No-one could accuse AMEE of having modest goals.
Since 2007, the East London-based clean-technology company has been accumulating energy and environmental information from governments, companies and non-governmental organizations around the world with the goal of becoming the leading global source of data that can be used to calculate corporate carbon footprints or supply-chain energy consumption.
According to its website, the company aims to “aggregate and automate access to the world’s environmental and energy information.”
Its data contributors include the European Environment Agency; the Center for Agriculture and Environment, and the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Now AMEE – which stands for Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine – is working on a project that would assign an environmental score akin to a credit rating to any company in the world based on its total carbon footprint.
Faced with uncertain environmental policies, especially in the U.S., companies, investors and governments will welcome a standardized measurement of any company’s energy and environmental record, argues AMEE Founder and Chairman Gavin Starks.
“The market needs something different,” he told Breaking Energy in an interview in his London office. “We’re creating the equivalent of a credit score.”
AMEE has already created a score for approximately 2.8 million U.K. companies and intends to use that as a template for rolling the project out globally.
The score is based on the World Resources Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which focuses on energy, transport, water and waste.
AMEE claims to provide the world’s most comprehensive library of environmental standards, a tool designed to allow users to choose their own long-term path to sustainability.
“Over time, this will help companies learn more about the landscape, and provides better access, with provenance, to different standards so businesses can choose their own path long-term,” Starks said. “The short-term solution actually acts to simplify the situation, while our deeper services allow migration to more complex, detailed solutions.”
A Grand Strategy
With the lofty goal of eventually creating such a score for 200 million companies worldwide, Starks concedes the process may be flawed initially but he argues that so too were credit ratings in their early stages.
“The accuracy of these numbers may be low to begin with but credit scores were low too,” he said.
By creating a common frame of reference, the score would move concerns about a company’s energy consumption and emissions out of the realm of those responsible for corporate social responsibility (CSR) where it typically resides at present, and place it before top managers who will be in a better position to act on it, Starks believes.
“We want to shift the conversation away from the CSR people – who have little influence and little budget — and into the office of the CFO,” he said. “It’s a financial issue.”
Even for climate-change skeptics, a standardized score will allow managers to make better business decisions than they did before, Starks said.
“I don’t really care if you believe in climate change or not,” he said. “There are business benefits to doing this.”
With growing uncertainty about the costs and availability of energy and water, and the increasing regulation of resource use and disposal, more corporate managers will want an easy way of quantifying the risks and liabilities attached to their energy and environmental needs.
Beyond the simple motivation of cutting spending on energy, companies will be attracted to the scoring system because it will help them to calculate risk from regulation or supply-chain disruption; to more accurately gauge their financial liabilities, such as from future carbon taxes, and to build their own reputation in the face of comparable metrics, Starks believes.
The score will also be useful to the public which is used to hearing assurances of environmental responsibility from the companies that make consumer products, but is increasingly skeptical of such claims, Starks argued. “People are bored by greenwash,” he said. “Your customer is following you right now.”
The score – which is due to launch in September – follows a perception that governments are not doing enough to combat climate change, and that it’s time for a market-based solution.
For now, his customers include the BBC, Morgan Stanley and Google, which worked with AMEE to create a website allowing Google users to measure their carbon emissions and discover ways of reducing them
The resulting U.K. Carbon Footprint Project has allowed thousands of Google users, including schools, to calculate their impacts and share information on how to reduce it.
Starks shares his green evangelism with other occupants of the so-called Silicon Roundabout, a district of East London that has attracted hundreds of technology startups creating everything from games to digital media, as well as clean-tech companies like AMEE, in a creative cluster that has invited comparisons with California’s Silicon Valley.
AMEE’s office is a stone’s throw from the traffic circle – or roundabout – at the intersection of Old Street and City Road which inspired the droll label for the booming tech district.
Starks, a 41-year-old Scot, has worked in digital media for the last 13 years, and was one of the first employees in Richard Branson’s Virgin Media. He’s a former astrophysicist who worked at the Jodrell Bank space telescope in Cheshire, England, and has a master’s degree in electronic music. AMEE, which now has 20 full-time employees, is his fourth startup.
While his target market is mostly the upper management of organizations, he’s also interested in changing consumer use of energy, and offers AMEE website users a quick way of measuring the carbon impact of familiar fuels, foods, or travel activities.
Flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to Los Angeles, for example, generates 1,064kg of CO2 equivalent, while 10kg of beef produces at least 6.38kg of CO2, the site says, attributing its numbers to AMEE’s different sources.
That may be easy for people to understand, Starks says, but it’s harder for organizations to do anything about without comprehensive data that allows them to develop an accurate picture of their energy use and impact.
“Individually, people really want to do something,” he said. “From a corporate level, it’s too complicated.”
This is the second article in a four-part Breaking Energy series covering the emergence of London’s Silicon Valley. Check back throughout the week for additional articles that focus on several companies now operating in the Silicon Roundabout.