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Counting carbon just got easier
This women-led startup is leveraging AI and data to help businesses tackle their carbon emissions.
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Carmen Vicelich is the founder of Generate Zero.
With mandatory climate disclosures in effect this year, a raft of Aotearoa companies are busy tallying up their carbon emissions.
It might seem like just another carbon-bean-counting exercise. But in order to take action to reduce emissions, a company first has to figure out what’s being emitted, and where it’s spurting out along the value chain. This includes indirect carbon emissions arising from a business’ customers or supply chain, too. It’s a tricky undertaking – one that’s historically been plagued by guesstimates and wide margins of error.
Enter Carmen Vicelich, a tech entrepreneur with a passion for “using technology and data for good, and doing purposeful things that have impact.” Her latest brainchild is Generate Zero, a data-driven startup that helps businesses measure, track and reduce their carbon emissions via a product called Footprint.
“Businesses have a responsibility to make a difference on sustainability – but they didn't have a way to do that,” says Vicelich. “And that's where we saw this massive gap in the market to deliver something that is reliable and uses data, not opinion.”
Footprint’s model has been validated with Toitū, a certification programme with rigorous global standards. This, combined with the underlying accounting methodology, means it’s more accurate than previous efforts, according to Vicelich.
It’s also designed to stimulate emissions reduction in a straightforward way. “The dashboard allows users to drag and drop, and go, if I change that thing, what will it do?” Vicelich explains. “If I let my team work from home three days a week instead of two, what does it do? Or if I bring them back into the office, how do I encourage ridesharing and public transport and cycling?”
It’s this “reduction module” that the Generate Zero team sees as a tool for transformation. “We’re really trying to democratise data and share lessons from companies who have already reduced their emissions. It’s about creating an ecosystem to learn from one another,” says Caroline Knowles, chief product officer. Artificial intelligence turns the library of reduction ideas into a recommendation engine, enabling businesses to take action – and perhaps even pursue carbon positive status.
Vicelich says they’ve had great uptake so far, especially among the banking, insurance and property sectors – driven not just by disclosure reporting, but also by a push for emissions reductions. “I think recent weather events have really shown us that actually, this is happening now,” says Vicelich. “It’s definitely not just a future thing. We have to make a difference now.”
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ICYMI: Budget ‘disappointing’ for climate
The government released its “no frills” budget last week, with a handful of highlights including free public transport for tamariki and a neat wind turbine/battery project on Rēkohu Chatham Islands. There’s almost $2 billion for the Climate Emergency Response Fund – but that’s a good deal less than the previous two budgets. As Newsroom’s Marc Daalder reports, “with all things climate, the devil is in the detail”: the big-ticket items actually have very little impact on reducing emissions. Dr Timothy Welch, from the University of Auckland, says that the focus on returning infrastructure to pre-cyclone standards “isn’t going to be enough to make the country resilient to the more intense and frequent storms we expect in the future.”
NZ Steel to go green
Post-budget announcement, the government revealed plans to provide $140m in funding to convert Glenbrook Steel Mill to an electric arc furnace, which will drastically cut the mill’s use of coal. It’s been hailed as New Zealand’s “biggest emissions reduction project in history”, costing $300m in total and equivalent to taking 300,000 cars off the road. NZ Steel say they wouldn’t have pursued the furnace switch without the subsidy, because there would be no direct financial benefit to doing so. Some, including opposition leader Christopher Luxon, have criticised the deal. Here are two analyses on the deal (and whether it’s “corporate welfare”) from Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker and NZ Herald’s Simon Wilson (paywall).
Aussie ‘black summer’ bushfires fuelled La Niña
Aerosols from Australia’s massive bushfire season in 2019-20 triggered the three-year “super” La Niña that we’re just emerging from now, research suggests. La Niña is one of the factors behind our warm ocean temperatures and wet weather in the northeast, but meteorologists predict we’re gradually heading towards El Niño. Meanwhile, a new modelling study finds that climate change might be making La Niñas and El Niños both more frequent and more extreme.
A message from Jane Yee, head of podcasts at The Spinoff
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Zoo Miami has ceased its controversial kiwi encounters “effective immediately” after an outpouring of incandescent rage over the kiwi’s treatment. This comes after the Department of Conservation said it planned to “raise concerns” with the Florida zoo, after videos emerged of a keeper appearing to manhandle the bird, Stewart Sowman-Lund writes for The Spinoff
Auckland’s first kauri dieback sniffer dogs are ready for duty, and boy are they cute! Louise Ternouth reports for RNZ
Global action to tackle the ozone hole meant we inadvertently phased out the second largest forcer of global heating
New research suggests that the polymetallic nodules targeted by deep-sea mining could have levels of radioactivity 1,000 times greater than current safety limits
The Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast ponders what we might eat as the climate warms. Mealworms anyone?
Also on The Guardian, a look at the US beef industry’s climate messaging playbook, as taught in a programme training “beef advocates”
Data from Consumer NZ reveals that climate change concerns are affecting Kiwis’ shopping habits
Image credit: Muhammad Arief Irfan (via Nature).
You might be wondering: what’s with the image of the nondescript concrete building? I present to you: the world’s first house built using nappies. Yes, diapers. Used ones. Researchers at the University of Kitakyushu in Japan figured out that you can swap up to 40% of the sand used to make concrete with shredded nappies. They built this small 36 m2 house in Indonesia as a proof-of-concept using 1.7 m3 of nappy waste.
Hope your week is con
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