist, replies. “The key difference lies in whether they feel they have the agency to effect change. We’re the first generation to witness a noticeable change within our lifetimes, and our children are growing up with the stark realisation that the planet may not be a viable home for them in the future.”

Perhaps we should have listened to environmental engineers from 20 years ago who would gladly tell you they’d seen this coming. Still, for Maya, it’s one thing to be told and another to experience these changes directly — to feel them as we try to enjoy life. “This shared experience, this collective feeling of the consequences of climate change, drives the urgency and the need to act.”

“It’s not just about understanding the science; it’s about experiencing the impact in our daily lives and asking ourselves how we adapt and survive in this changing world.”

A much-needed catalyst

“When you look at the state of the world today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?” I ask. “My greatest hope lies with the generation following mine — my children’s generation,” Maya answers without missing a beat. “Their insistence on preserving the planet has been a wake-up call, influencing not just their peers but also their parents’ generation.”

Having spoken to other CEOs, Maya realised that their experiences mirror her own — many have shared stories of being challenged by their teenage children on their actions to protect the environment. “This prompts these leaders to bring these questions back to their companies, igniting conversations about environmental responsibility at the highest levels of business.”

“Their determination and influence could catalyse the widespread change we desperately need.”