It’s hard to trust, or even learn more about, carbon offset projects that make a certain event or product so-called carbon neutral. But a variety of startups are developing software and online tools to help make the process more transparent. One such company, eFormic, launched a product on Monday at the DEMO conference called CO2Code, which combines a barcode and an online service to take a deeper dive into carbon-neutral products.
The company was founded by Moriz Vohrer and Pieter van Midwoud, two German engineers that work for the non-profit carbon project Carbon Index. Here’s how it works: eFormic partners with carbon brokers, carbon trading platforms (like the Chicago Climate Exchange) and product makers to place a carbon barcode, or CO2Code, on goods ranging from orange juice to toys that have been “carbon neutralized.” The carbon broker will generally provide the carbon label, which indicates that the product maker has paid a third party to offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the product. But eFormic provides an additional barcode for the label that can be entered into eFormic’s (or the product maker’s) web site to learn more about what carbon-reduction projects were used. In some cases, the consumer can also use the barcode to tell the carbon broker how they would like the products to be offset.
Vohrer says the company is already working with a whiskey brand, hotel companies, and a concert ticket firm. You can think of it a bit like an organic label. However, unlike an organic product, which is certified by the USDA, eFormic works with a variety of carbon offset providers that could offer a different set of criteria for carbon neutrality. eFormic isn’t in the business of certifying offsets themselves, and they act more as a middleman, adding more information into the process.
Vohrer says the CO2Code and offset combo can add a minimum of about 2 cents per unit for something like orange juice. However, an Adidas sneaker, or something with many parts and lots of shipping that would require extensive carbon offsets to make it carbon-neutral, could be even more expensive to offset and barcode. eFormic makes a cut of that revenue and gets paid a fraction per carbon ton offset when CO2Codes are created in its system. It sounds like a small fee, but that could really add up over a large scale, and eFormic is first targeting premium brands and high-end products with its codes.
There are a variety of carbon brokers, carbon label makers and product makers out there that could potentially find value in a barcode that adds extra transparency. The Carbon Trust has been working with stores like the UK’s Tesco to trial a carbon-labeling service for Tesco goods. Other organizations like Green-e are focusing on creating logos that certify products, energy programs and carbon offset services.
But in a nascent carbon-labeling market, the CO2code will have to prove that it adds enough value to consumers to justify the additional price of the service. At this point it’s not entirely clear to me why the offset companies wouldn’t just create a similar service themselves and cut out a middleman like eFormic. Then they could more closely control the messaging and web interface and promote their own brand.
Ultimately the challenge for eFormic will be getting its barcode out there on a larger scale, and that takes a lot of marketing and partners — which in turn takes funding. On that note, eFormic is currently bootstrapped and is looking for its first round of funding, of between $2 million to $3 million. In the future, eFormic is planning to launch other products based on their work done at Carbon Index, and Vohrer tells us one such project is a carbon-neutral email service that would offset each email for about a cent.