The emergence of a host of new carbon-monitoring and -tracking tools is better equipping companies with the data to achieve their climate goals — but time is running short to turn this into meaningful action.
We know the problem: As of right now, global companies are not, collectively, doing nearly enough to reduce carbon emissions in order to meet science-based climate targets. They’re not even meeting their own goals.
While it’s great that many companies have made bold commitments when it comes to carbon reduction, plastic usage, or zero-deforestation sourcing, the results so far are lacking. The 2022 Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor found that most of the 25 largest global brands are not meeting their own climate commitments. Similarly, a scorecard released by the Rainforest Action Network last year found that most major multinational brands and banks were failing to stop deforestation — another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of this is due to greenwashing; but a lot of it is that many companies lack access to data to make the right sourcing and sustainability decisions. That, however, is changing — as several new AI, machine-learning, and blockchain-driven tools are e quipping sustainability decision-makers to make more climate-positive decisions.
“A lot of times brands are making choices when it comes to things which involve carbon, but you don't know the choice you're making is better or worse,” Namrata Sandhu, a former Zalando exec and sustainability expert with over two decades of experience, told Sustainable Brands™. “So, having the tools to understand that — before you're making decisions or understand the impact of those decisions — is quite powerful.”
Sandhu is co-founder of Vaayu — a new, automated software helping retailers better track their carbon emissions and fine-tune their approach to reducing their carbon footprints.
Another tool with a similar goal to Vaayu is CarbonChain, which focuses on commodity supply chains. It promises to automate a company’s carbon accounting — enabling them to more quickly tackle climate risks, reduce emissions, and accelerate the transition to net zero.
“Quantifying your supply chain emissions helps you understand how your business will be affected, and where to take action to protect your supply chains,” Adam Hearne, CarbonChain’s CEO, said in a recent blog post.
Meanwhile, ClearTrace takes a different approach — focusing on providing tracking for a common sustainability goal: sourcing of clean energy. It provides companies with hourly analysis of source, location, and grid-carbon intensity of their energy usage; data that can be incredibly useful for companies with large, energy-consuming facilities such as factories or data centers.
It’s not just startups creating tools. IBM is using its expertise in AI to create what it calls the Environmental Intelligence Suite, a service that aims to streamline carbon footprint analysis. It also highlights areas where companies are exposed to extreme events made worse by climate change.
The non-profit sector is also participating, with the World Economic Forum releasing, in 2020, a proof-of-concept for a blockchain-based tool called COT that enables tracing of embedded emissions in the mining industry. As mining activities grow to meet demand for clean energy technology, ensuring that they aren’t causing harm is imperative to a clean and just transition.
“There is an increasing demand for metals and minerals, and an increasing demand for sustainable and responsible and traceable supply chains," Jörgen Sandström, Head of Mining and Metals Industry, World Economic Forum, in a press statement.
There are just a few of the many tools out there; but they all show that knowledge is powerful — and they’re already helping companies.
"We have never had this level of data and visibility on our carbon footprint. This saves us months of work on calculations; and we can focus on reducing, which we should actually be doing,” Lavinia Muth — Head of Corporate Responsibility at online sustainable fashion retailer ArmedAngels — has said of Vaayu’s platform.
As many working in sustainability know, data often drives action. Being able to show definitively that a decision can result in lower carbon emissions is immensely powerful. Within a company, access to this type of data can help make the case for more sustainable decisions. It can also allow for better use of human and financial resources, meaning better impacts, too.
The hope is that these new tools could, with time, also help brands meet their targets — which is one of Sandhu’s goals for Vaayu.
“Managing those targets has been super challenging for businesses, because it's very difficult to track,” she said. “There's a lot of goals, there's a lot of commitments, and there's a lot of people wanting to achieve and setting targets. What we're doing is enabling the tracking of those targets.”
Companies now have more, better and faster ways to track their carbon footprint — but time is running short to turn this into meaningful action. As the latest IPCC report continues to drive home, we’ve truly reached a global 'code red' for humanity, one that demands urgent action from businesses and governments.
“If you factor all of the climate targets that we need to meet, it doesn't feel fast enough,” Sandhu says. “We feel a lot of pressure to speed and scale, bearing in mind that companies need to hit a lot of targets by 2030.”
If we’re to avoid the worst of climate change, we need companies to adopt more ambitious approaches, using every tool in the sustainability arsenal to reduce their carbon footprint fast.