New software mines data to create a speedy carbon footprint

carbon footprint

Taking a cue from big data mining techniques at companies like Facebook and Netflix, a team of researchers have created new software that can mine vast data sets to rapidly produce carbon footprints for products. The software was created from a collaboration between the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at the Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and PepsiCo.

Previously the act of estimating the carbon footprint of products has been time consuming, somewhat manual, and ultimately expensive. Companies that wanted to calculate the carbon footprints of their products had to do it one by one, and often times have carbon footprint experts do the work.

But the researchers say their new software, combined with databases filled with information on the life-cycle-analysis of products, as well as new data mining techniques, means that they can calculate thousands of carbon footprints of products within minutes, with little manual input. It’s similar to how Netflix can predict what type of movie you want to watch by digging into tons of data (well, hopefully they get it a little more accurate than that).

This type of new software could enable non-expert employees at companies to work on carbon footprinting projects. The researchers say the software is compliant with the World Resources Institute guidelines, and the team will be looking into how to use it for other resources beyond carbon, like water.

Carbon footprints are just the latest sector to get a boost from big data techniques. Energy efficiency software, like Opower’s, has been learning from big data techniques, too, and Opower has been transitioning to using Hadoop, via startup Cloudera, to run heavy analytics on the data it crunches in the cloud.

Images courtesy of Kevin Krajick and Christoph Meinrenken, Earth Institute.

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