Carbon Counting – What & How
22
May 2020

Hint: with the best sustainability App you’ve ever seen!

Chrystal Gilkes 
Chrystal is the Co-Founder of swrm. She trained and worked for many years as a registered nurse in emergency departments in Sydney and London. She had a little dalliance with sales and education for medical device and wound care companies, but after having two little girls she was looking for a way to do more to protect the Earth for their future. She’s shifted from rectifying patient’s fevers to trying to remedy the planet’s fever. swrm is HQ’d in New York City where Ben, the Founder, and his wife reside; and Chrystal and her family are in Melbourne, Australia.

Published 22.05.2020 

The term ‘carbon footprint’ can be confusing. And a little confronting! There’re a few reasons for this. So, let’s spend a few moments unpacking the mysteries held within that term, and see if we can find a solution to make it all a bit easier. Ready for some science? 

The gases emitted from activity on this planet which cause the slow but damaging heating of the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases (GHGs). They include water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and fluorinated gases (think hydrofluorocarbons). But so often we only ever hear about carbon emissions, and we talk about the ‘carbon’ footprint. Is it fair that carbon dioxide be villainised in this way? Well, yes. This is the gas which stays the longest in our atmosphere, outlasting the others by many hundreds of years! 

For simplicity’s sake, the impact of all the GHGs are added up and referred to as carbon dioxide equivalent – meaning how much straight carbon dioxide would create that same amount of warming. Then to be in alignment with references of other ways humans impact the planet and join a family of ‘Ecological Footprints’, the term ‘Carbon Footprint’ was born.

Even once all this science is understood, many people don’t know exactly what contributes to their carbon footprint. For example, did you know that between 10% and 35% (dependant on where you live) of your personal carbon footprint is made up of the things you buy? Surprising, right? So, then the second problem is that people don’t know how to measure all those factors. 

While a growing number of people are aware that we need to reduce our carbon footprint, that’s a bit of a nothing statement unless we have a starting point for that number. Imagine talking to your personal trainer and saying, ‘I’d like to be 65kg’. Without knowing where you’re at right now, the trainer couldn’t possibly know how to help you achieve that goal. Similarly, the global goal of a per capita carbon footprint of 2-2.5 tonnes is equally difficult to achieve without a starting point.

If you’ve ever tried to investigate your carbon footprint, and especially if you’ve tried to include that percentage referencing the stuff you buy, you would have likely lost many hours diving deep into an abyss of the world wide web. For each product you were investigating, you’d have been searching for:

~the country of origin 
~the type and size of manufacturing plant
~the dimensions and weight of the product
~type of packaging (and where that is all manufactured)
~transportation method and route used from manufacturing point to your store of purchase (via a dock and hub)
~the average lifespan for the product; the usual method for disposal
~and finally, if renewable energies were used at any point throughout this LCA (Life Cycle Analysis)

Are you still with me?? That’s a lot, right? And, that’s assuming you could even find all that information! So, it’s no wonder that although you planned to learn the carbon footprint of your entire grocery shop, you soon thought better of it. 

After the Founder of swrm went through the above process for a couple of products, he decided it was all quite ridiculous! Why don’t we have access to this type of incredibly important information in an easy to get, transparent fashion? Being an engineer and having worked in the energy sector for many years, with enviable mathematical skills, Ben decided to fill in the gaps himself. So the concept behind the swrm App was born.

It’s designed to provide a comparison of the energy used throughout a product’s life cycle, which ultimately provides us with the Carbon Footprint. You can scan the barcodes of several products in the store and get a comparison of the energy life cycle analysis. You then choose which one to purchase. This buying decision is now being made with a complete set of data – including what makes for a more sustainable planet – not based purely on price or brand. 

Currently we have nearly 4 million consumer goods in the database, and it’s constantly growing. The items are predominantly from the US market right now, but we’re building the UK and Europe dataset as I type. And if you scan an item which isn’t held in there, the swrm team immediately find the bits of data, throw it into the customised algorithm, and next time you scan it, voila, one carbon footprint!

 

 

In addition to this very unique set of data on consumer goods, we’ve also included the carbon footprint data on everything you might do and use in your daily lives: fridge; washing machine; car; train; cell phone, laptop, television etc. With the swrm App you’re able to obtain a comprehensive picture of your personal carbon footprint, which thereby provides you with the ability to start reducing it. If you’d like more info on the data collection check it out here.

The swrm Hive is a place where like minded Sustainability Warriors can convene to measure and compare carbon footprints (a little competition is always great motivation!) and importantly, to learn. We’ve built in an educational platform, with both written and video content. We believe that knowledge is necessary to give people the ‘why’ to change the ‘what’ in their behaviour. 

So what’s with all this reference to swarming? We’ve chosen the humble honeybee as our muse because they are a superorganism, highly efficient, supremely organised and focused almost solely on the survival of the colony. We aim to activate a huge swrm of people all acting to help mitigate climate change by first, reducing their own personal carbon footprints, but second, by leveraging the power of numbers to insist on changes to the way manufacturers and retailers do business.

By joining the swrm you’ll be able to learn about climate science and carbon emissions, gain tips for living sustainably and help to fast track our entire planet to a more sustainable future!

You can check our website; our YouTube channel; download the App; or catch us on Instagram; Twitter; Facebook and LinkedIn. Honeybees are very social!

The Imperfect Blog

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to have it all figured out in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle. In fact, it's better to make small conscious choices when possible, than none at all. We explore every topic under the sun around kindness to our environment, wildlife, other people and ourselves.

 


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