A couple of weeks ago a group of Belarusian activists released a free mobile app (at the moment for Android only)— CarbonFreeTravel. The app helps to offset the user’s carbon footprint after a trip by plane or a by a car. Three years ago the team took part in the Biz4all Social Entrepreneurship School with this idea. Using the support they received for their project, the team managed to launch the app after the school.
Biz4all Social Entrepreneurship Incubator programme was organized by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University and with financial support from the European Union.
In a way, CarbonFreeTravel project team is unique — there are no programmers on the IT start-up team (!), all members simply care about the environment. At the very beginning, 3 people worked on the project: Aliaksander Kazhura (the inspiration behind the idea, author of the concept), Hanna Baranouskaya (legal support) and Andrey Fedotau (project business development, coordinator of team work). A little later, they were joined by a marketing specialist Yauheni Pliakhnevich, and the team began actively developing the pilot version.
The team of CarbonFreeTravel (from left to right): Andrey Fedotau, Aliaksander Kazhura, Hanna Baranouskaya, Yauheni Pliakhnevich
Why offset the CO2 footprint and how an app can help
The application provides users with a quick and easy way to calculate their carbon footprint after they have taken a trip. The user enters their point of origin and their point of destination, and the application shows how much they should send to charity or environmental projects to offset the footprint left by the trip.
In future, the user will be able to choose a projects to send the compensation to. So far, however, the team has only been cooperating with one initiative from the Vitebsk region - Ginkgo Labyrinth, an organization that plants relict trees. That is why the team invites Belarusian environmental initiatives and charitable projects to cooperate.
CO2 can be offset in two ways:
- Planting trees and landscaping. At the moment, the app only includes this option. For example, I recently drove to Rostov-on-Don in a car with 2-liter engine. I travelled for about 1,600 km, which means that I would need about 8BYN to offset the carbon dioxide released by my car. Most of the money will go to Ginkgo Labyrinty. The initiative is going to plant a tree, and small percentage of that money will go towards maintaining the app.
- Contributing to energy efficiency. The idea is to help various institutions in the country (orphanages, nursing homes, hospitals, etc) replace inefficient energy sources with efficient ones. The simplest example is the replacement of conventional light bulbs with energy saving ones, or installing battery-operated temperature controllers. If you know institutions that could benefit from such assistance, please contact the creators of the application to discuss possible cooperation.
It might be social, but it is still a business
Yauheni Pliakhnevich says that, even though the project is a social initiative, it is primarily a business. That is why right from the start the system is going to take a commission to maintain the application. “We work in IT, but none of us is a programmer. When we developed the application, we paid people on every stage, and we will also need money to maintain and update it. As for marketing, in the first months we will use organic channels. It is important for us that as many people as possible learn about who we are and how we work, so we can gain their trust”.
Andrey Fedotau adds: “Unlike the website, the app is engaging. You can track your progress, complete with friends, collect statistics. But our future plans, in addition to growing our user base, include joint projects with large businesses. Recent years show that businesses want to do something useful, but they do not always know how. Offsetting carbon footprint through our app or through joint charity projects is going to help expand that vision”.
How accurate are the calculations and how to track the money
The two most common questions regarding the operation of the application are: how accurate are the calculations and how to track where the money transferred as compensation goes. Offset calculations are pure mathematics. You can find publicly available research data showing that on average 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide is produced per 1 kg of fuel. Hanna says: “I see that there people have a lot of mistrust and pose many questions about guarantees — not even users of the app, but environmentalists . But I think that we should try to be environmentally responsible and this is one of the steps. I really hope that more initiatives will join us, so in the future we will be able to not only offset air travel, but also other things, for example, the operation of servers".
As for reporting on the offset transfers, it will be completely open and accessible to everyone. “That’s the basis of our reputation, therefore, full transparency should be ensured here. We are going to control the process ourselves several times a year, paying visits to the tree planting sites, take photographs (they will be specially marked for our project), ”says Alexander.
CarbonFreeTravel as a way of life
Of course, it would be very difficult to going on nothing more than enthusiasm developing an application for three years. Each member of the project team has a sustainable environmental position, which helps them to stay dedicated even in the most difficult times. Also, support from the team is also worth a lot.
Over the three years before the app was ready for release, the team took part in various competitions and programmes, taking several study visits to Europe. Despite the fact that their goal for the future is to popularize the app in other countries, Belarus is the priority for now.
Aliaksander Kazhura argues: “I think that it is not that important where people are but how quickly and where they are moving. Over the past ten years, Belarus has changed for the better a lot. There is a sense of change and moving forward. Nothing can replace home, and you understand it better and better with age, so you want to preserve what we have and help social projects here, in Belarus”.
Hanna Baranouskaya adds: “I often feel like I’m not helping nature enough, but I really want to be better at it. However, even though my family and I try not to use plastic or reuse it, have reduced the consumption of animal products, buy less things in general, and are using a solar boiler, we still use planes, cars, air conditioners, and, naturally, computers and household appliances. The app helps offset CO2 and help valuable initiatives”.
Download the free CarbonFreeTravel app for your Android phone, test it and offset your global CO2 footprint right now. The IOS app is currently undergoing final testing stages and will also be available soon.
CarbonFreeTravel project would welcome active cooperation with charity and environmental projects from Belarus. If you have ideas for joint cooperation or for crowdfunding, be sure to contact the creators of the application and make your contribution to changing the environment.
Text: Valeriya Nikalaichyk
Photo: provided by the CarbonFreeTravel project
|The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.|
The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.