Carbon Hero to the Rescue

If you’ve ever tried to use one of those carbon footprint calculator web sites, then you’ll likely understand why mobile entrepreneur Andreas Zachariah would try to build a better way. Most online carbon calculators aren’t too user-friendly and rely on the user to input a significant amount of data — details on their transportation and home energy use, primarily — much of which can be difficult to know and easy to fudge.

To fill that data gap, Zachariah has been working on a java-based mobile application called Carbon Hero, which uses GPS location info to automatically monitor your transportation. The app can tell if you drive, fly, take the train or walk, and fills in your travel info and how much carbon your choice emitted. The application will then compare your carbon profile against different averages and calculate your improvements (or guilty choices!).
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Carbon Hero is currently still in the testing phase, but Zachariah hopes to launch the service by “the end of this year or early next year.” He’s hoping to get in front of BlackBerry and potentially Nokia NSeries users, whom he notes are the early adopters and thought leaders. He’s also started talks with seed investors to commercialize the product.

There are a number of potential commercial applications: A handset maker could embed the app, a mobile operator could give it good placement on their deck, a company could license it for in-house use, or consumers could download it straight off the mobile web. Zachariah says corporations could be a major source of revenue for his firm, also called Carbon Hero, as companies increasingly try to find ways to make their carbon footprint data more transparent to meet new regulations. They could save money by cutting down on extra travel, too. He predicts a company would pay a couple dollars a month per user for the mobile app.

For the launch, Zachariah is targeting the UK market, followed by Europe and then the U.S. While location-based mobile applications have been a long time coming, they have found success with specific applications like basic driving directions here in the U.S. We’re not sure how many consumers would want to pay to use Carbon Hero to calculate their carbon emissions — it’s probably a pretty small market. But eco-conscious consumers tend to be willing to pay a premium. A mobile carrier and handset maker could also get some seriously good PR out of embedding the app on cell phones.

Zachariah says the next step is testing, testing, testing. His team — coder and partner Nick Burch, and GUI coder Will Bamford — is already putting the app through the wringer with an unnamed corporation. Little things, like getting the program to know when you’re riding a bike (which appears similar to a car ride to the service), without manually inputting that data, is proving a bit challenging.

While Carbon Hero is using location-based GPS data, other sources of monitoring, like Near Field Communication and radio frequency ID chips could be used to add other layers to the mobile app. Link it to smart home metering services or products you buy at a store, and your carbon profile could be a lot more sophisticated than just your travel choices.

I would love to see an application like this gain traction. Alas a major hurdle, at least for consumers, is being constantly reminded to make changes that could sacrifice the easy choices of your everyday life. The very personal nature and constant monitoring of the service could scare an average customer away. According to some reports, the more information you actually know about climate change, the more apathetic you become — the sheer magnitude of the problem is just too depressing, apparently. A similar thing could take place if a user’s mobile phone is making them feel guilty or worse, overwhelmed. Though as Zachariah noted, he’s going after the early adopters first. Maybe they can set a good example.

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