Peter Wortsman Founder's Story

Did you know that the food system causes more damage to the planet than any other system? Although people want to reduce their individual impact, handpicking the most sustainable food – either at the grocery shop or online – can be tricky. That’s why I started Greener Beans. Drawing on well-researched data, our software takes the burden of searching for the most eco-friendly foods off the customer’s shoulders. It does this by integrating with supermarkets’ online storefronts and offering three sustainable options for every grocery item they need. My dream is to influence a billion shopping baskets within ten years, reducing their emissions by 50% and therefore halving their environmental impact.

We are part of a complex, interconnected system. Water, soil, animals and plants – everything is intertwined. People often don’t realise the knock-on effects that one small decision could have on the entire ecosystem. It’s so easy to buy something without having any idea of where it’s come from and how it was grown. And this shows us how alienated we are from what we are doing to our planet. Our habits no longer resonate with nature, and we’re now starting to feel the sobering effects of our lifestyles.

I can’t say I’ve always been thinking about climate change. Born in a suburb of Toronto, I had the privilege of growing up surrounded by nature. I’ve always loved hiking and spending time outdoors. While studying Geography made me aware of what was happening to the planet from a scientific standpoint, it didn’t quite strike me on a tangible level. It was only years later, while working for The World Bank, that I figured out how little we cared for the environment. In many of the Bank’s reports, it was relegated to a ten-point checklist at the back of a 500-page document!

Although I hadn’t always had a fixed idea of what I wanted to do with my life, when I look back it’s clear that there were little seeds planted along the way that eventually took root. I’ve always been a peacebuilder, for example, even at home. As I experimented with various studies and career tracks, my values gradually crystallised. I couldn’t bring myself to consult for a tobacco company, for example, no matter how lucrative it might have been. At the end of the day, I wanted to be able to look back on my impact on the world and feel proud.

Peter teaches his son Ollie about cross-pollination.

Keen to make a social impact, I started working for The World Bank, and had the honour of serving under Ashraf Ghani, an amazing man who later became the President of Afghanistan. He was an anthropologist by training, so he really encouraged me to look at the cross-pollination of ideas between business and anthropology. My job was to find out how you get people and organisations to work together effectively and honestly.

This fascinated me, which is partly what led me to train as a coach several years later. So I went back to university, studied Public Administration at Harvard, and attended the Harvard Mediation Program. Listening to people’s stories, and the challenge of helping them solve their problems, really ignited me. Mediation spurs people to take responsibility for their issues, rather than playing the victim card, which is another core value of mine. We can all take responsibility for something, even if it seems like a tiny step at the time.

Food is also a personal passion for Peter.

I’ve had the privilege of serving in a range of settings, from small organisations engaged with environmental mediation and facilitation, to the supermarket giant Tesco. At Tesco, I wanted to leverage my business background and mediation skills to help the company improve its product sourcing. I was very hands-on: you could usually find me at the back door by 5 am, chatting with the milk and bread guy, trying to suss out how everything worked and where improvements could be made.

I wanted to build good relationships and take a long-term view, which was really hard as many people working there were motivated by fear, or ignoring their gut feelings. I covered a lot of roles over a period of eight years, but the core behind all of it was asking the question, “how can we do what we’re doing better and more efficiently?” I became more and more interested in what really motivates people.

Later on, at Cervest, I had the opportunity to travel all over the world – from France to Colombia – helping farmers adapt to climate change. It was heavily rewarding work, and that’s when I became more and more interested in data. Our brains are flooded by data these days. So how do we harvest it efficiently to help people make better decisions?

Two packs of prawns, seemingly very similar. Which is better for the planet?

It was at a hackathon at YSYS (Your Startup, Your Story), near the end of 2019, when Greener Beans started to take root with the question, “how do we incentivise consumers to change what they buy, in a way that has a positive impact on sustainable production?”

Over time, the idea started to blossom inside me. I found myself debating whether to stick to consulting, which paid the bills, or to follow my heart. The pandemic took the decision for me, practically wiping out all of my income as it did so. I often feel that a greater intelligence is at play behind the scenes, and so I took the hint and started networking to sow the seeds of my solution. I met my Co-Founder, Josh Ford, via LinkedIn. Not only did his skills complement mine perfectly (I’m definitely the ‘big vision’ guy, while he looks at the practical, but vital, steps we need to take), we also shared the vision of helping people make more sustainable choices.

Left: Peter at work in his 'plant-based food'-themed home office. Right: Testing the Greener Beans Chrome plugin.

People aren’t always motivated by money. When you offer them a financial bonus for making greener choices, it doesn’t have the same impact as the intrinsic reward of knowing that their actions are contributing to a more sustainable future. I don’t think we can go back to the way things were 10,000 years ago, before humans started to farm. Instead, we need to use the available technology and data to allow people to make almost effortless choices about what they consume.

Switching the milk carton in your shopping cart to one with a 25% lower impact might sound like a small step, but many of those little steps add up. My dream of halving the environmental impact of a billion shopping baskets over the next decade might seem ambitious, but I know my green beans and want to dream big.

"I know my green beans, and want to dream big."

If you would like to invest in Greener Beans, contact Peter now at peter@greenerbeans.earth.

Created By
Robin Wyatt


Images © Robin Wyatt. Text © Gwyneth Jones.