One of London’s growing number of clean-tech startup companies has created an online market place to cut energy use and carbon emissions by linking buyers and sellers of personal and freight transportation.
Carbon Voyage offers travelers a way of sharing rides to save money and fuel, and brokers trucking services to allow companies to ship their goods via reliable carriers who can make fewer trips with empty vehicles.
The company, a resident of East London’s booming ‘Silicon Roundabout’ district, has written software that allows individuals and businesses to find counterparties that meet their specific requirements for the time, place and cost of the journey they want to make.
It’s a plan that’s designed to save users money and time, cut down on traffic congestion, and help reduce carbon emissions in a country that has ambitious goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades.
And it appeals to a spirit of cooperation among users of transportation services that is key to any significant reduction in carbon emissions from the sector.
“It’s about collaborative consumption,” said Chief Executive James Swanston, a 35-year-old Australian who started Carbon Voyage in late 2010. “If you work in the same building and you’re going to the airport at the same time, it makes sense to share a ride.”
Applying the collaborative approach to the freight business also helps reduce the 30 percent of U.K. truck trips that Swanston says run empty every day.
Companies looking for a freight hauler to move their products are able to solicit a bid by submitting details of a load, together with where and when they need it picked up and delivered, on Carbon Voyage’s web site. Interested haulers can then respond to the request, also via the web site. The company works only with reputable freight companies who emphasize reliability rather than just the lowest cost.
Individual users are urged to use Facebook or Twitter to connect with their friends and acquaintances who may wish to share a ride. “It’s important that if you are sharing, you are comfortable to share with that person,” he told Breaking Energy.
Carbon Voyage has so far attracted approximately 500 clients, 100 of whom are businesses, generating revenue of about 100,000 British pounds between the end of 2010 and July 2012, Swanston said.
The company generates revenue by taking a percentage of revenue from transportation bookings made through its web site, and is making money, although all profits get ploughed back into the business, said Swanston, who doesn’t pay himself a salary.
Carbon Voyage was started with a “bootstrap” investment of about 100,000 pounds, around three-quarters of which were personal funds from Swanston, an entrepreneur with a string of previous startups including a business promoting wine from small wineries to luxury hotels, and an internet café.
Coordinated Transport Offers Numerous Savings Opportunities
Among his inspirations was a study showing that shops at London’s Paddington Station, a notoriously congested area, weren’t talking to each other about how they could share transportation costs, and so their delivery vehicles were unnecessarily contributing to traffic tie-ups, air pollution and fuel use.
“Even if businesses are ready to do the green thing individually, there are still a lot of duplicative journeys,” he said.
Among his clients is Earl’s Court, a major convention and exhibition center in West London where 25 million visitors and 40,000 exhibitors every year generate traffic that creates some of the worst air pollution in the city.
A typical show might produce 1,000 empty vehicles arriving to pick up exhibition materials after the event, Swanston said. Now, with the help of Carbon Voyage software, truckers coordinate their trips, saving time, fuel and money. With load sharing, companies can save 20-30 percent on their travel budget, he said.
The amount of money that they are spending because they are not sharing is considerable,” – Swanston
Carbon Voyage, with a management team of six and about a dozen volunteer interns, shares an office building with about 40 other tech startups making products ranging from gaming to digital media. The vast majority are “cash positive”, said Richard Celm, manager of Accelerator, a business incubator based at that location.
The local influx of creative businesses has boosted a previously struggling local economy and spawned other businesses that have prospered in the process.
Among them is The Grocery, an organic convenience store and coffee shop across the street from the Carbon Voyage office. The store wasn’t expected to succeed when it opened about three years ago but which is now doing well, said Swanston, over a cappuccino in the store.
“Three to four years ago, it was a dump,” he said. “Now, it’s thriving.”
Swanston, a soldier who has served in the British, Australian, and U.S. armies, and did a seven-month tour of Iraq in 2004, places a high value on military service which he believes can help those seeking to start a company in the civilian world. His chief operating officer served in Iraq and Afghanistan for the U.S. Army, and his chief marketing officer is a member of the British Royal Naval Reserve.
“Sometimes, the people who have combat experience will be better able to deal with the rigors of the business world,” he said.