Carbon account, meet lifestreaming. Lifestreaming, meet carbon accounting!

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I come from a Social Media background. I use blogs, Social Networks, Microblogs, Photo Sharing sites, Video Sharing sites, Livecasting apps, Social bookmarking sites etc. everyday. I generate a constant stream of updates about things happening in my life which can be followed via RSS or on my Friendfeed page (a feed aggregator) or on the individual sites.

Cool. Interesting enough I hear you say. So what? Well, lets just park that for a second.

Carbon accounting is rapidly coming down the line. Already we are seeing companies like BT and Verizon requiring lower carbon footprints from their suppliers. This is because carbon accounting will take supply chains into account.

Carbon accounting will be incredibly granular and will attempt to take everything into account in the life-cycle of goods and services. This will include electrical power usage, road mileage and air miles alongside expenses and financial returns.

To get buy-in from staff, reporting total power and energy usage will have to be made as simple as possible so that it doesn’t interfere with the natural flow of people’s work.

This is where lifestreaming applications come in. Encourage the people in your organisation to use applications like blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Dopplr, et al. Then you can capture that output and route it through the carbon accounting software and ta da! carbon usage information accounted for.

Obviously it won’t be as easy as that, but if your employees are using Twitter, say, set up your company’s carbon account software with a Twitter account. Then instruct staff on how to message the software with what you are doing at any point in time i.e. “@bt-carbon-accounts – putting on the kettle for a cup of coffee” or “@ibm-carbon-accounts – hot today, setting the aircon to 19C”. This would also be especially useful for capturing the carbon footprint of people working from home.

IBM’s master inventor Andy Stanford-Clark has already done some work in this area. His house has a Twitter account and regularly sends updates like:

the phone is ringing (mobile)
electricity meter reading: 32100 KWH
outside lights turned off
outside lights turned on

etc. to Twitter automatically!

Will carbon accounting software and its requirement for constant inputs from all levels of business bring lifestreaming applications into the Enterprise 2.0 fold?


  1. says

    great great stuff. one paragraph you might have added/missed would have talked to amee as an enabler. perhaps a quick follow up with dopplr amee integration screenshot to further make your case?

  2. April Dunford says

    This is an interesting concept. I feel like we have so far to go on the corporate side though. Even giving people something really simple like a display on the corporate travel page that shows their carbon footprint related to travel (ala Dopplr) would be a big step forward.
    Consumers may end up showing companies how it is done. There is a lot of cool hacking going on out there to measure personal footprints like here
    and here:
    Those of us that are working to green corporations need to get the elephant to walk before it can dance.

  3. gblnetwkr says

    Good post. Social software can be an important way to get people to actually do the green behaviors that we all say we endorse. I would include the work that Torchbox has done with AMEE to create The Carbon Account. It is open source and already has a connection to Facebook. As I understand it they will run it for groups or businesses as well

  4. says

    At the institutional level, should information like this really be necessary for footprinting? Doesn’t IBM (for example) pay the power bill, in the end, and know the energy mix that went into their total power bill, and therefore have the totals at hand? This information may be very helpful for figuring how that carbon is used — is it kettles, or high performance computing (even here, fine-grained power metering can cover this), or travel? Once you have the total, you need to figure out where and how to cut, so knowing where and why the carbon was emitted will be key.

    Accounting for things which the company is responsible form, but doesn’t directly pay the bill for, is where this could shine: Commuting (employee twitters “I’m riding the bus today”), travel (not bought through corporate travel office). Also, for small operations, or for freelance, or consultants. But for the main core operations of the world’s largest carbon emitters: ask the facilities guys and the folks paying the gas and power bills — they know the bulk of your footprint, without need for flickr, twitter, or facebook.

  5. says

    @monkchips – I will get another quick post up to address that, good point.

    @April Dunford – Agreed, corporations are notoriously slow to change. The coming legislation on carbon accounting will help focus them on this, I suspect. That and frankly I have seen more innovation from companies in the Green space in the last 12 months than in any other area as far back as I can remember.

    @gblnetwkr – Sweet – must look into that, thanks.

    @Asa – The IBMs and BTs etc. would certainly have a lot of this info from their facilities people as you say but not down through their supply chain and not either I suspect for the increasing numbers of employees who work from home. In these cases the likes of Dopplr, Twitter may prove invaluable.

  6. says

    @asa i agree with tom. you’re right about the top down energy costs, but we also need to measure from the bottom up, for solid results.

  7. gblnetwkr says

    @asa — actually a lot of big organizations don’t have a clear picture of energy use. Some of it is organizational. Often the facilities people don’t talk to other parts of the organization, such as the IT folks who could put up a dashboard that everyone could understand. Adobe is a real exception. There are also issues with lease arrangements where energy costs get buried in the lease agreement.

    I agree with @monkchips that we also need bottom up. I strongly support the use of low cost measuring devices such as the Kill-A-Watt or a similar device from which let individuals see what the power implications are of the devices they use, when on full, at idle, and on standby.

  8. says

    To be clear, I think companies should figure out how to get this data, but it’s not going to get you anything like a complete picture by itself. At Caltech, about 85% of our carbon footprint is electricity use, measured globally. 15% of it is transportation (about half commuting and half airplane travel). (We have the same supply chain issues as everyone, and have no idea of the carbon footprint of the stuff we buy — come on AMEE!) Carbon calculators and widgets and Web 2.0 apps could serve two purposes here:
    1) Measuring the carbon emissions of travel and commuting and other things which are not electricity and gas measured centrally.
    2) Figuring out where that electricity is being used. If you want to make cuts, you have to know what it’s being used for so that you can cut the nonessentials or replace the energy hogs (like fume hoods). Bottom-up measurements can give individuals a real sense of their impact, and (done well) their changes over time. The real-time feedback on MPG in a Prius drives changes in behavior — you have to measure something if you want to change it. (This is one thing that’s exciting about the “power system as internet” model y’all posted about a couple of days ago — real-time energy use stats that can be used to keep people informed of their consequences, combined with automated ways to cut the fat.)

    In the “enterprise”, with facilities all over the world, leased space, consultants coming and going, there is a lot of space for incremental emissions of the sort that Web 2.0 apps might capture to otherwise not be measured. I generally think of “supply chain” as relating to physical items purchased (paper, refrigerators, whatever), but for a service business part of the “supply chain” is outside services, which then need to feed their carbon emissions into your system to build a full picture. If everyone (and every business) measured their own footprint, and assigned each part to its appropriate realm/client, and shared that data up the chain (anyone got a standard API? Ideally we’d have everyone put it all in AMEE), we’d be in great shape. And Dopplr and Twitter and others will have a role in measuring that footprint, around the edges.

    @gblnetwkr — if the facilities people aren’t talking to the IT people, I’d argue you have bigger problems getting a carbon footprint than whether you use Web 2.0 apps.

  9. gblnetwkr says

    @asa I strongly agree that Web 2.0 mashups can be very helpful in pulling together all the bits of the supply chain that contribute to total footprint. Adobe has done an excellent internal mashup of 30,000 sensors that is rendered in a 3-D model of the their 3 Platinum LEED buildings in San Jose.

    I would like very much to see AMEE be the global repository. We probably also need a label, like the carefully designed nutrition labels in the US to show what the total input to a product is. See for one example.

    When I spoke to PC vendors about this they all said that they were looking into it, but that it was a hard problem. Among other things, place of origin has a lot to do with the actual carbon footprint, not just type of thing you are making. There is some evidence from a Carnegie Mellon 2007 report saying that a desktop made in China could have 3x the emissions of one made elsewhere and that US totals would rise by 20% if we included the bit that comes from making what we buy from China

    And I agree that we need to include services, not just discrete products. What we are talking about is creating a culture and awareness of measurement — that you would not buy or use anything unless you understood its carbon impact.

  10. says

    @gblnetwkr Even “place of origin” is complicated — ore is mined in one place, shipped across an ocean to be refined into a part, which is then shipped by truck to someplace else, integrated into a larger assembly, which is then shipped to a final assembly plant to make a final part — “made in USA” — and then delivered to a consumer. Tracing this whole supply chain, by part number (identical parts may be sourced differently), will be a HUGE problem. And of course, no-one wants to share their supply chain with their competitors…. So, we need a real change in mindset up and down the chain. We can maybe drive from the consumer level if we reward companies going the right way (eg Timberland), but we need to make changes at the top of the corporate pyramid, too. If Walmart adopted AMEE (and forced it down their supply chain, like they are wont to do), what a day that would be!

  11. gblnetwkr says

    @asa Agreed that there are huge technology, process and ontology issues involved. Having Walmart ask for it would be a great forcing function.

    Due to the complexities you correctly mention, I am starting to think that what may be needed is to embed a BPMS inside of the existing supply chain software. What we really to have is a very federated environment, where all the players have to be able to negotiate with each other without fatal embrace. In principle, this is exactly what Intalio’s open source BPMS was designed to do. As far as I know, Intalio’s BPMS is the only one that can actually support federated deployment.

    BPMS in general suffered in the early years by being used for things for which other alternatives, such as work flow, could be used. IMHO federated negotiation among supply chain parters is a worthy goal for BPMS to aspire to.

  12. says

    @gblnetwkr: OK, so you’re now over my head. Any recommendations for learning about what you mean by “BPMS”, “federated environment”, “fatal embrace”?

  13. gblnetwkr says

    @asa BPMS stands for Business Process Management System which is a special kind of xml-driven server that is used to coordinate multiple activities. Business and technical analysts can sit down at screen and diagram how they want the processes to flow. It is often used as a way to orchestrate web services.

    What is different about the Intalio offering is that it was designed from the beginning to operate in a world where there would be many servers working in a flat federation, not a hierarchy. A concern with federated computer to computer interactions is that they could potentially lock up in what is called a “fatal embrace”. AFAIK there is no other BPMS product on the market that can handle federated deployment.

    The question is whether it is up to the kind of complexity that we have been discussing. I hope to explore this more next week in my talk at the Intalio User’s Group meeting in SF,

    For more of an intro I would look at the Wikipedia entry

    Jose De La Cruz’s Intalio intro site:

    Since Intalio is open source, you can download and run the code

    Sandy Kemsley’s blog:

    Ismael Ghalimi’s blog ( Intalio CEO ):

  14. says

    Elfin Gardens is please to announce the launch of its crunch carbon footprint entreprise on the Fourteenth of February 2009 and we ask you to take part in our “love your partner, love your planet” day on the fourteenth of February 2009.


  15. says

    Read my mind! I’ve been tracking carbon accounting since I decided to start a training program to teach it over a year ago. It is amazing how much more attention it’s gotten in the past few months, especially the software. This field has seriously blown up, and the people who make money are looking into it–this means its going to go mainstream any minute.

    I just hope I can get my foot in the door before it’s too late…