One of the great promises of the Internet is that it provides for unprecedented access to data. Whether that is data on government or corporate activity or research results and intermediate measurements. By opening up that data so that entrepreneurs, developers, researchers can build on top of it (and hopefully contribute back to it) we can accelerate innovation in many fields. I am therefore excited to see Sir Tim Berners-Lee creating the Open Data Institute and thrilled that Gavin Starks, the founder of USV portfolio company AMEE will be its CEO. Gavin has long been a champion of open data which continues to inform AMEE’s approach to environmental measurement. I look forward to seeing what Gavin will do in this new role and continuing to work together on the AMEE board. Congratulations!
Last week I was in London to spend time with the team from AMEE. On the flight to London, I read an article that provided a potent reminder of the importance of measuring CO2 emissions. The Independent had a big story on Methane gas being released from the Arctic sea floor off the coast of Siberia in far larger quantities than previously feared. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas (20x more potent than CO2) that was trapped beneath permafrost. The release of this gas is a great example of the non-linearities involved in climate change.
Now of course by flying to London I was contributing a fair bit of CO2 to the atmosphere. A couple of months ago, I was at a dinner having a discussion with someone about climate change with someone who quickly asked me: “Do you fly?” and when I answered “Yes,” he immediately retorted “Well, then you don’t care about climate change.” Now I had to explain that I try to buy offsets for all my flights but I also had to admit that I wasn’t very good a tracking that.
Thanks to AMEE and foursquare that problem has just gone away. AMEE has just released ALF, which stands for AMEE Location Footprinter (not for ALF). It works as follows: you go to http://alf.ameeapps.com and authorize access to your foursquare account. ALF then knows where you have been — in my case that would include having been at too many different airports over the last 5 weeks. ALF uses this data to calculate your CO2 transportation footprint and sends that to you as an email with a summary and detail on each movement (here is my summary from last week):
Going forward, I will be using this to purchase offsets for my travels. In fact, I am hoping that at some future point AMEE will let me add my credit card and automate the whole process.
So unless you happen to believe that all this man made CO2 is a good thing start measuring your footprint off foursquare now (yet another thing those foursquare checkins are useful for!).
Much of the discussion of the real-time web has focused on content generated by humans, such as tweets. But the bigger growth over the next decade is likely to come from m2m interactions. One big source of data will be smart meters. For instance, the UK government recently unveiled a plan to equip every home with a smart meter by 2020. The real-time electricity usage data from these meters can be used for better management of consumption by individuals, companies and utilities. In addition to price, thanks to our portfolio company AMEE, those decisions can now also be based on the real-time carbon intensity of the UK grid. It will be interesting to see how quickly smart metering takes off in the US. Both Google with PowerMeter and Microsoft with Hohm are already building consumer facing services that can be fed with smart meter data. At the beginning of this year, fewer than 5% of meters in the US were smart meters. So there is room for some very fast growth over the next couple of years.
A few weeks ago, my daughter came home quite distraught from school. “Daddy, the polar bears and penguins are dying and it is our fault” she declared at the dinner table. Having spent many hours admiring the polar bears and penguins at the Central Park Zoo, this was something that all three of our kids immediately agreed was to be stopped. So they wanted to know what could be done about it. We had one of the better dinner discussions in a long time and produced a list of things we would do personally, such as making sure we all turned off the lights in rooms that we were not in. Now every time I see a light on all I have to say is “Polar …” and they run to turn it off.
I believe that we have now reached a stage where many individuals and businesses around the world want to do the same thing. They want to make choices that take the environmental impact of their actions in to account with a particular focus on carbon footprint. But that turns out to be a difficult problem because the measurement of emissions is hard. On the Union Square Ventures blog, we have a post today explaining why emission measurement is a hard problem and what a startup called AMEE is doing about it. We are excited to be investing in AMEE which will power many consumer and business services that enable the kind of informed decision making that is required if we want to save the polar bears, penguins and ourselves.