When Google launched an online carbon footprint calculator in the UK back in October, we overlooked how interesting theopen platform behind the Google product was. It’s called AMEE — which stands for the unsubtle Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine, and its an API that aggregates the information needed to monitor carbon emissions and performs carbon calculations for the user.
Well, I was on a panel at South by Southwest this week with Gavin Starks, the founder of AMEE, so I got to learn a bit more about the project, as well as some recent company milestones. Starks (who is both earnest and witty enough to get away with his platform’s acronym) has been working on AMEE’s API for the last three years, and the platform enables third parties (like Google) to use a standard methodology and set of data when measuring carbon footprints. In the nascent world of tracking, monitoring and sharing information on carbon emissions, being able to provide transparency for those processes is crucial and could help pave the way for integrating validated carbon information into profiles of everything from goods, to actions, to people.
AMEE has recently added some well-known names to its roster of users. Sun Microsystems is turning to AMEE for its OpenEco.org initiative; online travel site Dopplr and green social network non-profit Zerofootprint have sought out AMEE’s capabilties as well.
A company using AMEE can essentially brand its front-end carbon footprint experience but rely on the same standard engine and data used by, say, the UK government. To calculate a person’s carbon footprint, you need to access data like ‘how much carbon is emitted during a 5 hour plane flight that has a layover,’ and ‘how much carbon is emitted by heating a one-bedroom apartment in California using electricity.” And data on things that fluctuate, like electricity and natural gas pricing, need to be kept up to date.
The AMEE platform stores a profile of the carbon footprint choices, depending on what the user inputs, and performs a calculation of the amount of carbon emitted. The end result is then displayed on the branded website.
AMEE is open about where all its data comes from (even using a CO2 wiki for discussion), and asks interested parties to comment on — and argue about — how the system is working.
Starks told the audience at SXSW that open-source software is greener software, and urged all companies involved in carbon profiling to open up their methodologies and use open APIs. It’s the first project we know of to combine the principles of open source and web 2.0 and a basic belief that everything and everyone will have a carbon profile. Personal carbon IDs may not be far behind.
And having trusted data is the key to changing behavior. So the next step after a standard platform is for developers to create all those fun applications based on the carbon data that can affect climate change. As we’ve all seen, companies are already creating web sites, social networks, Facebook applications and even mobile applications that can use carbon emissions data (some of them launched at SXSW). But using a standardized platform would just make this planetary task that much easier.