A Startup That Fights Global Warming

I met with Canadian startup Zerofootprint during my trip to Toronto last week for the Mesh Conference. The company, which is a non-profit, was started and funded by Ron Dembo, formerly the founder of Algorithmics Incorporated.

Their chief goal, says the company, is to raise awareness among individuals and groups that everything we consume has some impact on the environment. The company is fighting global warming in two ways: encourage carbon reduction, and sell offsets for the remainder.

First, they are encouraging people and companies to be aware of how much carbon they are emitting into the atmosphere through consumption (cars, heating, food, etc.) and encouraging them to find ways to lower those emissions. For individuals this is done through their emissions calculator. The company also creates white label websites for companies, groups and cities. See, for example, Zerofootprint Toronto, a sort of social network for Toronto citizens to calculate their emissions and interact with other members.

Second, Zerofootprint offers individuals and entities the ability to purchase carbon offsets directly at their “Carbon Shop.”

When large companies like Yahoo go carbon neutral, they will usually purchase large amounts of offsets via one of the official exchanges, like the one in Chicago or Montreal. Those are good for large organizations or consultants who represent them; but smaller buyers need a way to buy smaller offsets easily. That’s where Zerofootprint comes in. Want to offset a cross country flight? Purchase a CA$10 offset and the company says you are neutral.

The big exchanges are are sometimes criticized for not properly monitoring sellers to ensure proper carbon reduction. Zerofootrpint says they do not buy offsets from exchanges because of these concerns. Instead they work directly with sellers, usually tree growers, and make sure they are legally bound to leave the trees in perpetuity.

The company charges 10% over their cost when selling offsets. They say this helps cover their operating costs. Also, they buy offsets in bulk and in advance, and they have some capital risk.

Zerofootprint is actively trying to do deals with companies as well. They’ve recently signed an agreement with Air Canada that went live just a week ago. The program encourages customers to buy an offset when purchasing a flight ticket on the airline. They say they are also negotiating with Virgin Atlantic and others, they say.

The company has twelve employees and is based in Toronto. Competitors include TerraPass and Native Energy.

After meeting with the company and hearing their story, we decided to do more than just write about them. We are working with Zerofootprint to ensure that our TechCrunch20 Conference in September is carbon neutral. They will consult with us on ways to keep emissions to a minimum, and we will be purchasing offsets for the remainder. More on the TechCrunch20 blog.