ZERO: An App to Save the Planet from Climate Change through Carbon Footprint Tracking and Decarbonization

Enabling everyone to track their carbon footprint, minimize energy consumption and benefit the environment and community.

Photo of Tara Kapoor
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Additional categories (optional)

  • Technology

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Date You Started Your Project Started

08/01/2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Decarbonization of our planet is the epic societal challenge of our generation. We want to accelerate action to address the immense carbon emissions generated by daily energy use and the damaging effects on our planet resulting in climate change. Developing an easy yet powerful tool is the critical first step to quantify the problem and spread solutions to minimize energy consumption. As changemakers, we created a solution through our app, Zero!

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our app, Zero, computes the carbon footprint of individuals and households through a series of simple questions. It integrates user data input of monthly energy consumption (e.g. gasoline for transportation, natural gas for heating, electricity for lighting), water usage, and other metrics with a statistical analysis of the quantitative carbon emissions output. Next, Zero compares users’ carbon footprint to state and national averages, recommending specific, customized methods to reduce users’ energy consumption. Finally, the app tracks monthly energy consumption and corresponding metrics over time so users can see their progress in lowering their carbon footprint, creating a positive feedback loop. The development of Zero was technically challenging. As avid programmers, we had strong computer science fundamentals, but time, commitment, and intellectual effort were required to teach ourselves iOS app development skills for a high-quality app. We chose Apple’s Swift programming language and Xcode integrated development environment to maximize the speed and quality. Currently, we are working to develop Zero for Android to enable even broader distribution.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Two years ago, Neil did an Energy merit badge for Boy Scouts, analyzing our household energy consumption trends in a spreadsheet. We also knew climate change was huge problem and not enough was being done to address it. Intrigued, we continued learning about energy usage and generated ideas to save money and energy consumption in our home. Initially, we wrote a program in Python using pair programming methodology to import, visualize and analyze trends in our monthly energy usage. While functional, the Python program was not user-friendly. Around the same time, we were learning to develop iPhone apps in Xcode/Swift and were motivated to build an app that would be broadly impactful. Putting these concepts together, our iOS app Zero was born! Our vision is for Zero to be an easy-to-use, accessible app with a rich feature set and scope for more refinements and extensions in the future.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

For our family, our app Zero has made a world of difference in reducing our energy consumption by over 10%. By tracking energy usage and receiving tips from the app on small changes in daily activities that can make a large impact on energy usage, our awareness increased, translating to a drastic decrease in our household energy consumption. We explored seasonal trends, as well as sensitivity of different energy sources to carbon emissions. Through insights from Zero on a citywide level, (for example, Los Angeles) a 10% decrease in energy consumption (natural gas, electric, and car miles driven) could save approximately $1 billion annually!

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Zero is a fun and useful app! And has a great business case for commercialization via a freemium model — keeping the consumer versions free and accessible for individuals, while offering a premium, monetized version tailored for enterprise and institutional customers — enabling individuals and institutions to reduce their carbon footprint and save money. Powered by this unique combination of social, compliance and economic factors, Zero can become an indispensable part of the climate change solution toolkit! The revenue from Zero will fund decarbonization and climate change initiatives.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Zero is in the early stages of development, refinement and distribution and has garnered very positive initial feedback from beta users. Users have found the interface easy to use and eye-opening in terms of the carbon footprint information it provides and the potential ideas and insights to benchmark and reduce it. It has also provided us with invaluable feedback on how users use the app, how they think about energy and carbon and what would be some pathways to get them more engaged. On a small scale, for our family, Zero has already made an enormous impact in reducing energy consumption to save money and save the planet!

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Some of the major next steps for Zero are to increase distribution through the iOS app store, create an Android version of the app to maximize the user base and continue to test and add new features. As the free consumer version starts to mature, we want to brainstorm the enterprise version of Zero with prospective local companies and start development of custom features. A subscription model will be linked to monetary savings that can be achieved by the institutions to meet their compliance and corporate goals. Our goal is to use the funds generated from Zero to drive community-based decarbonization, climate change and sustainability initiatives!

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Web/Mobile Development


10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Family support

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

Tara is a Stanford AI4All 2019 program alumnus (ai-4-all.org) and discovered this challenge through the AI4All Changemakers alumni newsletter.

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Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 8.46.26 PM.png

A graph illustrating annual household savings for 10%, 25%, and 50% reduction in energy consumption; City savings can be approximately $1 billion annually!

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