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How blockchain and emissions data can supercharge corporate sustainability

 May 21, 2019 

There’s a shift afoot in the world of corporate sustainability, and especially the clean energy slice of the corporate sustainability pie. A growing number of companies are taking a fresh, hard look at their efforts and asking how they can better leverage their energy-related investments to achieve a low-carbon future faster.

In practice, that has meant going above and beyond blindly procuring renewable energy, whether through the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs), installing on-site solar, and/or signing long-term contracts such as various flavors of power purchase agreements (PPAs). Now, corporations are increasingly also taking a look at their bottom-line impacts: How can they more aggressively reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?

It’s here that blockchain—and better data—have a key role to potentially play.

From renewable energy to emissions reductions

Walmart presents an excellent case-in-point demonstrating the shift from a renewables-heavy focus to one that also includes a complementary focus on emissions reductions.

The company is one of the nationwide renewable energy leaders when it comes to installed rooftop solar capacity on its stores and distribution centers across the country. And while Walmart has lost its #1 ranking (Target surpassed it in installed rooftop solar capacity), last year Walmart announced it would install solar on another 120 stores, alongside also participating in Georgia Power’s green tariff program and announcing that it would also buy Midwest wind energy to help support its renewable energy goals.

This commendable, multi-pronged renewable energy strategy is what the market has largely come to expect from a leader like Walmart. But what comes next is what has caught our attention here at WattTime.

Two years ago Walmart announced its Project Gigaton, which has recently gained major traction. The initiative aims to prevent one gigaton (1 billion metric tons) of GHG emissions across the company’s global supply chain over a 15-year span. Though it launched in Spring 2017, Project Gigaton landed back in the headlines just recently when Walmart announced that 1,000 suppliers had joined the carbon-reduction push and that the company had already conserved 93 million metric tons of emissions through energy efficiency practices, renewable energy purchases, and sustainable packaging projects.

It might feel easy to dismiss these kind of achievements as only something a mega-company like Walmart can achieve. But blockchain—paired with new and better sources of data, insights, and full productized software solutions—just might be the way to help this approach scale across far more of the corporate sustainability world.

Four ways blockchain enhances corporate sustainability

Blockchain is a distributed ledger system that is proving its merits far beyond the world of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. As a secure, auditable, immutable, and decentralized database, it’s finding favor in industries from healthcare and banking to, yes, energy and sustainability.

In the corporate sustainability context, blockchain appeals in at least four ways:

  • Integrity: Thanks to the validation process by which blocks of data get added to a blockchain, shareholders and customers alike can have greater confidence in corporate sustainability claims.
  • Granularity: By “tokenizing” data and/or assets with a digital twin, as well as simply getting more granular with existing data sets, blockchain can facilitate market entry for smaller players, not to mention open the door to further deal aggregation.
  • Integration: By marrying two traditionally complementary but separate data streams—renewable energy generation and real-time carbon offsets—blockchain can help corporations better track the emissions impact of their efforts.
  • Automation: Thanks to how blockchain can disintermediate and make transparent previously opaque parts of the market, along with automating traditionally manual back-office processes, blockchain has the potential to streamline corporate sustainability reporting.

Blockchains still need better data to start with

The data stored on a blockchain may be highly secure, immutable, and auditable, but it’s still only as good as the data you add to the blockchain in the first place. The source and type of data matters.

When it comes to emissions data, that means going beyond business-as-usual long-term average emissions rates. For example, here at WattTime we leverage historical, real-time, and predictive data—alongside sophisticated algorithms and machine learning—to develop highly accurate location- and time-specific emissions rates.

We use this insight to power software solutions such as Automated Emissions Reduction (AER), which allows energy users large and small to do a simple software upgrade to their smart devices (e.g., building energy management systems, electric vehicle charging stations) so that they adjust their timing to use more clean energy and avoid dirty energy.

But that data and those insights can feed into other solutions as well, such as blockchain-based approaches.

Partnering with Swytch to unlock blockchain’s potential

Swytch is a blockchain platform committed to making our planet a little cleaner and greener. In their work with corporate customers, Swytch verifies the carbon reduction impact of renewable energy purchases and other actions and awards Swytch tokens (via a digital wallet) to users based on the results. Earlier this year, Swytch and WattTime announced an exciting partnership.

Swytch’s oracle now connects to WattTime’s API as one of its key sources of emissions data. Swytch is then able to provide its customers with the insight to make more informed and strategic energy decisions, from the development of renewable energy assets to the adoption of IoT devices like energy storage and EVs.

Our joint work is illustrating how blockchain and credible data can ensure that energy users have a more complete and accurate picture of their energy use and associated impact than they’ve ever had before. In this case and many others, the blockchain solution doesn’t work nearly as well without a strong foundation of data to leverage.

We now have a sightline to a world in which it’s arguably never been easier to make emissions reductions a central and direct focus of corporate sustainability efforts. Emissions-focused work need not be overly complicated, nor relegated to sophisticated teams like those at Walmart. With WattTime-powered data and blockchain-based solutions like that of Swytch, we’re excited to see many more corporations add an emissions lens to their great work.