Networked Environmental Data Is Key to Driving Sustainability Mainstream

© James Thew

Have you ever seen a company report its emissions? We’re aware of only a few thousand companies who have publicly disclosed their reports. And, when you dig into the numbers, it’s less than clear how reliable the data is, where they came from, and how to interpret them.

It’s hardly a compelling demonstration of change. However many dedicated companies are trying to tackle this issue, including some you may be surprised by - like Walmart, Dell, and Nike.

Apple is (of course) very good at making the information clear and easy to understand. For example, over half of their footprint is in manufacturing.

Apple/Screen capture

This highlights one of the biggest challenges every company faces: only 2% of Apple’s footprint is in its facilities - the majority of its impact is in its supply-chain.

“Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive...because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life.” -- Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Catalogue

To provide a sense of the scale of data that’s needed, let’s look at a business’s consumption. This can (broadly) be broken down into Energy, Water, Waste, Devices, Transport, and Buildings:

AMEE/CC BY-NC 3.0

And a product (e.g. food) can be broken down into Production, Packaging, Processing, Transport, Storage, and Waste:

AMEE/CC BY-NC 3.0

But then to model our Business (staff) or Product’s use of Transport, this can be broken down into Plane, Truck, Car, Train, Ship or Bus:

AMEE/CC BY-NC 3.0

And, of course, all of these things use Energy and Water, and produce Waste:

AMEE/CC BY-NC 3.0

The deeper you dig, it seems to end up resembling an Ouroboros.

The key to unlocking global environmental intelligence is interconnectivity.

In web-speak, the enablers of this interconnectivity are web-addressable open APIs. Cloud-based services, like AMEE, provide safe-harbours for the specific data needed to calculate environmental impacts. This approach lets people easily perform calculations and get answers without having to deploy any new software tools or infrastructure. Environmental intelligence can be added wherever there is activity or consumption data flow.

In this example, working with the UK Energy Saving Trust and Technology Strategy Board, AMEE aggregates not only energy, but temperature, humidity and other sensor-based data-feeds from hundreds of homes. The outcome is analysis that helps improve our understanding of the energy efficiency of buildings.

AMEE/CC BY-NC 3.0

In human-speak, we are creating new data-networks that can communicate with each other, move beyond their existing “silos”, and enable us to unlock value and insight. AMEE is a mechanism for different systems to access Environmental Intelligence - Everywhere.

The scale of the potential for interconnected data is only just becoming visible (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter...). I’m fortunate to have spent a lot of time with people leading this revolution, and -- like the web in the mid-90s -- we are all navigating: working out the shape of the map. Pioneers are out there, beating their way into new territories, laying the foundations for new principles of trade. They are dedicated to making a difference.

At AMEE, we hope to enable anyone and everyone to engage in answering the questions: whether it’s the amount of carbon from producing 10kg of beef, 10 tonnes of ducks in a lagoon in Africa, or the 10kWh of electricity in Shanghai, or a Boeing 777 flying 1000 miles.

If sustainability is going to become truly mainstream, we need millions of companies to engage, not thousands. Looking at the rate of change in engagement over the past decade, we are not moving quickly enough. Unfortunately environmental physics doesn’t wait for policy or profit-motives: we need innovators like Steve Howard at Ikea -- who recently announced that their suppliers will have to be 100% compliant with their sustainable procurement policies -- to lead the way.

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Corporate Responsibility | Transportation | Walmart | Waste | Water Conservation

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