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28th May 2019 6 min read

Interview: Ahmad Mu’azzam, Evocco

Categories — Interviews

Continuing our interview series, ‘Changing the world one click at a time’, we sat with Ahmad Mu’azzam, co-founder of Evocco. It's an early stage Irish startup which is already winning awards and gaining recognition in Ireland and overseas.

The Evocco app helps people track and measure the environmental impact of their purchasing choices by simply scanning their shopping receipt. It also provides consumers with suggestions on shopping alternatives, helping them to be more conscientious and move towards a sustainable change.

Ahmad, tell me more about Evocco and how it came to life

Our journey started during our master’s at Trinity College, 2017. We knew we wanted to focus on sustainability after graduating. Being mechanical engineers, the ideas we initially considered were to do with electric vehicles and renewable energies. After we did the research and had a lot of heated discussions around the dinner table, we concluded the following: the reason that wide-scale adoption of eco products and services is an uphill battle that we need more solutions around behavioural change first and foremost.

Food accounts for about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. By changing food consumption behaviours, a company like ours can make a large impact in the sustainability space. Everyone interacts with food multiple times a day and that’s what you need for a good habit to start forming. If we were able to give people more information about the food they are buying and the tools to alert them to their own shopping patterns, then we can facilitate a way for people to actually go through a behavioural change process.

You were very brave to set up a business at such an early stage in your career.

We were lucky from the beginning by getting a good bit of early traction. We entered some idea competitions, trying to flesh out the concept more and get help from industry experts. We applied for The Carbon Footprint Challenge, sponsored by a Swiss company Bühler. The challenge focused on reducing carbon emissions in the food supply chain. It was circulated around many partner universities in Europe. Bühler decided to put us into an accelerator called MassChallenge. It gave us an opportunity to refine the idea and go deeper into its functionality, which led us here.

Where are you currently in your development process?

Our app is in the final stages of the build and will be available for both iOS and Android users by the end of the summer. However, we have a beta version available for use via our website which allows users to upload photos of their grocery shopping receipts directly, receive a score and tips on how to improve. The score is based on how nutritious the food is and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, transport, and packaging of the item. We also advise how you can reduce your negative impact, by providing you with personalized tips and also recommendations for sustainable alternatives.

What makes you believe in its potential success?

From the research we have done, we see that people do want to take action. A lot of the time they’re just overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. There’s a misconception that sustainability is for people with money. In reality, it comes down to the lack of solutions available. This is where we come in, directing people towards those solutions and helping them make more conscientious decisions on a daily basis. We are trying to make sustainable living accessible to all, where making greener choices is easy and people feel like they can take positive action in the little things.

What industry changes have you noticed ever since you started developing Evocco?

What we’re observing at the moment is that there are a lot more big food companies hiring sustainability experts to join their teams. Market leaders such as Kerry GroupMusgravesMarks and Spencers are now trying to place sustainability at the core of their business. There’s a shift in the industry to move past the usual CSR narrative and make sustainability an integral part of the commercial strategy. The efforts of these companies, however, are hugely dependant on the choices of the consumer, and that is the hard part. To make a sustainable offering profitable, they need consumers choosing those new products and services. Evocco can help and encourage people to make those choices.

Do you feel that your potential will grow beyond the app you are developing, and Evocco will transform into a much greater venture?

That’s definitely the plan. The next step is eCommerce. We want to integrate our service with online shopping platforms in order to reach multiple audiences. Behind the scenes, we’re working with food retailers and food brands, trying to help them create more sustainable commercial strategies. The backend of Evocco is being developed to work seamlessly with different commercial outlets via APIs.

Are there different benefits you offer consumers through those e-commerce platforms?

You get a different purchasing journey on an e-commerce site. When you’re scanning your receipt and getting tips for alternative options, you have to try and remember for the next time you shop. E-commerce sites would give Evocco a unique opportunity to inform and empower people by providing real-time feedback when they’re making a decision to purchase. We could provide sustainable alternatives, available in one click. This way people could act and make a change there and then.

Tell me more about the ‘Young Champions of the Earth Prize’ you’ve won last autumn.

The Young Champions of the Earth Award is an award by UN supporting sustainability solutions created by young people around the globe. Hugh Weldon, my partner, and co-founder of Evocco, was put forward for the prize. We managed to win the public vote and get the jury decision as well. Our 1-year partnership with the UN gives us a credible platform to spread our message and reach the right people through various networks. For example, One Planet Network is a multi-stakeholder initiative which brings together NGOs, companies, governments to try and find solutions focused on sustainable consumption and production. We’re quite active in the Consumer Information Programme and we’re trying to get more active in this Sustainable Food Systems Network as well as.

Who is your target audience?

Through our recent research and testing with different people, we found that females aged between 30 to 50 years old are leading the green consumer movement. They are educated about sustainability and are the ones who make the purchasing decisions for their households. It is not always easy getting the rest of the family on board with more conscientious living. In fact, it’s difficult for all consumers at the moment. Our current trading system is a catalyst to just keep purchasing more of the same. Evocco is trying to change that perception, and help make different choices.

If you had a dream partner to collaborate and meet your strategic goals, who would they be?

Big food brand owners like Unilever. They have the power to actually change the supply chains, messaging and their model to make it more beneficial to the consumer. On the food retailer side, people make their decisions based on their environment. So a collaboration with the likes of Tesco or a big multinational would be fantastic.

To be a part of the environmental change, what can we do individually and collectively?

The main change that people can make is to move towards a plant-based diet. Food is something very personal, it is embedded in our culture and family traditions. Therefore going vegan or vegetarian may be challenging for some people. However eating less meat and complimenting our diet with vegetarian choices, as well as eating local and seasonal, is something that most of us could achieve. It is a relatively small change, that collectively would have a tremendous positive impact.

In the Irish eco- startup space, have you come across any sustainability champions that have left you with a sense of hope and inspiration?

I am so inspired by Norman Crowley, the CEO of Crowley Carbon. Norman is a real champion for sustainability in Ireland. Crowley Carbon is set to create 50 jobs in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow as part of a €10m investment in solar energy. He is also converting classic cars into electric vehicles and is the first person in over 50 years to produce cars on a scale in Ireland. Norman Crowley is really talking the talk and walking the walk. He’s not afraid to back more risky ventures to push the environmental agenda forward.

How do you feel about the current environmental efforts Ireland is making? Do you feel there are significant steps that are being made or could we do better?

I believe there is a real opportunity for a green change in Ireland. We are a small population and could easily emulate some of the proven practices from Scandinavian countries and make Ireland into a sustainability hub. I hope over the next few years we’ll start seeing that sort of transition.

If you could solve one world problem what would it be?

It has to be climate change. For me, that’s through the food we eat. Can we change the way we consume and source food? Can we transform our food system in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment? Can everybody avail of and eat nutritious food? Can we fight hunger and obesity through more sustainable food solutions as a whole? I believe we can.

Is there an invitation or call to action you would like to share with our audience?

Anybody who’s interested in being an early adopter of Evocco, you are welcome to sign up through our website, use the tool and give us feedback. If there’s something you feel we can improve, we’d love to hear about it.

To find out more: www.evocco.com
Twitter handle: @evocco

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