CTO interview: Ben Peddie, reducing companies’ carbon footprint with tech and data
We all hear about the importance of reducing the carbon footprint and how it is a major priority in a political agenda. Companies across the globe are pressured to reduce their carbon emissions. But how do you do that, if the environmental impact is not so obvious, as with fuel producers, for example?
The carbon accounting start-up Emitwise is solving this problem with technology and data. All Impacts, from using the fuel, to the locations of the suppliers and the employees’ commute habits are taken into account. Read the latest CTO interview and learn how Ben Peddie helps the companies get greener and more accountable with the help of tech.
Can you describe what is ‘carbon accounting’?
Carbon accounting is a fascinating space. It’s fundamentally understanding the environmental impact of organisations by accounting for the carbon emissions that result from business activities.
To calculate a company’s carbon footprint, you need to understand each business activity separately and measure its impact. Some activities are intuitive — things that usually come to mind when you think about environmental impacts, like using electricity or burning fuel, but there are also important but less obvious activities like what resources the company is buying, and how their employees get to work.
A lot of measurement and calculation goes into accounting for the carbon emissions of an organisations’ business activities. For instance, if you take a company buying something, the calculation would be like: ‘spent 1,000 on general expenses’ or ‘1,000 on a ton of paper pulp produced by company X in a wild location, then transported by lorry. It’s quite an interesting space. The accuracy of the calculations depends on the available data.
How do you solve the technical challenges to measure that automatically?
We use a materiality-based approach. The Pareto principle applies here. Typically, a company’s 80% overall carbon footprint will come from less than 20% of suppliers and purchases. What we have to do is to look at a more granular level — we would investigate the company they’re buying from and their impact on the environment.
Data comes from sources such as a look-up in companies’ directories. We also get granular data from customers like their purchases, employees’ commuting, natural gas usage, water usage, etc. Currently, we look at 15 different categories and types of datasets. These categories usually represent 80 to 90% of our customers who work with complex supply chains.
Who are your customers?
We primarily work with companies with complex supply chains, to help them understand how they can reduce their emissions across their operations and supply chain.
Typically, it’s a mid-size enterprise, not blue-chip but big enough to have complex supply chains like the manufacturing sector.
These companies are under a lot of pressure to not only track but also reduce their carbon footprint. And that’s ultimately why we started Emitwise: because we want to have an impact enabling them to reach Net-Zero. We want to be able to help companies actively reduce their carbon footprint, so we work with companies that are under pressure to be making changes. We help them understand where the changes should be made to have the biggest impact and move them closer to net-zero
What led you to decide to create this company?
My two co-founders and I were living together in a flat in London when we were starting. We were working in different start-ups around London. We spent a lot of time thinking about the levers that need to be pulled to solve the problem of Net-Zero. You can look at it and see that deep tech is going to be the thing that enables us to solve the problem, but it will take time. We need to have an impact before the tech matures. In order to find where we can have an impact, we went through a classic customer discovery process. Governments might be the biggest lever society that can pull to reduce carbon footprint but they’re hard to reach. Therefore, we went one step down looking at large companies. We got on the phone with anyone we could persuade to speak to us.
Our background was in software and data and it became quickly clear that data was a real problem for these companies. Getting better data is key for them.
We just sort of dived into it. We tried to understand how you calculate a company’s carbon footprint. We went through two and a half years of working with loads of different companies working up to much larger ones. We brought on people in our team that are experts in carbon accounting and have been doing this for years in a much more manual way to enable us to actually build software that was able to do this in a scientific and rigorous way.
What are companies’ incentives to pay for carbon accounting?
Companies are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint, so they need our help to understand where the emissions lie in their operations and supply chain. They are under pressure from investors, customers, and employees.
What is your tech stack?
We work mainly with Python and Go for both our data backends and customer-facing APIs. We have an Angular frontend application and lots of D3.js visualisations for customers to view data. All backed by AWS.
If you were speaking to your younger self, learning to program, what would you tell him?
Learn it sooner. My background is Maths and Stats, with the bare minimum of R programming coming out of university. I would say that my background has always been using data to influence decisions. I learnt software engineering later in my time at my first startup.
Practice, just try to solve problems. You don’t need to have studied computer science, but if you have the mindset of solving problems and the discipline to practice solving problems you care about, you can do it. That’s what being a programmer is about. Don’t waste time solving problems that don’t matter to you.
If you want to connect with Ben, click here.
To learn more about EmitWise, visit their website: emitwise.com
FROM THE AUTHOR