How a winter surfer created a big wave of carbon reduction

Robert Sabelström was a Swedish entrepreneur who happily flew between continents to catch the best waves. Until he began calculating his own carbon footprint.
This is the story of how a world-traveling surfer decided to question his own lifestyle and launch a start-up that has so far helped more than one million households reduce their carbon footprint.
Robert Sabelström winter surfing in the Baltic Sea.
Robert Sabelström winter surfing in the Baltic Sea.

ClimateHero was founded in 2018, around the same year as We Don’t Have Time, and the two impact companies joined forces early on. Each member of We Don’t Have Time has a link to the ClimateHero carbon calculator on the profile page, and this has to date resulted in 22 000 tonnes of carbon reduced by the We Don’t Have Time community.

During Stockholm Climate Week 2023, Robert Sabelström, the founder of ClimateHero was interviewed after his keynote session and revealed the surprising story of how it all started in a surfers bar in Biarritz.

Robert Sabelström and moderator Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson during Stockholm Climate Week.
Robert Sabelström and moderator Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson during Stockholm Climate Week.

For years Robert has been a keen surfer, and indirectly this is the reason why he founded ClimateHero. Surfing, although not a carbon-intensive sport on its own, turned Robert into a climate villain. The first time he calculated his own carbon footprint, in 2017, he weighed in at almost 20 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

”A large part of my carbon footprint came from air travel. I used to do at least four surf trips a year, where at least one included a distant destination, such as Australia. These trips were an incredibly important part of my lifestyle and I would never have imagined stopping flying, until I tried”, he says.

Today Robert surfs almost as many days a year as he used to do, but in colder water.

”When you think about it, it’s really crazy that it would take me almost two decades and countless laps around the world before I discovered how fun surfing can be in Scandinavia. Ok, the water is cold and it is very inconsistent, as it requires a storm to start pumping. But when my passion is accessible via an electric car trip, why would I increase my carbon footprint and jump on a plane?”

His passion for surfing turned Robert Sabelström into a climate villain. But he found a way around it.
His passion for surfing turned Robert Sabelström into a climate villain. But he found a way around it.

That first carbon calculation back in 2017 not only made him change his lifestyle. It also sparked a business idea.

”Carbon calculators were not any new invention, several others already existed. But the existing ones were developed by academics and environmental organizations, and they all had a bad user experience and used a tonality of alarmism and shaming. ‘Robert, you live as if we had 4,2 planets’ is for example a final message you receive. That does not work. It does not empower me to start changing my habits.”

So Robert decided ClimateHero should do the opposite, and build on positive psychology and nudging to help people initiate a low carbon diet. With ClimateHero’s carbon calculator you can get a good understanding of your carbon footprint in just 5 minutes, by answering a few simple questions. You will then receive feedback on what you’re already doing well, and get personalized tips on how to reduce your footprint further.

How to drive exponential impact

So far this has been a success on both a personal and business level. Robert himself has reduced his own footprint from 20 tons to around 3 tons (See the fact box below to learn how he did it.) And his company has helped more than 1 million households to calculate and take steps to reduce their footprints.

Another benefit with ClimateHero’s approach is that it is possible to measure the impact. The one million households that have so far used ClimateHero, have collectively pledged to reduce their carbon footprint with over 2,2 million tons CO2 per year, which is equivalent to permanently removing 1,5 million cars from our roads.

But Robert Sabelström is by no means satisfied.

“We are on an exponential growth trajectory and have more or less doubled our user base every year. Our key objective is to continue this growth and influence 100 million households by 2030. As part of our strategy to achieve this goal, we took a significant step in 2023 by assembling a co-founding team with equal representation of women and men in our C-level positions. This move underscores our commitment to diversity and innovation as we drive towards our ambitious objective.”, says Robert Sabelström.

Image of post in post detailed view

Ingmar Rentzhog, founder and CEO of We Don’t Have Time, agrees. The key to success, he says, is influencing climate action in society at an exponential pace. ”If, on a personal level, you can reduce two tons of carbon and then make 10,000 more follow your example, well, there you go. That’s the solution.”

As a partner to We Don’t Have Time, ClimateHero has its own Climate Dialogue page on the platform, which it uses to communicate with people from all over the world.

”We Don’t Have Time’s platform is a great tool to gather feedback from our most engaged users”, says Robert Sabelström about the Climate Dialogue service on the We Don’t Have Time platform.

Supporting companies

Since 2021 ClimateHero has expanded their focus, to also support companies with carbon calculations. And in early 2024 We Don’t Have Time and ClimateHero revealed their plans to join forces on helping companies (b2b) to disclose their climate efforts.

After helping companies to calculate and report their carbon emissions, ClimateHero now also supports companies to publish and communicate their environmental efforts in a transparent way on We Don't Have Time.

”We are proud to be able to offer companies an effective and sustainable solution for their climate accounting. Our unique model gives companies ownership of their climate calculations, as well as the opportunity to operate more sustainably, to the benefit of both the climate and the company brand. But in order to drive real change and inspire others to follow, companies also need to communicate their climate progress. Our extended partnership with We Don’t Have Time provides our customers with the perfect solution for this kind of communication,” says Robert Sabelström.

Climatehero’s view on Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is regularly being criticized for providing a shortcut for companies and individuals to reach reduction goals without actually making efforts to reduce their own emissions.
Robert Sabelstöm calls it green-washing when a company pledges to go net-zero in a certain year without reducing their own emissions in accordance with the carbon law.

”The important thing is that carbon offsetting shall never be used to defend the status quo. It should be the third action taken, after first calculating and starting to reduce your carbon footprint. It does not matter if you are an individual, a city, a country or a company. Your obligation is to reduce your carbon footprint according to the ‘carbon law’. That means at least halving emissions every decade, where the first halving by 2030 is the most important.”

But he also argues that we can’t wait until 2050 to take full responsibility for the emissions we cannot immediately reduce.

”Instead start already today to contribute financially to solving the climate crisis and ensure you help to phase out at least as much carbon emissions as you cause.

In the end, he says, it’s a matter of deciding what kind of person you want to be.

”My question to you is what time do you live in? Are you still part of the fossil-fueled mass consumption society that is causing the planet to collapse? Or have you decided to become part of the solution? If you want to be a part of the solution, then a good first step is to calculate and understand your carbon footprint and then take the first steps to reduce it. My hope is that after you have finished reading this, that you will use ClimateHero and do just that.”

Watch Robert Sabelströms keynote at Stockholm Climate Week 2023:


Here's how Robert Sabelström cut his climate footprint from 20 tons per year to 2,5.
  • Transportation:
 ”I admit that cutting back on air travel has at times felt self-sacrificing. But the other measures I have taken to reduce my climate footprint have actually only improved my quality of life. Being car-free is one such example. Today I usually get around by bike and am in much better shape. For longer trips, I go by train or use an electric car pool. Not owning a car is amazing. Never again will I change winter tires, clean, administer parking, or care about residual value. I am also looking forward to a future where the cars drive by themselves, so we can skip all parking spaces in the inner city.”
  • Food:
 ”I have not gone all the way to plant-based only, but I follow the planetary guidelines that exist around sustainable food consumption, which means that about half of my meals are completely vegetarian. The realization that meat from cows and lambs has 10 times as high a carbon footprint as poultry and fish has also made me treat beef as a luxury item, something I eat at most once a month.”
  • Waste: 
”I have become a proud food waste hunter. Of all food produced, 40% ends up as waste, half of the waste occurs in the manufacturing and distribution stages and half occurs at home in your kitchen. Today it is like a competition for me to throw away as little food as possible. It is above all a question of attitude. To challenge yourself to be proactive in freezing food and be creative enough to run a “residual food party” from time to time. As a parent, my best trick is to start with a smaller portion for myself and then compensate for the fact that my children are not quite as polished in the food waste hunting sport yet.”
  • Consumption: 
”I have completely changed my attitude to consumption. The way we constantly buy new clothes and gadgets is completely unsustainable. It hardly matters if you take responsibility and recycle the products, the biggest environmental damage already occurs in production. Today, I visit the tailor, the bicycle workshop and the electronics workshop, much more often than any store. I get the same “kick” from mending something that I once got from shopping for new stuff, but the feeling goes deeper. Repairing and maintaining what we already have is the first cornerstone of the circular economy. The other is to reuse. Today I usually start my customer journey by looking at 2nd hand sites like Ebay and Facebook Market. Yes, it’s still a little messier to buy used goods than to buy new ones, but it’s much better for both my wallet and the environment. Furthermore, it no longer feels so meaningful to own things at all. Most things can be borrowed, rented or ‘co-owned’. That is the future and it has already begun.”

  • Markus Lutteman

    5 w

    @Robert_Sabelstrom, I have a surf-related question for you. If you're at a beginner's level, what would you say would be the best surf spots in Scandinavia?

    • Robert Sabelström

      1 w

      @Markus_Lutteman For a beginner surfer the best way is to find a beach break (sand) that has consistency (waves almost every day) also in summer, when the wether is pleasant. The best place I have found, and where I have thought my kids to surf i N. Vorupör on the Danish West coast.

    • George Kariuki

      5 w

      Love his approach positive psychology & nudges to empower people to reduce their impact. Calculating your footprint is the first step!

      • Chris Ndungu

        5 w

        This article inspires alot. it is good to see this fellow has realize their own idiocy and set to fix what was disturbing the world. This call for more to take a leaf.

        • Munene Mugambi

          5 w

          I'm greatly inspired by this article. This person realised their own folly and set out to fix what was wrong with the world. We can all take a leaf from this story

          • Carl Bärstad

            5 w

            Inspiring read! One of my best surf trips was with night train to Narvik and then bus to Unstad / Lofoten. If you haven’t gone you totally should! 😊

            • Ingmar Rentzhog

              5 w

              I was actually a former surf client of Robert's back in the days when I was working in the finance industry. We have both changed a lot since then. Proud to be working together today: keep it up, Robert

              • ClimateHero

                5 w

                Thanks WDHT for sharing the story of how we are founded 💚

                • Robert Sabelström

                  5 w

                  Hi, I am Robert the founde of @ClimateHero 👋 I am happy to answer any questions you might have...wether it is about climate solutions or surfing tips 😉

                  Welcome, let's solve the climate crisis together
                  Post youtube preview with preloading
                  youtube overlay

                  Write or agree to climate reviews to make businesses and world leaders act. It’s easy and it works.

                  Write a climate review

                  Voice your opinion on how businesses and organizations impact the climate.
                  0 trees planted

                  One tree is planted for every climate review written to an organization that is Open for Climate Dialogue™.

                  Download the app

                  We plant a tree for every new user.