By Mari Silbey
Posting in Design
What if we created an environmental score for every company on Earth? Big data enterprise AMEE has a platform and a vision to do just that.
“What if we created an environmental score for every company on Earth?” That’s one of the questions Gavin Starks posed at last week’s VERGE conference in Washington, D.C. Starks is the founder of environmental data company AMEE, and he’s not only asking questions, he’s working to turn his own “what ifs” into a new reality.
AMEE has been around since 2008, and at the heart of the enterprise is the AMEE Platform. This platform combines infrastructure, data and developer toolkits into a single package designed to help people and companies measure environmental impacts. The company says the platform includes more than eight million data items from more than 300 sources, and Starks is now talking about combining that data with global economic figures to benchmark corporate environmental performance.
Starks envisions using supply chain analysis to galvanize companies into taking action on sustainability issues. If his company (presumably in partnership with others) could make environmental insight relevant to CFOs, he believes it would be possible to use the arguments of reducing risk and increasing efficiency to affect change. By measuring the environmental impact of a company’s supply chain, and providing the tools to figure out where and how to make adjustments, Starks sees a way to get executives engaged.
(In a somewhat harsher light, one might also see Starks’ scorecard idea as a way to create public relations pressure on companies – the proverbial stick to counter the carrot incentive – but we’ll leave that debate for another time.)
However AMEE’s environmental data is used in the future, the possibilities for combining data sets are certainly intriguing. In a world of big data, the ability to map information across domains is what will help people find new solutions to increasingly tricky problems. AMEE’s open database will certainly make further environmental data mash-ups and experimentation possible. And Starks – with his “what if” ponderings – appears happy to encourage that at every turn.
Curious how the AMEE platform works? Take a trial run with AMEEdiscover, a free tool the company is billing as “the world’s first search engine focused on energy and greenhouse gas emission information." You can create your own personal scorecard, or at least estimate the environmental cost of that next vacation you have planned.
Mar 19, 2012
We can't even solve the argument of whether paper bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags. How are we supposed to meaningfully evaluate the 8 million data items or the reliability of 300 separate sources? Anybody with experience in large databases will tell you how often the data is corrupted or incomplete, often to the point where no reasonable conclusions can be made. This is just a big exercise in number crunching, The computer will come up with a number that the average person will take as the truth written on stone tablets. It's the same kind of nonsense that leads the average person to unquestionably believe in man-made global warming models. If you think a big computer model will solve all your problems, then how come we can't model the economy despite all the work by PhDs on gathering and analyzing statistics, and crunching them on a computer to come up with an economic forecast?
I think the value AMEE brings here is the ability to converge a lot of different environmental data formats into something that makes comparisons and calculations possible. If we can at least measure relative progress, then we can also provide incentive for companies to do better. As for modeling the economy, as much as I'd like to believe in economic determinism, we'll never be able to account for - much less control - every flap of a butterfly's wing. That said, we do use modeling to come up with economic indicators. Which is how, for example, we knew the housing bubble would pop, even if we couldn't pinpoint when it would happen.