Posted by Matt on Thursday, January 13, 2011.

Announcing our new parcel shipment model

We just released the initial version of a new carbon model for package shipping. It’s designed to help businesses and software developers in the logistics, retail, and IT fields track carbon alongside the other parcel-level data they’re already managing in their existing software systems. You can find the press release here.

The notion that shipping packages all over the place has a significant carbon cost isn’t a new thing (although it is an increasing concern, as online shopping and business connectedness drive ongoing increases in parcel shipping volumes). UPS, FedEx, and now even the Postal Service are many years into a healthy rivalry over low-carbon transport, and some retailers have even started offering green shipping options where shoppers pay a lump sum for carbon offsets to neutralize emissions from an average package.

But considering the increasing ubiquity of parcel shipping, the scale of the resulting emissions, and the surprising accessibility of data on packages, it’s about time all the parties involved in parcel shipping – retailers, carriers, and customers – have access to quality intel on the carbon impact of individual shipments. That’s the idea behind the new parcel shipping carbon model, delivered through our cloud-based CM1 web service.

Our parcel model provides detailed, authoritative, on-demand analyses on the carbon footprints of individual packages. Whether you know details of a shipment like tracking number, weight, or shipment route, or just basics like destination, carrier, or number of parcels, the model takes the package data you feed it, uses advanced algorithms to find the ideal calculation methodology given your inputs, supplements data where needed with dynamic averages from authoritative sources, and returns an accurate CO2 figure to your system in less than a second, along with custom methodology documentation. If that sounds like a mouthful, it’s because we’ve put a lot of work into the science and tech behind this system to make our models accurate, transparent, and easy to use.

To get a feel for the new tool, check out Yaktrak, a little demo mashup we put together that shows how the parcel carbon model can be used to integrate package carbon calculation capability into websites and other web-connected applications. It lets users type in any FedEx tracking number, and it calculates the shipment’s carbon footprint in real time, displaying emissions figures for every leg of the package’s journey. Give it a try.

Shipping emissions can vary substantially according to how a parcel gets from point A to point B. Carriers have significantly different fleets of vehicles; air and ground packages are routed very differently through hub-spoke networks; and shipments of various shapes and sizes take quite different amounts of energy to transport. One size does not fit all when it comes to parcel footprints.

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Safety in Numbers is Brighter Planet's blog about climate science, Ruby, Rails, data, transparency, and, well, us.

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We're Brighter Planet, the world's leading computational sustainability platform.

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  1. Patti Prairie CEO