The Almanac: A More Holistic Approach to Carbon Calculation

For those curious about their carbon footprint, basic carbon calculators abound across the web, but none have really been all that successful or effective. The Almanac, a New York-based startup that presented at our Green:Net conference last week, thinks it can do better using a more automated and holistic approach. While most carbon calculators rely on users’ own estimates and require them to enter all their own carbon footprint information, the Almanac is developing what it describes as a Mint.com of carbon emissions.

The Almanac is working on a set of tools that will tap into users’ electric bills and credit-card statements to create an automatic carbon consumption log based on the products users buy, including gasoline and airline tickets. Users will also be able to add more data, but the idea is to garner as much objective information as possible without users having to do anything after they’ve added the accounts they want included.

The purpose is to make the process as easy as possible for users and to also extract carbon data info from hard to quantify areas. “How are you going to regulate thousands of actions whose impacts on the environment aren’t even clear to you?” asks Jonah Bloch-Johnson, a co-founder of The Almanac. “It’s too complex, too complicated.”

To help put the impact of users’ emissions in context, the tools also will project how the climate would change in 50 years if individual users — and their carbon emissions — represented the norm, Bloch-Johnson said. The company aims to also include information about how and where the products its users have purchased are made. And a second set of tools will recommend actions users can take to reduce their carbon footprints, along with an estimate of the amount those products or actions will help, he added.

The startup expects to support itself through advertisements. To keep the claims real and avoid potential conflicts of interest with the recommendations, The Almanac plans to require companies to specify how much their sponsored products will actually reduce users’ footprints, Bloch-Johnson said.

Bloch-Johnson began developing The Almanac about nine months ago, when he graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in math and music. The second co-founder, Michael Geraci, joined two months ago, and the company plans to add a third person in April, he said. The company hasn’t been incorporated yet, so in that way, it’s still zero months old, he added.

The young startup hopes to grow up quickly, and is planning to develop a demonstration application within three months and a beta product within a year. It also plans to hire more employees and raise money. The Almanac has raised $20,000 in seed funding from friends and family so far, and hopes to close an additional $320,000, which it believes will be enough to sustain it through its first year of operations. The startup has set an ambitious goal of registering 100,000 users by the end of its product’s first year.

Sam Angus, a partner at law firm Fenwick & West and a judge at the Green:Net startup contest, gave the company a score of 4 out of 10. “I love the interface and like the fact that it provides more accurate information about your carbon output,” he said. “From a business perspective, I wonder about monetization and about getting people to adopt this as a standard.”

The founders say they are confident their user base will attract enough advertising to make the company profitable. But as Angus notes, the company’s success will depend on attracting a large-enough user base to be considered a carbon-counting standard. That will be a tough task considering the vast number of carbon calculators already out there and all the new ones cropping up. Some key partnerships or celebrity users could help a lot.

The company will also have to prove that its tools are easy-to-use and effective at correctly calculating carbon, of course. And while Bloch-Johnson says The Almanac won’t share its users’ data with anyone, the company will also have to include strong security measures to guarantee its users that nobody will be able to steal their financial data.