GreenTech: Data Versus Carbon Challenges

How do you track something you can’t easily see, store, or even measure? And once you do figure out how to track it, how do you sort through, make sense of, and apply that data in a meaningful way? Sounds like a Herculean task… and that’s exactly what we have on our hands, the Herculean task of figuring out how to do exactly this when it comes to carbon and meeting our sustainability goals.

One option on the table is digitization, which is just using data to tackle carbon. According to a report from Accenture, properly scaled digitization has the potential to deliver up to 20% of our carbon reduction goals in energy, materials, and mobility (some of the worst offenders) over the next three decades. It now seems within reach for us to scale carbon tracking globally, and meaningfully apply harvested data.

An example of what this will look like is the ability to issue certifiable information about carbon footprints to energy products, which would be the ultimate in transparency for energy providers seeking to establish themselves as legitimate, trustworthy stewards of the earth. Such things are already being moved into place, as is evident with the launch of platforms such as the Avelia blockchain platform, a book-and-claim system for Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

We can’t say we’re surprised… the entire world’s perspective has been forced to shift over the last few years. Data-driven is the way of the world now, we don’t just trust things anymore… and that extends to gathering data about, and holding everyone accountable in, carbon problem solving. We’re pleased to see leadership talking about this cultural shift in public, and acknowledging that cold, hard data and accountability can help us clean up the mess we find ourselves in.

Data Driven And Accountable

Many are working on digitization and carbon goals. NASA recently shared information about how we can track local CO2 emissions from space… it’s the whole job of a pair of twin satellites they sent into orbit tasked with making space-based observations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. They used the world’s fifth-largest coal-fired power plant to try it out by having some researchers to detect, track, and quantify the plant’s emissions. It worked.

As you can imagine, this opens the door for all kinds of fun maps based off this data. And where there is data, there is digital gold. Back on earth, these fun, data-filled maps are exactly what companies in this space have their eye on. Ever heard of Climate TRACE? Go ahead and familiarize yourself with the name, they have lofty goals of finding and bringing polluters to stand in account of their actions, and data has everything to do with it.

The “TRACE” in their name stands for Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions, and they were born of a student project turned climate investor sweetheart, which seemed to just happen organically. Climate TRACE works to, at a granular level, detect and track global greenhouse gas emissions. To accomplish this, the coalition uses technology like satellites and machine learning. This group, made up of tech companies and researchers, is unincorporated. They do not look to a single leader, and their data is totally free and open to the public. More than 50 organizations are involved in this important work, stretching across all sectors.

Look forward to a revealing second half of the year, because that’s when the coalition intends to release a first-of-its-kind, asset-level inventory showing granular-level data on greenhouse gas emissions from cargo ships, power plants, steel mills, and more. Not only that, but they also plan to rank the 500 biggest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in every subsector of the global economy, with that information hitting in time for international climate talks.

Success Can Mean “Small”

But… not everything about digitization is big, sometimes it just looks like each person doing their part, and each business doing their part. For instance, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2019 called Watershed has built a way to use data to help companies like Spotify, Stripe, Walmart, and others measure, reduce, and report their carbon emissions through their carbon data engine software, in-house experts, and decarbonization.

They provide audit-grade emissions data to help organizations hit compliance goals, and genuinely make a difference on climate. They aren’t the only ones allowing smaller action, there’s also programs like the one offered by fintech startup Doconomy, which allows individuals to track credit card purchases for daily carbon impact through a special application. It’s a Swedish company, naturally.

Either way, attitudes are changing… from the top to the bottom, and data is playing an important role. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the cutting edge of green technology.