Google-backed start-up launches free carbon emissions tracker

A majority (up to 85%) of the emissions from a barrel of oil come when transportation, such as your car, is driven, according to Carbon Tracker. It’s a stark example of how difficult the net-zero goal will be for companies, but far from the only one.

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Normative, a Swedish start-up backed by Google, has launched a free version of its carbon emissions tracker as companies around the world trying to figure out how to manage their environmental footprints.

The carbon calculator is designed to provide small- to medium-sized businesses with a “baseline” from which they can take action after they put some data into a form. Normative also has a paid-for product that it sells to large businesses.

Though the burning of fossil fuels is the chief driver of the climate crisis, the world is set to become even more dependent on energy sources such as oil and gas in the coming decades. That comes even as world leaders and CEOs repeatedly tout their commitment to the so-called “energy transition.”

SMEs account for 95% of businesses globally, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Many of them play interconnected roles in the creation of the products and services of large corporations.

More accessible and accurate

Kristian Ronn, CEO and co-founder of Normative, told CNBC Thursday the world economy is more interconnected than ever before.

“That means that if you take an average business, 90% of their emissions will be in the value chain,” Ronn said, adding that SMEs make up a large chunk of the value chain. “In order to actually move the needle on climate change, large enterprises and small enterprises need to work together.”

Ronn said Normative launched the free tool for SMEs to help them report on their emissions and to make it easy for large enterprises to get real emissions data from their value chain.

Google itself is yet to sign up as a customer but Ronn said they’re having conversations.

Matt Brittin, president of EMEA business and operations at Google, told CNBC on Thursday that he couldn’t comment on why Google hadn’t signed up as a customer as he wasn’t personally responsible for brokering such deals. “I’m sure Kristian’s driving a hard bargain with us,” he said.

Around a dozen fellows from Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, helped to build the free carbon calculator, with software engineers, UX designers, and product managers all supporting Normative on a full-time, pro bono basis for six months.

The search giant’s support comes after Google backed the company with 1 million euros ($1.1 million) last year through Google.org.

Jen Carter, head of technology and volunteering at Google.org, told CNBC in October that accurately measuring carbon emissions is essential if small businesses want to understand the impact of their actions. “We’re thrilled to provide both funding and tech talent to help Normative build a solution that will make measurement more accessible,” she said.

Brittin said he was pleased to see so many “genuine and serious” big businesses at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year.

“We hope to lead the way but we’re humble enough to realize that we can learn from lots of other people,” he said.

Normative was founded in 2014 and it’s been backed by billionaire investor Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital, among others. It charges hundreds of firms, including French bank BNP Paribas, for access to its existing software, with rates depending on the size of the customer.

Tech giants have long strived to be seen as the greenest companies on the planet.

Google has been carbon-neutral since 2007, meaning it has planted trees, bought carbon credits and funded large amounts of wind power in places where it is abundant in order to offset its tapping of coal and natural gas power in other regions.

In September 2020, Google said it was aiming to power its data centers and offices 24/7 using only carbon-free electricity by 2030. Wind, solar and other renewable sources accounted for just 61% of Google’s global hourly electricity usage in 2019.

“We’ll want to select suppliers who know what their footprint is,” Brittin said. “This kind of tool (from Normative) is going to help those suppliers compete for business.”

In May 2020, the search giant pledged to stop building customized artificial intelligence tools for oil and gas firms.

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