RFID Solution Enables Consumers to Manage Carbon Footprint at Stores

By Claire Swedberg

Ecoingot's IoT-based system employs blockchain technology and HF RFID-based connectivity from Compass Marketing, enabling shoppers to gain information regarding the carbon emissions related to products before making a purchase, and to buy credits or offset carbon use, via the company's app and a public ledger.

European technology company Ecoingot is betting consumers might alter their purchasing behaviors if they better understood the carbon footprint of the products they bought. The firm's new app enables shoppers to view, with the tap of a mobile phone, how much greenhouse gas a specific product adds to the atmosphere before they make a purchase.

The new system, which Ecoingot dubs the Internet of Carbon, leverages RFID technology and a wireless network from Compass Marketing, known as the Smart Retail Label (SRL) Network. It is scheduled to be taken live on Earth Day (Apr. 22, 2019). The SRL Network platform communicates between consumer brands, retailers and individual shoppers regarding store pricing and inventory levels, while providing what the company calls "media to consumers' mobile phones." The Internet of Carbon system employs that functionality within the platform.

Ciaran Kelly

Consumers can use the solution not only to view a product's carbon footprint, but also to participate in the blockchain-based system of buying and offsetting carbon. They can acquire tokens and, when making a purchase, accept the carbon emissions related to a particular product or offset them with their existing tokens. This will be a new feature of SRL's direct-to-consumer mobile application, at which time users will be offered the opportunity to offset their carbon footprint. Labels or packaging can provide information regarding products, recipes, allergens or sustainability.

Ecoingot was launched last year in Malta to provide a platform for solutions related to the carbon impact of goods and services. Its leadership includes environmental scientists, blockchain and distributed ledger technical experts, and individuals with a banking and finance focus. The team includes Jeremy White, Avery Dennison's former global head of innovation.

The startup is working with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a sustainable production alliance for the apparel, footwear and textiles industries, based on its connections to Avery Dennison and its Janela EVRYTHNG product, says Ciaran Kelly, Ecoingot's managing director. The solution's focus, Kelly explains, is to help consumers take charge of their own carbon footprint.

"As individuals, we all have an obligation to reduce our carbon impacts," Kelly states, "yet the information to help us make informed decisions is disappointingly unavailable where it would be most useful: at the point of sale." Kelly cites a January 2017 report by Unilever indicating that 33 percent of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. Twenty-one percent of consumers surveyed said they would actively choose brands that made their environmental credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing.

The solution builds on blockchain technology. Beginning on Earth Day, Ecoingot will offer consumers what it calls EGT tokens, which each carry a carbon value that makes it possible to offset the carbon impact of a given purchase or activity. Those using the tokens would first download the app. They can then earn tokens via activities in the app, or through loyalty points or purchases with participating brands.

Brands participating in the deployment will have Smartrac HF-NFC 13.56 MHz RFID tags attached to their goods, compliant with the ISO 15693 and ISO 14443 standards. Conversely, the tags could be attached to the shelves on which the products are displayed. Users would be able to see the SRL logo on a product's label and could tap their smartphone against that label. The system works with both Android- and iOS-based phones. With or without the app, users can view information about carbon emissions related to an item's production.

Russell Young

Those using the app can then employ their EGT tokens. For example, once they've viewed the carbon impact of a particular item, the app would display the EGT value of that impact. "You then, as the app user, would spend the relevant number of EGT tokens from your account that correspond with this impact," Kelly explains. As a result, he says, the user's EGT tokens would be immutably recorded as spent. The individual could replenish his or her tokens by making purchases from the brand, or by using Ecoingot's incentive and reward systems. "We are currently negotiating with a number of companies for integrating the tokens into their customer loyalty schemes."

Each token equates to 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent, a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. This carbon value, Kelly says, was calculated based on what the company finds to be demonstrated proven environmental benefits. Whether or not the tokens are used, however, the content is available to help consumers make smarter choices about their purchases. "Our core mission is to make carbon data as readily available as nutritional data or origin of manufacture," he explains, "bringing environmental impact information into consumers' consciousness."

The RFID data captured by the mobile phone, either iOS or Android, is managed by the SRL Network platform and is then displayed in a way that can be understood easily and in a meaningful and comparable way, according to John White, SRL's CEO. Initially, he says, the greatest interest has been in the apparel category, as well as from several large well-known consumer goods brands. These brands are utilizing the SRL network, he notes, which "goes around Google and Facebook, allowing them to go directly to consumers."

Ecoingot provides the carbon footprint calculation, says Russell Young, the firm's chief operations officer. The company, he adds, has "gone to a great deal of trouble with our calculation model to make those estimates as accurate as we can, and to be transparent about how they are derived."

Traditionally, Young explains, there are two models for calculating carbon impacts or carbon emission data: "top-down" (EEIO—Extended Input-Output) and "bottom-up" (PBLCA—Process Based Life Cycle Analysis) models. While working on Ecoingot's carbon calculation model with U.K. professor Mike Berners-Lee (the author of How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything) and his team at Small World Consulting, Young says, "We agreed to develop a hybrid approach, which would take the benefits of both existing models and combine them into a hybrid system."

The resulting dataset contains a variety of hybrid emissions factors, Young says, by which both PBLCA and EEIO are used to deliver a result that is specific to a particular product or service and has the system completeness of EEIO. The factors considered include the amount of electricity consumed, the impact of road transportation and, in the case of food, the supermarket operation-based emissions.

At present, White reports, Whole Foods, Giant Eagle, Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy are all using SRL's network at some of their stores to provide product information to shoppers. The technology utilizes a variety of cameras, weight sensors, RFID readers and robots, he adds.

Smartrac, in providing the HF inlays and tags, says it takes pride in providing solutions aimed at sustainability in consumer goods. "We are very happy to support Compass Marketing and the all-encompassing platform Ecoingot," says Christian Uhl, the company's CEO. "The 'Internet of Carbon,' as envisioned by Ecoingot, perfectly fits into Smartrac's strategy."