Business Brains

Promoting the idea that being zero (at least when it comes to carbon footprints) is a pretty cool thing

Posting in Cities

Most people can't be expected to change their energy consumption if they can't visualize the impact. That's where Zerofootprint Software steps in.

Economic stimulus dollars focused on smart grids or green buildings and smart cities are great and all, but we can't rely on government money to fund the smart planet revolution all by its lonesome. That's where Zerofootprint Software is stepping in, not necessarily with financing but with software that could help both consumers and businesses figure out where that money could come from to do all the retrofitting we need for a smarter planet.

I should step back and note that Zerofootprint actually lives in two worlds.

In one guise, it is a Canadian software developer that sells applications for measuring energy consumption and other green metrics. But it also runs a non-profit foundation that preaches the zerofootprint mantra. That is, that buildings CAN be run with no net carbon impact to the environment. Zerofootprint believes in this SO strongly that it has teamed up with a couple of other organizations to create the ZEROprize. The focus is on projects that "re-skin" old concrete buildings with all the technologies and systems that help reduce their environmental impact to net zero.

Back to the technology side of its business, Zerofootprint basically lives by the tenet that anything that uses power should talk to the Internet, explains Zerofootprint CEO Ron Dembo. This is part of its TALKINGPlug vision. Dembo's philosophy is that if every lightbulb or appliance could be evaluated for its energy usage, people would be a whole lot more sensitive to their behavior. "Today you have no clue as to how one building compares to another," Dembo says.

Zerofootprint's software portfolio includes ZEROMeter, which collects information about your devices and communicates the data wirelessly to a hosted service that will help you run metrics on that information. The company is demoing its technology at this week's TED Conference; it's still really in the development phase.

The idea is that, in theory, your entire neighborhood would be using this service and you could peek to see how you rate consumption-wise. Or, think about how this could be used in a business. If one department is managing the power of their computers or turning off the lights more routinely than another group, this information would be exposed across the company. Sort of brings that whole competitive element into things, no?

Here's what ZEROmeter looks like:

So, of course, you need some special technology to make this happen, which is actually where the TALKINGPlugs come in. This page provides a description of how they might work inside a company.

If you're thinking about doing a pilot program, you're still in luck.

Dembo believes that the business world's ability to start seeing data like this will me all the different for funding and investments focused on smart building, smart transportation systems and the like. If a company could see how changing environmental habits, for example, might help improve employees' health and (think ripple effect) help healthcare companies reduce their costs and payouts, things start to get really interesting. "The idea here is that there is a big demand for green investment, but there is a small supply of credit. This might be the true cost of carbon," Dembo says.

I have a notion that Zerofootprint will be very influential in the months and years to come, given Dembo's recent appointment to the steering committee for the World Urban Forum, which is working on development projects intended to help create what Dembo calls "exemplary" cities.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure