In between business leaders speaking about their organizations’ construction projects, and ministers breaking down their government’s emissions targets at Base London, Andreas Zachariah took to the stage to introduce CarbonDiem: a smartphone app that measures users’ carbon footprints precisely and on an individual basis. Results can then be scaled up to show whole communities’ habits. The result is both micro and macro carbon monitoring.
CarbonDiem tracks how users travel: by foot, bicycle, car, train, bus, subway or even by plane. It calculates their carbon footprints using an algorithm factored with local transport emissions, and the user’s mode of transport, while preserving privacy by never disclosing users’ locations. This appeals to the self-quantifier in all of us, and appeases the paranoid part that fears being tracked.
“Self-quantifying” our lifestyle choices – through pedometers, calorie-counters etc – is a trait of the smartphone age in which we all understand we are ourselves tiny, and so we identify with the tiny details in our own lives. It’s a Feltron-style obsessing over details. And, like calories and other quotidian details, our carbon use amounts grain by grain to something far more substantial when seen on a massive scale. CarbonDiem is the interface that gets you closest to your carbon emissions.
Zac projected a series of graphics onto the wall revealing how delegates had travelled to the conference that morning: whether on foot, by bicycle, car, train, subway or even plane. The data was viewable in various graphs, in terms of carbon, distance, mode of transport etc. Afterwards, Zac explained to me the global potential of CarbonDiem: smartphone density in the US and UK is already over 53% and new transport networks can be loaded to accommodate new territories.
Transport emissions, smartphone density and travel infrastructure are typically at their highest in the same highly developed countries. A smartphone app is the ideal technology to calculate carbon footprint in these places. Zac and the CarbonDiem team have received awards and won significant contracts in the UK (BBC and BT being the only ones they can disclose). Currently CarbonDiem runs on Blackberry and Android, with Apple capability coming soon. Zac expects they will be operational in North America in the very near future.
Interview with Zac, founder of CarbonDiem:
Hello Zac. What are the most compelling stats on transport and carbon emissions?
Transport is a serious problem. It’s the only sector in the last twenty years not to go down: it currently accounts for around a third of all emissions and is forecast to be more than half of all emissions in the next twenty years.
Source: Towards the decarbonization of EU’s transport sector by 2050; www.eutransportghg2050.eu
At the same time, North America and the EU are recognised as the two largest contributors of transport Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) and consequently they represent the greatest opportunity too as they suffer from being reliant on imported oil. Fortunately these two economic zones also have the greatest smartphone penetration with more than half of their populus already owning smartphones.
Emissions from the U.S. transportation sector accounts for 27 percent of the GHG emissions of the entire U.S. economy and 30 percent of the world’s transportation GHG emissions. Without shifts in existing policies, the U.S. transportation sector’s GHG emissions are expected to grow by about 10 percent by 2035, and will still account for a quarter of global transportation emissions at that time.
What is CarbonDiem?
The CarbonDiem subscription service provides enterprises with transport emissions data and engages their employees with detailed, highly personalised transport carbon profiles. Our USPs include:
- Ease of use
- Great scalability
- Fast client ROI (6-12 weeks)
- Painless deployment
Our enterprise-grade app is born of a development team using FTSE100 experience, multi-OS, unit testing and Agile coding.
First, our smartphone app determines individuals’ carbon emissions from travel by studying speed, location and pattern of movement to identify their mode of transport. The app enables hands-free, privacy secure, effortless data generation and capture.
Secondly, complemented by our cloud service, we aggregate employee profiles and provide them with visualisation, engagement and reporting tools.
Who is the team behind Carbon Diem?
We’re a team of mobile development professionals, made up of former risk analysts, investment professionals, product managers and FTSE100 system architects. We all have a walking-the-talk interest in environmental issues and love operating in the smartphone industry.
Our team is split between Tech City/Silicon Roundabout and Norfolk, in the UK.
How long has CarbonDiem been in development? And what led you to develop it in the first place?
The idea was born in December 2006, while investigating carbon calculators and working on a way to better integrate cycling into public transport infrastructure at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Carbon Calculators seemed to be designed for the kind of person who was totally interested in environmental issues and had the patience to complete endless questions in return for a simple snapshot. Now imagine, if a weighing scale was that much work, obesity statistics would be even worse. CarbonDiem is about time efficiency and removing the hassle.
With a background of investing in the mobile industry during the 3G auction era in ‘00-01 I knew location based services where going to get a second shot. My understanding of trading algorithms and pattern recognition helped to inform the way CarbonDiem methodology would work. The CarbonDiem team, and a practice of constant improvement, have helped move the product on by many degrees, including in our scalability, visualisation and accuracy.
What is your background, Zac?
I’m a materials engineer by first degree, my second was an MBA in Finance and the third is an MA in Industrial Design from the RCA. In between the second and third I spent a decade working in finance starting as a Risk Analyst at Goldman Sachs. This provided me with an incredible opportunity to understand trading strategies and psyche.
Moving on, I then managed a portfolio of industrial credits and, as a proprietary trader, took macro positions too. During this period my interests and professional responsibilities gave me access to blue-chip C-level executives, central bankers and the odd finance minister and vice president too. I was happiest trading as an arbitrageur and finding mispricing opportunities.
Unhappy with the way the industry was going, I left it a second time in 2005 to study Industrial Design at the RCA, the only postgraduate design school in the world, and where CarbonDiem was born.
I’m very lucky to have travelled the world at a young age as my father was a pilot and this has helped me understand the complex cultural and economic forces that we all are locked into. My love of the sciences, business and design remains central to my thinking.
How many people currently use CarbonDiem?
Thousands, but its in the next few months we intend to close contracts that will break 10k and then 20k enterprise users. Currently we can only mention enterprise contracts we have with the BBC and BT.
What do they use it for?
Direct Employee Engagement, and supporting their internal and external transport emissions reporting needs. Saving time and money, easy deployment, while increasing granularity and reach are major drivers to client adoption.
It’s also being used in a public service project where the client wanted to capture the changing habits of consumers as new superfast broadband was introduced to the populous.
Is there some central interface where you sit and watch a map with flashing blips representing all the CarbonDiem users going about their daily lives?
Absolutely not. Privacy together with automation, scalability and ease of use have been the founding pillars in driving the product development. The EU more so than the USA has some very tough regulations around individual privacy. Add to this trade unions and wanting to reassure C-level executives that they are not being compromised and you can see why we took the high road of privacy first. This is why processing on the device is both our USP and so very important to us.
In fact in winning the BBC contract we had to assure them that if a journalist’s handset should fall into the wrong hands we would not compromise either them or any sources they may have been meeting.
How many people might potentially use CarbonDiem, one day?
Theoretically we’re limited by only the number of smartphones in circulation and operating systems we can support. But given our ability to already support Android and BlackBerry operating systems (with Apple support due soon), we are looking at being able to run on 21m devices in the UK alone and over 150m smartphones between the EU and North America alone.
It’s worth pointing out that this takes into account that we are a natively running app, rather than HTML5 or web app, because of our careful use of on-device resources.
What kind of client have you built CarbonDiem for?
Any organization really. Although we are targeting mid to large sized enterprises, NGOs, government departments and municipalities first, we have also made servicing SMEs possible too.
What, in your opinion, is CarbonDiem best used for?
Almost universally, time is our most precious and strained resource, and with CarbonDiem we are trying to appeal equally to time-poor professionals and industry leading enterprises.
Research has shown that engaged employees are more productive and that engagement leads to higher retention rates.
Sustainability is becoming more of an important metric for employees, and equally enterprises are increasingly faced with a raft of legislations and initiatives around emissions reporting, both voluntary and mandatory. CarbonDiem’s value proposition is about utilising an existing infrastructure they are already paying for, namely smartphones, for a whole other purpose.
What has the response been so far from your clients?
Sustainability practitioners tend to be amazed this is even possible and are usually very generous in their compliments. Companies meanwhile are relieved to find out that we can solve a pain of theirs: as much as one might like to think sustainability and employees’ interests in the matter rank near the top, the reality is somewhat different and so simplifying the problem is of great benefit to all.
Finally, we’re engaging policymakers and politicians, and discovering they are willing advocates too. We currently have high hopes that one of the discussions leads to a UK government department adopting our technology internally, to support the measurement and reporting of their transport emissions [80% by 2050, nationwide] that they have committed themselves to undertaking.
Are sustainability and technology compatible?
Technology should be about making something easier, more accessible, safer, raise understanding and be more scalable to name just a few goals. From gunpowder to submarines, sundials to sextants, penicillin and X-rays, to the archimedes screw and the wheel. We tend to think of technology as electronic gadgets, when in practice it has actually defined human civilization.
Technology and sustainability are bound by a common quest to be more efficient in our use of resources so that we can further the collective cause. Culture is what we enjoy after engineers and scientists have made sure we have been fed, watered and housed.
Touché! What does the post-CarbonDiem world look like?
When I started looking into transport I was amazed at the lack of environmental emissions data on the transport sector. It was all big data, big numbers and big assumptions from top down thinking. When we looked at the collection, frequency and quality of data that transport planners source the conclusion was even worse.
It’s worth realizing that underpinning CarbonDiem is the ability to understand how and when people move about. This has utility beyond the environmental space to help inform transport planning. In an era of some pretty big transport infrastructure spending announcements, we believe that there is another civic purpose we could fulfill with our technology.
Ultimately our measure of success will be the number of installations, tonnes of GHGs measured and most importantly the change in behaviour and year-on-year reductions that we will help foster.
Thanks Zac. In closing, is there anything further you’d like to mention?
This summer, some 30 and 20 billion apps will have been installed respectively over Apple and Google Play’s App stores. This represents an extraordinary mechanism by which to distribute any service, let alone one that is about trying to tackle a real scale problem for us all. It’s this kind of electric opportunity that drives the team and why we believe we are on the cusp of something very exciting.
Imagine a manufacturer at source pre-installing a link to download and install CarbonDiem, or a network operator including it under its branding. Even forward-thinking, consumer-facing businesses could sponsor a public-facing app to support their own business and brand values.
In the meantime we recognize that industry leaders and legislators are powerful forces, for whom we can help solve a pain. We believe the business case for extending our service to North America is very near. The SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] have variously looked at the business risk of climate change.
Meanwhile, one is already seeing that at a local level there are several schemes in play: from Chicago to the State of California, legislators are seeking to focus the energies of business to increase their operational efficiency and reduce their impact on the climate.
Thanks to Zac for agreeing to the interview. He can be reached at https://www.carbondiem.
CarbonDiem has been downloaded by thousands of users in the UK, and currently is being developed for North America. For more information, and to download the CarbonDiem app, visit: www.carbondiem.com
Hello, I’m David. I write about energy efficiency and about the solar industry for websites Greendeal.co.uk and TheEcoExperts.co.uk. I primarily write on new research, green technology, and government policy. I also write murder novels.