How software giant Atlassian became a climate action leader

Atlassian co-founders and co-CEOs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar
Revenue is up and carbon emissions down for Australia’s US$51.28bn tech company Atlassian, which is tackling scope 3 and paying lessons learned forward

So confident is Atlassian in its own net-zero journey that the Australian tech firm has taken action to guide other companies through the same.

Earlier this year, the software leader launched a corporate blueprint, designed to accelerate the sustainability plans of other businesses.

Titled Don’t F&*! The Planet, the blueprint tracks Atlassian’s progress and draws on more than 100 conversations with peer companies, including Australia’s Canva and other tech firms balancing rapid growth and net-zero goals gaps.

Head of Sustainability Jess Hyman describes the guide as a way of “paying it forward” for the advice Atlassian has received from peers on going net zero, citing Workday and Salesforce as companies that gave them the confidence to make bold moves.

The guide also warns companies that the issue of using offsets to meet targets “is facing an enormous amount of blowback” and any company that commits to a science-based target cannot “make net zero claims” until they have cut their emissions directly by 90%, with carbon offsets used to make up the balance.

Atlassian is not just preaching, but practising too, having long played an active role in delivering impact while also making a profit.

The blueprint designed to accelerate the sustainability plans of other businesses

Founded by Australians Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar – who serve as co-CEOs and are now among Australia’s top 10 richest – Atlassian has grown over the last 20 years to become Australia’s leading tech company with a market valuation of US$51.28 billion.

Recent figures show first quarter revenue grew 24% to US$915 million, exceeding expectations, and subscription revenue was up 37%.

While revenue is up, carbon emissions are down for the software giant, which has a science-based target to reach net zero emissions no later than 2040 and has set verified science-based targets to get there, importantly.

Among short-term goals, according to the firm’s fourth corporate sustainability report for the fiscal year 2022, Atlassian plans to reduce operational emissions (scope 1-2) by 50% by 2025, and reduce business travel emissions by 25% by 2025.

Atlassian operations 100% renewable four years early

As well as being on track to reduce business travel emissions, achieving an 85% reduction in emissions compared to 2019, the firm is ahead on its scope 1 and 2 emissions reduction goal having made a 65% reduction in 2022 compared to 2019.

They are also well ahead on renewables and are now running operations on 100% renewable electricity – reaching this goal in 2021, four years ahead of schedule – and in line with RE100, a global group of companies aiming for 100% renewable energy use. Atlassian became the first Australian tech firm to join RE100 in 2019.

With its Mountain View office in California already green, Atlassian’s new Sydney HQ is set to be the world’s tallest hybrid timber tower and claims to have 50% less CO2 emissions related to construction than conventional towers.

Among other achievements, Atlassian has:

  • Published the Atlassian Human Rights Statement, outlining its commitment to respect human rights, and piloted an ethical advisory group to help Atlassian make complex business decisions
  • Established nine remote-first employee resource groups (ERGs) to improve talent management through equity reviews of its core programmes
  • Donated via the Atlassian Foundation US$8.1 million and more than 4,500 free or deeply discounted Community licences to impact-driven organisations
  • Atlassian employees volunteered 45,500 hours of time towards making an impact on a global scale and in their local communities
  • Diversity – increased representation of women and people of colour by 8.4% and 25.9%, respectively, in 2022 with 34.7% of the total Atlassian workforce women, as of the end of 2022
Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian / Credit: Katie Barget, TEDxSydney

But like many companies, Atlassian can only achieve its net zero goals if its suppliers – which make up about 90% of the firm’s overall carbon emissions – work on reducing theirs too.

Now a top priority for Atlassian, the company has already taken some steps in addressing scope 3 reductions successfully engaging 5.3% of its main suppliers to set their own SBTs by the end of 2022. Though this remains a long way from its ultimate goal of encouraging suppliers that make up 65% of its emissions to adopt SBTs of their own.

“No one has the luxury of being a single-issue business today,” Cannon-Brookes said in the firm's latest sustainability report. “We all have to do the work of making long-term investments in the future of our people and planet Earth. And the hard truth is that nobody is moving fast enough, and incremental change won’t cut it.

“But we’re doing everything we can to drive meaningful impact, both at Atlassian and in the world at large.”

Cannon-Brookes lives and breathes sustainability

Saving the planet is nothing new for the tech billionaire, who lives and breathes sustainability in everything he does.

Prior to COP26 in Glasgow, Cannon-Brookes and his wife pledged to donate A$500 million by 2030 to non-profits seeking to alleviate climate change – a move that positioned him among Australia’s most generous philanthropists.

That same day, he announced plans to double down on renewable energy and other sustainable projects, with plans to invest A$1 billion into the sector, on top of A$1 billion he had already deployed via his self-funded investment firm Grok Ventures.

And then last year, he acquired a minority stake in Australian energy company AGL Energy in 2022.

One of Australia’s richest people, Cannon-Brookes has a net worth of US$2.9 billion, according to Forbes. 

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