11 digital tools to help reduce your firm’s carbon footprint
While the likes of Microsoft are investing billions in carbon reduction and carbon removal technologies, there are a host of digital tools already out there that can help enterprises on their journey to net zero.
In the first of our two part series, we detail eleven tools that you’re probably already familiar with that can be used to help your company achieve its environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.
A plethora of software-based measurement tools can be plugged into all aspects of the production process and across the supply chain to chart a single product or entire company’s carbon footprint.
Measurement of existing carbon footprints is essential, says Leah Goldfarb, environmental impact officer, Platform.sh, so that firms can then act on improving them.
Granularity matters here, she claims, and not just because of accuracy. Change can only happen when you have actionable information in the hands of decision makers.
Neil Dsouza, CEO and founder of Makersite observes that “granularity means vast amounts of information needs to be managed and this is not possible without modern technologies.”
Most take the form of software-based measurement tools. Some are sector-specific, others more general, some work in conjunction with technology like sensors.
Among them is Envizi, a data analytics startup acquired by IBM and deployed to help track and report progress against IBM’s internal goals in renewable electricity procurement and GHG emissions reduction.
Cycloid’s GreenOPs, meanwhile, is a cloud computing energy optimisation tool, which allows users to see, in graphic form, how much CO2 their cloud services are producing.
Platform.sh offers carbon audits and carbon measurement tools to give companies like Nestle an accurate overview of where they can act.
Global credit ratings agency Creditinfo has also launched VERA, a platform to help financial services establish a standardised view of their ESG performance. This platform is not to be confused with Verra – a non-profit that runs the world’s main carbon crediting programme.
In retail. German startup Vaayu offers carbon measurement for retailers. Its software integrates with point-of-sale systems such as Shopify and Webflow either by via a company’s shop platform or using Vaayu’s API.
Vaayu claims to help a fashion retailer, for instance, plan the effect a change in warehouse location, shipping route, or a garment material can have on its overall carbon emissions. Its customers include Missoma, Ace&Tate and Organic Basics.
Measurement is hard, but action is harder. To reduce the Scope 3 impact of a company, it must address its products and supply chains. This responsibility sits squarely in product development and procurement,” says Dsouza.
“These teams need access to carbon information within the tooling environments that they use daily. High-level dashboards or expert tools are unhelpful in regard as they do not integrate into standard workflows,” he adds.
Carbon offsetting tools
Carbon offsetting is the action or process of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions arising from industrial or human activity. Chooose, a green tech firm headquartered in Norway, calculates the carbon impact of a flight and provides technology that is integrated into the booking system to enable offsetting initiatives.
On the back end, the company audits and maintains relationships with offsetting projects, like sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), so airlines can better channel the money in a way that meets their strategy. Notable clients include Japan Airlines, Iberia, British Airways and Booking.com.
“For an airline to be so-called net-zero today in the real world the only tool available at scale now are offsets,” says CEO Andreas Slettvoll. “The key to making use of offsets viable is to ensure it’s the high-quality climate projects that are supported. This is highly verified climate financing of important projects that make a real change elsewhere,” he adds.
According to Slettvoll a lack of transparency, education on carbon footprints, and a lack of frictionless solutions are the main barriers to adoption of carbon-offsetting initiatives, something that Chooose hopes to simplify.
He adds that businesses must be as transparent as possible on how they operate carbon offsetting programmes — and show CO2 calculations and where the money goes — to help the consumer understand how and why addressing those emissions is important.
For any carbon-offsetting initiative to be effective, choosing to take part must be frictionless — and this is where technology can play a key part.
“The time for random offset projects or planting of a tree is over,” says Slettvoll. “Carbon must be treated as an integral part of the product or service you are buying, including addressing the carbon emissions involved.”
Smart procurement tools
Sustainable Procurement is the incorporation of ESG principles into procurement processes and policies, ensuring that business with suppliers is conducted in a manner that aligns with corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies.
In reality, supply chains are the source of 70%-80% of business carbon emissions – and this simply isn’t being measured by most organisations. In fact, research shows just 21% have plans in place for reducing carbon emissions across the supply chain.
“The single biggest challenge to addressing Scope 3 emissions is that most industries suffer from inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable supplier data that is dispersed in silos,” says Alex Saric, a smart procurement expert at Ivalua. “They have only partial visibility into immediate suppliers and virtually none into sub-tier suppliers, where much of Scope 3 emissions are generated. Therefore, a smarter approach to procurement is critical.
“It will enable organisations to gain a 360-degree view of their entire supply chain, by bringing together supplier and third-party data on everything from environmental impact to supplier capabilities. This single source of truth will include data from immediate suppliers, sub-tier suppliers, and subcontractors – which helps to ensure that green promises are not just surface-level.”
Ivalua supports an organisations’ global sustainable supply chain strategy, helping to digitise its purchasing ecosystem and use data capturing, usage, and analysis via AI and machine learning to measure environmental impact accurately. The platform also allows greater integration with suppliers across the entire value chain, enabling greater collaboration.
“If organisations don’t have the technology to improve visibility into supplier emissions, or the tools to work together and reduce environmental impact, they will struggle to reach net zero 2030 or 2050 targets,” Saric insists.
“This also puts businesses in the crosshairs of non-compliance with increasing regulatory frameworks if they don’t follow through with green initiatives, increasing the risk of fines and reputational damage.”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
Because up to 80% of a company’s emissions stem from its supply chain, the chances of knowing where its emissions come from are very low, according to Neil Dsouza, CEO and Founder of automated digital twin outfit Makersite.
“The more downstream and complex your products, the more of your impact will sit in the supply chain. But it is not just about the supply chain – for energy-consuming products like cars and electronics, the major impact often comes from their use. So, understanding a product across its lifecycle is key in identifying and reducing environmental impacts,” he says.
That’s where artificial intelligence comes in. Stuttgart-based Makersite offers an AI tool that it says enables emission reporting and management at scale. Working with the likes of Microsoft, Vestas, and P&G, the startup’s AI automatically maps a company’s portfolio of products and suppliers, to help them to make more sustainably led decisions about what to buy and from where.
One of the most time-consuming tasks for experts is collecting data from different sources – internal PLM, ERP, procurement systems, external data from suppliers, and third-party data that enable the calculation of the impacts themselves – and then connecting them to create models of the products or processes they are evaluating.
“Certain kinds of AI are relatively good at automating these tasks and this can tremendously reduce the amount of time for calculating impacts, but also, more importantly, reduce the dependence on experts for this unenjoyable step,” Dsouza says. “Filling gaps and identifying outliers quickly are also other areas where we have found good use for AI.”
Data is never complete and consistent. Organisations store, catalogue, and format data differently, which can create compatibility issues when trying to analyse environmental impact across the supply chain. Even within an organisation, data is often siloed or incomplete.
“Automation powered by AI or ML can help to clean this data, removing duplicates, and bringing it all together in the cloud to create a single source of truth for organisations and their partners,” explains Alex Saric, Smart Procurement Expert at Ivalua whose clients include L’Oreal and IKEA.
“Organisations can use automation to allow for real-time carbon impact tracking across the supply chain, creating dashboards that show emissions levels and give organisations the tools to shift gear by managing their carbon footprint proactively, rather than reactively.”
Sensors and sensor extracting tools
Sensors and IoT devices play a huge role in collecting data to feed into AI tools. Among other things, they can help track energy consumption, monitor water quality and air pollution.
The City of Chicago, for instance, offers a water quality data streaming program that enables access to water temperature and turbidity, and more data.
Companies may want to get data out of disparate building management systems, energy metres, or energy storage assets, but joining them up for complete visibility is a tricky task. That’s the gap that firms like Leeds-based Hark are targeting.
Its software taps data from industrial devices, assets and sensors on the edge, in the cloud and on-premises to obtain information about measures such as energy use.
Additional analytics tools can then issue alerts to its clients, including Sainsbury’s, pinpointing excessive wastage with the aim of saving that company electricity costs, for example, or increasing yield.
Hark defines yield as the output of a production line, the output of an energy asset, or the output of how a building performs or how an asset performs for that building.
In part two we look at ‘green’ APIs, The Cloud, digital waste tools, lowcode/nocode solutions, digital twins and blockchain.
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