Introducing a calorie counter to combat climate change

CarbonChain has built models for every asset in the supply chain ranging from mining to agricultural industries

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It is almost impossible to grasp the full scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have 27-million-plus cases of infection and nearly 900,000 deaths been reported by the beginning of September, 2020, but also it is sobering to think that the virus is still with us, infecting and, sadly, killing people in many parts of the world.

The enormity of these circumstances makes it difficult to make predictions about what a post-pandemic recovery will look like, although this should not lessen the urgency of planning to ‘build back better’ after COVID-19 in a way that will support the longer-term challenges of climate change.

For those that worry that the experience of economic recovery following the 2008 financial crash, when climate action and energy transition appeared to drop off the radar, savage bush fires in California, and an early season re-emergence of fires in Australia ought to remind climate change mediators in government of the imperatives of policy reform and tough new action.

While it is sobering to think that the next UN Climate Change Conference has been pushed to the end of next year, we can be cheered by the momentum of such initiatives as The European Green Deal, and the UK Government’s £100 million fund for green investments. Providing an action plan to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy, while restoring biodiversity and cutting pollution has, at least for some countries, never been more important.

There is, however, one universal issue needs to be addressed urgently: the poisonous effects brought about by polarising debate and lack of nuanced discussion. Such combative and destructive polarising argument obscures new thinking and the introduction of new technologies and solutions to help tackle global warming. If, for example, negative emissions technologies and digital solutions are to be implemented effectively and sustainably, an effective governance regime is needed; built on functional societal discourse and avoiding the ideological baggage of the broader climate change debate.

Fine words, but what might this mean when couched in more accessible language? What new types of information, and what forms of presentational changes might be made to make carbon decision-making more scientific and less emotionally charged? Would a wholly new approach heal the socio-political, business and scientific rifts?

One solution comes from the consumer world. We are all very familiar with the information on calorific content presented on the sides of such carbonated cold drinks as Coca-Cola - what impact might a similar, easy-to-use system have when used to convey information on carbon distribution within high polluting industries such as oil and gas and mining? And would such information help to cut through the fog of ideology and bias.

CarbonChain offers such a service, accurately providing an accounting record for emissions from commodities industries. The company, a recent recipient of funding from San Francisco based venture capital fund, Y Combinator, has built models for every single asset in the supply chain for industries, ranging from mining to agriculture. By creating digital twins of every piece of equipment used in heavy industry, it can accurately assess the carbon impact of every aspect of each operation and venture. Indeed, CarbonChain’s system is so precise that it can tell users how much carbon emissions are embedded in something as trivial as a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

And the ‘calorie counter’ idea is clearly taking off. CarbonChain, a product of London Business School’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Incubator programme, has received roughly $500,000 from the UK government’s InnovateUK, an investment from one of the company’s undisclosed commodities customers, and now has support from the prestigious Y Combinator fund in San Francisco. With its deep industry experience, the team at CarbonChain have successfully built a vertical solutions company that works with the grain of industry, not against it.

Business appeal aside, CarbonChain’s greatest significance is that it has the potential to cut the knot of the climate change debate - where it hurts most at the granular, operational level. With the growth of carbon prices from $2 (per ton global average 2019) to the $75–100 range needed to stay on a Paris Agreement compatible trajectory, commodity supply chains are in need of being fundamentally reformed. CarbonChain offers clear, calorie-counter style visibility of the highest polluting transactions within supply chains. Armed with the right data, transition to the low-carbon economy becomes an opportunity rather than a risk, and it certainly repudiates gainsaying argument.

At its core, clever technology adoption such as the software as a service offering from CarbonChain helps to escape the ‘ideological bundling’ of those intellectually and economically opposed to climate change by offering the business to business arena the kind of visibility long demanded and fought for by consumer groups.

by Adam Hearne, CEO and Co-founder at CarbonChain, MBA 2015 & Roheet Shah, Co-Founder & COO at CarbonChain, London Business School MBA, 2015


Established in 2017, CarbonChain has a mission to make ‘supply chains green.’ The company’s products enable companies in some of the most polluting industries, such as oil and gas, mining, agriculture and logistics, to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company is a distinguished product of London Business School’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Incubator programme.