Carbon to Couture: LanzaTech's Carbon Recycling Revolution
Did you know that we can turn pollution and carbon emissions from steel mills into the fabrics of dresses, sneakers, and even perfumes?
Today, we're diving into the groundbreaking world of LanzaTech, a company founded in 2005 when the idea of recycling carbon seemed like science fiction.
Join us as we explore how LanzaTech's mission of carbon recycling is shaping a more sustainable future, one stylish collaboration at a time.
🎧 Listen to & watch the episode
🕑 KEY MOMENTS
👤 INTERVIEW WITH SARAH YE
LanzaTech's Carbon Recycling
Dunja Jovanovic: Sarah, you're working on the position of ESG Manager at LanzaTech, and I'm eager to learn more about your role and what LanzaTech does to combat climate change's impact on the environment. Can you give us an overview?
Sarah Ye: LanzaTech was founded in 2005 in New Zealand by Dr. Sean Simpson and Dr. Richard Forrester. Back then, it was a time when few believed it was possible to use waste carbon emissions as a feedstock or harness nature-based solutions for sustainable fuels and chemical production. Our mission is rooted in carbon recycling. We capture pollution and carbon emissions from sources like steel mills and transform them into raw materials or chemicals, serving as the building blocks for various products.
DJ: Can you provide some examples of the products LanzaTech's technology helps create?
SY: At our current commercial sites, we produce ethanol, which is then converted into products for well-known brands. For instance, we've made athletic wear and tennis shoes for Adidas, leggings with H&M, cleaning products with Method, and even perfume for Gucci. These collaborations showcase the versatility of our technology and how it can contribute to a more sustainable future.
DJ: What was LanzaTech's first major success or collaboration that put the company on the map?
SY: One of our significant achievements was creating a line of cocktail dresses in partnership with Zara. These dresses were a hit, and they sold out quickly. What's remarkable is that they were not only sustainable but also affordable, which resonated with consumers.
DJ: Speaking of accessibility, how do you educate your clients and the public about the importance of sustainability and LanzaTech's impact?
SY: Educating people about sustainability, especially when introducing new technologies, can be a challenge. At LanzaTech, we've recognized the need to make our impact tangible. One way we do this is through our "carbon-smart" products made using raw materials from our technology. For example, if you purchase clothing or detergent from a brand we collaborate with, you're actively supporting sustainability without sacrificing quality or style.
Navigating ESG at LanzaTech
DJ: You started as an ESG Manager recently. Could you explain your role and responsibilities in fostering sustainability within LanzaTech?
SY: I've been with LanzaTech since 2015 and have held various roles. My journey led me to the ESG Manager position, which I started about a year and a half ago. In this role, I oversee our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. My responsibilities include tracking and reporting our ESG progress, ensuring compliance with ESG-related requirements from partners and investors, and developing our internal sustainability programs.
DJ: How do you communicate your ESG progress and impact to stakeholders and the public, especially since transparency is crucial in ESG reporting?
SY: Transparency is indeed vital in ESG reporting. Currently, we communicate our progress primarily through our annual reports, where we highlight both our successes and areas where we're working to improve. We also share snippets of our progress on social media. As we become more established as a public company, we'll continue to refine our communication strategies to keep stakeholders and the public informed about our ESG efforts.
DJ: Transitioning to a "post-pollution future" is a significant undertaking. How do you foster a company culture at LanzaTech that aligns with ESG principles and encourages sustainability?
SY: Fostering a sustainability-oriented culture is crucial, and it's a journey we're continually embarking on. One challenge we've encountered is striking a balance between our work at LanzaTech and our personal lives. When you spend your workday focused on sustainability, it's easy to become complacent outside of work. To address this, we've initiated small steps within the company, such as minimizing single-use items in the office, launching a quarterly sustainability newsletter for employee suggestions, and encouraging active commuting to reduce carbon footprints. These steps help engage employees and promote a culture of sustainability.
A Holistic Vision: LanzaTech's Path to Sustainability
DJ: Finally, what are your hopes and dreams for the future of sustainability in the cleantech realm, and where does LanzaTech fit into that vision?
SY: My dream for the future is one where more companies and individuals embrace the holistic view of sustainability. We should view sustainability not as a separate endeavor but as an integral part of revenue and profit generation. LanzaTech is helping to drive this paradigm shift by enabling a transformation in how we treat and value carbon. We want to see more companies adopting this approach, where economic, social, and environmental concerns are intertwined. LanzaTech's vision aligns perfectly with this future, as we work toward scaling our technology to have a more significant global impact.
📝 EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Hello, hello, and welcome to another episode of Green New Perspective, your go-to podcast
to learn about cleantech, nature tech, and agritech's breakthrough solutions and the
marketing strategies used to accelerate growth.
We invite you to learn from and be inspired by the game changers, the disruptors, and
the pioneers who are redefining our future.
This episode is proudly sponsored by New Perspective, a next-gen marketing agency hailing from Boston,
Massachusetts, working with cleantech clients.
So if you want to learn more about our sponsor, check out the description below this episode.
So what are we going to talk about today?
My guest is Sarah Yee, an ESG manager of Lanzatech.
Lanzatech is a company that started back in 2005 when the idea of turning pollution and
carbon emissions from steel mills into materials for clothing, shoes, and fragrances sounded
like something out of science fiction, but today it's a reality.
So join us as we explore how Lanzatech's mission to recycle carbon is not only making passion
a little bit more sustainable, but also shaping a stylish and eco-friendly future.
So tune in and enjoy.
Hi, Sarah, and welcome to the Green New Perspective podcast.
Thank you so much.
I'm very happy to be here.
So Sarah, you're working as an ESG manager at Lanzatech.
So can you tell us a bit more about the company and what you guys do to combat climate change?
And of course, what is your role as an ESG manager means within the company?
I would love to.
So Lanzatech was founded in 2005 in New Zealand by Dr. Sean Simpson and Dr. Richard Forrester.
This was at a time when no one really believed it was possible to use waste carbon emissions
as a feedstock, nor leverage any kind of nature-based solutions for sustainable fuels and chemicals
So this was the time that the company was founded in.
And so what we are is a carbon recycling company.
And so we're able to capture pollution and carbon emissions, such as those from steel
mills, and we can transform them into a raw material or into a chemical that's the building
block for our material economy.
Lanzatech's carbon recycling technology from a concept that might be a bit easier to grasp
is like retrofitting a brewery onto an emission source, like a steel mill or a landfill site.
But instead of using sugars and yeast to make beer, we are able to convert the pollution
using a bacteria into a fuel or a chemical.
And so from there, we work with numerous downstream conversion partners, and we're
able to then transform that raw material into products.
And what type of products are you making?
At all our commercial sites, we're producing ethanol, and that ethanol is being converted
downstream into dresses for Zara, athletic wear and tennis shoes for Adidas.
We've made leggings with H&M Move, cleaning products with Mabelle, perfume from Gucci.
So far, there have been actually a range of various products with big name brands.
And what was your first collaboration, the one that put you on the map?
Well, some of our earlier collaborations were with cleaning products and packaging with
But then also, what was pretty amazing was we were able to make these really beautiful
cocktail dresses with Zara.
Yeah, we've had a couple capsule collections, and they've all sold out, and the dresses
actually are quality.
We bought a bunch, and we have some here at the office.
And what's also really nice is they weren't, even though it was made from recycled carbon
or recycled pollution, there really wasn't a huge markup either.
So it was very accessible.
Yeah, I know that a lot of fast fashion brands have had those sustainability initiatives
in the past, didn't know that Zara had carbon-recycled dresses.
I know that a lot of brands have had recycled polyester made from plastic bottles that didn't
turn out to be sustainable at all.
But this sounds like a good idea, a good product, have to explore it more.
But can you tell me if you have had any bigger collaboration that transformed the company
that you were collaborating with, transformed their ways beyond capsule collections?
But for this question, instead of focusing on a specific case or a specific company that
has used our technology, I'd actually really like to talk about the impact that we're having
and how we're really transforming the entire system of how we treat and value carbon.
And this is something we're actually very proud of, is we are changing how people think
We're at the option to recycle a so-called liability that is carbon or is pollution,
and we can turn it into a valuable and sustainable product.
We like to say that we see opportunity where others see waste.
And that transformation is one that we're hoping spreads to other companies and spreads
really is a change in our overall culture.
Was that the company's vision from the beginning?
And what were the challenges that you faced along the way?
So as I mentioned, the company started in 2005 back in New Zealand by Dr. Simpson and
And the two of them really, they came from a company that was focused on using biomass
to make fuels, but they thought it was a better idea to use something that had little to no
impact on land or food production instead.
And so they wanted to find something that was low cost and in a large quantity.
And so I think they came across this academic paper that showed it was possible for this
bacteria to consume carbon monoxide to produce ethanol.
And so light bulbs went off in their head and they said, well, is it possible to use
this biology at a large scale to consume waste emissions?
And so they were researching gas fermentation and they came across this rabbit gut bacteria,
which is at the heart of what we do here at Lanzatec.
It's called Clostridium autoethanogenum.
And this bacteria descended from the Earth's oldest organisms that subsisted off deep sea
And so the reason I bring this up is, you know, Sean, one of the co-founders, he's been
quoted saying how our climate future was created billions of years ago, which in this case
is very true.
The reason I bring this up is this was the creation of Lanzatec, right?
This is like, how could we make fuels from something that had no impact on land and food
So thinking sustainability from the very start.
And while we started off focusing on fuels and sustainable aviation fuel, we realized
that there are other applications for our technology, right?
That the raw materials being produced from our commercial sites, you know, right now
being ethanol really is the building block to most things we use in our everyday life.
So what you've basically been sharing with me and our audience is the history of the
company and how you developed.
So can you tell me a bit more about the challenges that you encountered on the way for the other
people who are starting their own businesses in the cleantech space?
And also one more thing that I wanted to ask you is that when I talk with guests here in
the podcast who are all from the cleantech space, they're telling me that they have the
problems or challenges with communication because the technology they're developing
and selling, putting on the market is fairly new or totally new.
So it's important for general public and other companies or partners to understand what they're
doing and how they're helping solving climate change issues.
So can you tell us if you maybe had similar issues within Lanzatec and how did you deal
A challenge that we've faced with our consumer base and even with partners and even people
like myself, you know, I've been working at Lanzatec since 2015 and even I still find,
you know, the concept of carbon abatement in terms of tons to be rather amorphous and
hard to grasp.
You know, by end of year 2024, you know, we're anticipating that we'll have an annual carbon
abatement of 500 tons.
That's from all our commercial units.
What does that actually mean?
And it actually means about, it's comparable to removing about 110,000 cars from the road
But how, but to make it relatable to our everyday consumer and the people who really do have
an impact on helping to solve the climate crisis that we're all in is understanding
what they can do and understanding that they actually have an impact and that they can,
they themselves can take action.
In thinking about our consumer base, especially recently, what's been a key driver in our
external communication and in collaboration with our partners has been our carbon smart
You know, these are products made using the raw materials produced through our technology
at the commercial facilities.
And so these products are a tangible way that allows our consumers to interact with the
company and our technology, right?
To know that you're wearing a Zara dress made in part from sustainably produced ethanol,
or you're, you know, spraying on a perfume made 100% from recycled carbon before a big
night out, like that is a truly tangible way and relatable way that you as a consumer are
making an impact.
And so I think from the education front, being able to have these products, being able to
touch them and feel them and hold them and wear them makes a huge difference.
And so, you know, today, because of our platform, you can literally walk into a store, go online
and purchase these things, you know, purchase clothing, purchase detergent and dresses all
made from recycled emissions.
And this always brings me back to something that Jennifer Holmgren, our CEO, used to say
or still says is, is she, you know, wants to create these carbon smart consumers and
she wants these consumers to be able to go into a store and just like you choose like
organic product or fair trade coffee, she wants consumers to be able to choose something
made from recycled carbon.
So if I understood correctly, most of the challenges are coming from explaining how
your technology works towards the consumers, the general audiences.
So are there any specific marketing strategies that you're using to convey those messages,
maybe simplify them and maybe using social media, maybe social media platforms are good
for that, to reach the audience first and then to explain what you're doing, which products
you're making or have a part in making?
We hired our communications director, a new communications director who is in charge of
all that and helping to revamp our overall communication strategy.
But yeah, on our Instagram, you can see some of our partnerships and what we've been able
to produce with the likes of H&M and Adidas and Gucci.
We're going to link all your social media in the description of this video so everyone
can check that out.
My next question for you is basically I'm repeating myself from the beginning of this
So you are an ESG manager at Lanzatec.
What does it mean to be an ESG manager at all?
Can you explain that to our audience who may be not introduced to the term and what does
it mean in your company, in Lanzatec?
What's your role entail?
So I've been at Lanzatec since 2015 and I've had a whole host of roles since I joined the
I originally started in corporate development and then that morphed into leading our project
management office and helping set up a lot of project management frameworks and really
during that time, getting a very good, deep understanding of the products, sorry, our
projects, our technology, being able to get in the weeds and work with the project managers
to help ensure the success of some of these projects.
So during the time while I was leading the PMO efforts, during that time, along with
a few other coworkers, I started Blend, which is our diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility
focused ERG and we hadn't had anything like this before.
And we also, even though we are at our core, we're a sustainability company where everything
we do, our mission, our vision, everything our team strives for on a daily basis is all
We realized that we had never taken a deep dive and looked at our operations to see if
we actually walk the talk.
Here we are externally developing this technology that'll help bend the carbon curve and solve
the climate crisis, but what are we doing internally?
What does our internal business look like?
And so just a group of five of us, we put together our first, and it was only internal,
our own internal sustainability report of sorts, looking at our waste.
How do we manage our waste?
How much is incinerated?
How we handle all of that.
We looked at our travel, our business travel.
We looked at a whole range of different things, really just to get a good grasp and an understanding
of where we stood.
And so all of this was done in our free time, in the midst of doing a full-time job, but
that actually, along with the earlier work that I was doing, kind of paved the way and
helped to create the role that I'm currently in of ESG manager.
So all the different facets of my past roles all came together nicely into this one position.
And I've had it since about Q2 of last year.
So it's a fairly new role.
Can you tell me about the progress that you've been making in this time?
If you compare your ESG report and how it looked like back then and how it looks like now,
how do you feel?
So, especially now, you know, with us being a public company as of February of this year,
you know, and mandatory CC ESG disclosures, you know, just around the corner, this is
a really important time for us.
And so I'd say in the past, let's call it year and a half, the focus really has been
on like developing some baselines, right?
As I mentioned, because we are a sustainability company and we have a diverse company to begin with,
I think when I joined, I'm not sure about now, but when I joined the company and we
had people from 20 different countries and you walk around the labs and you see like
just a range of, or a mix of all different kinds of people, it's really wonderful.
It was just a matter of quantifying it and being able to measure it.
And I think that has actually, you know, in terms of a shift or an evolution of my
role and what I've seen, it isn't necessarily, you know, a change in our mission or a change
in our vision, but it's how we view what it is that we're doing and then being able to
quantify it, being able to put data behind it and then make data-based decisions or data-driven decisions.
And so a lot of it was, oh, you know, well, we have a diverse employee body, great, well,
what does that actually look like?
And then we'll start tracking it.
And so it didn't require a whole lot of new effort because we didn't have to develop new
processes, but we did have to automate and we did have to set these numbers in place
and be able to start tracking and reporting against them.
So that was really the first step is what are we already doing and what are we already
And then from there, because we partner with a lot of big names like, you know, Unilever
who's leading the charge in kind of doing well by doing good, is they have a lot of
requirements for their partners.
And so it's then being able to ensure that we are meeting the requirements of partners,
requirements that are attached to project funding from, you know, the government, from
like the Department of Energy.
So just being able to meet those needs.
And then from there, developing our own targets and our own metrics of where we'd like to
So let's go back to the communications strategy.
So how are you communicating your results, ESG results, to the stakeholders, to the investors,
to the consumers since ESG reporting has to be transparent?
So a lot of it right now, and given that this, we both, you know, this role has only been
around a year and a half so far, it's been in our annual reports with snippets on social.
And then of course to, you know, as needed to various investors as well.
But mostly through the annual report, just communicating out sort of what we're doing
But then in terms of the transparency, it's not just what we're excelling in, but also
potentially where some of our shortcomings are.
And then based on that, to develop an action plan to help address those.
One of the other transitions that you were mentioning, aside from developing like ESG
and developing some new strategies within the company to make it more sustainable, not
just creating sustainable products or enabling other companies to create sustainable products.
You were mentioning the transition to a post-pollution future, which of course involves not only
technological innovation, but also a shift in mindset and culture.
So how do you foster a company culture at Landsat that aligns with ESG principles and
encourage employees to contribute to a more sustainable world, which is practically an
We talked about that a lot, but only in terms of educating the consumers.
This is something I've actually been thinking about like since we started our, what we affectionately
dub green group here at the company, that the group we started to take that deep dive
look into our operations.
And I have to say, sometimes I find myself doing this as well, is given that we spend
hours of each day working at a company and developing a technology that is helping to
find a solution to this existential crisis that is climate change.
Sometimes it's easy to be a bit complacent.
It's like, I'm already spending 10 hours of the day doing this.
I don't need to necessarily worry so much about what I'm doing outside of work.
And I feel like that culture is something that we're trying to work on, even in small
For example, in this past year, we've, and COVID hasn't helped as well, because COVID
has led to a lot of increased use in say disposable utensils and plates and bowls
and whatnot, just from a health perspective.
And some of that was slightly challenging in how do you bring that back?
And so some of the things that we introduced this year, just once again, really small steps,
small incremental steps was minimizing the use of all those single use utensils, plates,
bowls, cups around the office.
We're doing a quarterly sustainability newsletter where people can write in suggestions about
like how best, or suggestions they have about reducing things around the company, reducing
be it waste or our overall carbon footprint.
We have something called our Active Commuter Incentive Program, which the company incentivizes
employees to bike or walk or take the train to work instead of driving.
So it's just little things like this.
But we've had ideas come forward as a result of this from our employees about how to reduce
lab waste, how to reduce single use lab waste in the labs, which is a huge, which we produce
a lot of it.
And so every little bit helps.
And so it's really just how to engage the employee body.
How do we make people think twice before getting in the car to drive to work when they could
ride their bike?
How do we enable these small changes?
Well, that's interesting.
So can you tell me how do you measure the progress or are you measuring it at all since
this is a new program within the company?
We have measured some of it, for example, with that Active Commuter Incentive Program.
We track the number of miles that are biked, the number of participants, make it a competition
of sorts because there is a financial incentive there as well.
And so who's earned the most amount of money for the month or the quarter?
And so that certainly has helped.
Well, thank you, Sarah.
I'm really hoping that the info that you just shared here is going to inspire other companies
to include more sustainability or ESG programs within their workplaces, workforces.
And we've come to an end of our conversation.
So this is a time when I ask all of my guests here at the Green New Perspective podcast
the same question, and that is, how do you personally feel about the future of sustainability?
And another bonus question for you is, where do you see Lanzatec in the future and how
does Lanzatec fit into that future sustainability space?
I think, you know, in thinking in terms of the future, Lanzatec is really all about scale
and about scaling up.
Earlier this year, in February, we became the world's first public carbon capture and
And so we have three commercial units that are in operation, and there's an anticipated
three more coming online, you know, this year.
But at the root of it, you know, where we have impact is we really need more commercial
plants in operation.
The more commercial plants in operation, the more carbon or the pollution we can capture
and transport, the impact we have just all, you know, across the world.
For me personally, I'd like to start with a quote that I very much resonate with.
Our challenge is not to build a sustainable economy, but to develop a sustainable culture
that has an economy.
And that was said by Duncan Austin, who's an economist.
And to me, what that means, you know, and as I've talked about above, is really Lanzatec
is helping to drive that paradigm shift, right?
We're helping to enable this transformation of an entire system of how we treat and value
This culture shift is what we're striving for and is what we want to help make happen
and make reality all over the world.
And a big piece of it is wanting to see more companies who are like us, right?
Who view sustainability in the context of revenue and profit and not as a nice to have
or as an afterthought.
And by no means are we the only ones doing this, right?
There are other larger companies who are, you know, leading the charge on this.
But I think it's important that rather than focusing just on the financial, you know,
financial bottom, you know, bottom line, we need to look at a lot of like the non-financial
metrics as well.
We need to look at the broader economic, social, environmental concerns that help measure an
organization's impact or the effect on its employees or the communities in which they
Like that's equally as critical and that's ESG for you, right?
It's environmental social governance.
It's looking at all three of these pillars in the context of one another and in the context
of revenue and profit.
They're intrinsically intertwined and really should not be viewed in isolation.
And I feel like to some, you know, and if you look in the news, you know, you have your
naysayers, but there is a lot of evidence out there that shows that this approach of
viewing all three in the context of one another and never separate has shown that it's possible
to make money by doing good, right?
Doing well by doing good.
And I feel, you know, in a world where profit is oftentimes emphasized over purpose, this
sometimes falls short.
So I think my dream and my dream for the future is one where more companies and more individuals
really adopt this notion of viewing it holistically.
We've come to an end of another episode of the Green New Perspective podcast.
I hope you learned a lot from my guest, Sarah Yen, ESG manager of Lanzatec.
I found her talk on carbon recycling really inspiring, and I really want to learn more
about the role of the ESG manager within the cleantech space.
So if you found this episode as enlightening as I did, please share, like, and subscribe
to our channel on your favorite streaming platform, leave us comments, leave us reviews.
We really want your feedback so that we can upgrade our content and continue producing
Thank you for watching once again, and see you next time.
📚 EPISODE RESOURCES & LINKS
- Website: https://lanzatech.com/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/lanzatech/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/lanzatech
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/LanzaTech/videos
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