Team of Trinity students solving the problem of understanding carbon in food products
29 August 2017
The Counting Carbon team
Four entrepreneurs and student members of Engineers Ireland have just touched down in Switzerland to take part in an incubator program that they think can change the world. The startup was founded over the course of the year by a team of close friends and roommates studying for their Masters in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Trinity College Dublin.
The startup has been internationally acclaimed after winning the Carbon Footprint Challenge in Switzerland run by Bühler Group, one of the largest food-processing equipment manufacturers in the world. It was this success that lead to them being accepted to the Mass Challenge Accelerator in Lausanne, Switzerland where the business will be developed over four months with 70 startups.
Climate change poses the greatest threat of our time to the stability of modern society, and unknown to many, the food we eat is a major part of the problem with an estimated 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by the food supply chain. The globalisation of the food market and competition to drive down the price of goods has resulted in an unsustainable food chain that is causing irreversible damage to the environment and depleting limited natural resources.
As it stands, we are consuming more than the earth can provide, 60% more to be exact. This is illustrated by ‘earth overshoot day‘ which took place on 8 August last year it was the day at which the planet had taken all the greenhouse gas emissions that it could sustain for the calendar year and again it was earlier than ever before. How can an issue of this scale be addressed?
Informed consumer choices can help save the planet
The team at Counting Carbon believe that if consumption is our problem the consumer is our solution. A more informed consumer can make and will make the changes necessary to save the planet. Many of these are small changes in consumption that can make a big difference in our personal carbon footprint.
For example, switching to a vegetarian diet from the average diet in the US can reduce the daily footprint from 2.5 tC02 to 1.7 tC02, a drop of 32%. Counting Carbon is working to condense the carbon impact of the food we eat to a number that can be seen on product labelling or using a mobile application. This will engage consumers on their personal carbon footprint and allow them to work to reduce it.
The objective is to enable engaged, motivated, and informed consumers to ‘vote with their wallet’ for more sustainable food products, and thus challenge producers to improve their environmental standards in order to stay competitive. This is seen already today as consumers support FairTrade goods, buy free range eggs and make a considered effort to buy Irish or local produce.
The carbon score given to food products will account for all inputs and processes throughout the product lifecycle. This will include ingredients, manufacturing processes, water usage, energy source, waste, packaging, transport and storage. The app will provide information on competing brands and show the key factors in food emissions to improve transparency and build consumer awareness.
The challenge is to communicate this message effectively, and enable all shoppers to make a small difference in their consumption to protect the environment. This is one of the things the young entrepreneurs hope to develop over the coming months with the help of agriculture and branding experts from a host of multinational companies. The overall goal is to join the links of the supply chain between the grower, supplier and buyer.
Consumers can act as the catalyst for change in the food chain and create a new industry standard that encourages producers to become more sustainable. Local organic farmers will be supported and can gain competitive edge over mass producers who use artificial additives and fertilisers. It will enable retailers to set new supplier standards and create competition between brands where price is no longer the only factor.
Disconnect between consumers and suppliers
The disconnect between consumers who are willing to shop ethically and the suppliers who want to differentiate their products must be bridged and counting carbon think they are the ones to do it. The objective is not to increase retail turnover, but to enable consumers to make smarter, more sustainable choices.
Suppliers will be able to invest in more eco-friendly processes that were not previously economically viable. Wholesalers will be able to pick and choose the best producers and processors. The root of it all will be the customer whose ethical shopping will ensure that all these players can see profit as long as they strive to protect the environment. This will result in a competitive and sustainable marketplace for climate friendly food products, driven by the consumer.
What the team of Ahmad Mu’azzam, Hugh Weldon, Max Hickey and Harry Crowley really want is to create a platform for other innovators. The problems posed by climate change are complex and affect so many of today’s systems that there is no one expert who has the knowledge to fix them all.
However, if a way can be found to incentivise the little changes, to allow all the small players to play their part then the problems do not seem so unsolvable. So, play your part and look out for Counting Carbon, coming soon to a supermarket shelf near you.
You can contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org://www.engineersjournal.ie/2017/08/29/team-trinity-students-counting-carbon/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/counting-carbon-team.pnghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/counting-carbon-team-300x300.pngTechcarbon,Trinity College Dublin