Guillermo Romero López
Guillermo Romero López is
the application lead on the
carbonocero app, working
with other developers at
the IBM SilverGate lab
in Argentina.

Many scientific organizations around the world, such as The Royal Society and the American Meteorological Society, agree that recent warming of the planet indicates a long-term trend and “that serious damage may result at some future date if steps are not taken to halt the trend.”

For those interested in their personal influence on the environment, an app developed by an IBM volunteer team in Argentina helps anyone better understand their carbon footprint and steps they can take to reduce that impact.

The three-member IBM team received a 2017 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award for their work.

Carbon zero

Environmental concerns are an important topic to Paola Simonetti, an IBM consultant in Argentina who advises institutions on corporate citizenship and resiliency projects.

“I am a fervent believer in the three legs of sustainability—economic, social and environmental,” Paola says. “It was during an IBM workshop in 2014 when I met Fabián Román, the president of Fundación Plan21, and believed his group could play an important role across all three legs.”

Fundación Plan21 is a network of professionals focused on the implementation of innovative ideas for the sustainable human development of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Fabián told Paola about “Carbonocero”—an initiative by Fundación Plan21 to help people measure carbon footprints.

A quick lesson: Greenhouse gases absorb and radiate heat in the earth’s atmosphere and are responsible for moderating the average temperature on the planet.

However, an increasing amount of greenhouse gases is said to be contributing to a warming planet. Carbon dioxide is named as a leading culprit because it is a growing by-product of human activity and stays in the atmosphere longer than other major heat-trapping gases.

Among other things, the Carbonocero initiative included a free online calculator anyone could use to see how much carbon dioxide their personal activities and habits were releasing into the atmosphere; also called their footprint. Once you know the size of your carbon footprint, you can act to reduce it.

Paola with fellow IBM volunteers, Guillermo Romero López and Rodolfo Panesi, evaluated the calculator.

“Traveling, and airplane travel in particular, leaves a large carbon footprint,” Paola explains. “The conclusion we found after several discussions was that the calculator was not attractive for frequent travelers because it is on a web platform, and we wanted people to be able to understand their carbon footprint while they were doing the activity.”

Being frequent travelers themselves, the IBM volunteer team determined a mobile app was needed to increase adoption and would be easier on the thin technical resources at Fundación Plan21.

Team effort

Guillermo, a software engineer at the IBM Research lab in Buenos Aires, known as SilverGate, was the application leader on developing the mobile version of the carbonocero calculator.

“I know the SilverGate team for their excellent work,” says Paola, who served as the volunteer team’s project manager. “I asked one of the SilverGate managers if they would be willing to develop an Android app and they agreed. Guillermo then volunteered to lead the IT project for us.”

The third volunteer team on the team, Rodolfo, is an IBM cognitive solutions consultant who helped inform the development of the project; his ideas were instrumental in how the app would be used.

As part of the development process, the volunteer team had to educate themselves about climate change, understand the backlog of requirements from Fundación Plan21, determine the best use of existing and public databases, and learn more about the best methods for developing on the Android platform.

It ended up being about a one-year cycle.

“We succeeded with a wonderful team effort from IBM and Fundación Plan21,” says Paola. “This application is available now on the Google Play app store and continues to be developed by volunteers from IBM laboratory researchers. It generates a simple and direct fact of awareness and environmental education and allows people to visualize the impact of their actions, beginning with air travel.”

Applications for the app

Having been downloaded up to 500 times, the app has been demonstrated at conferences, and a certifier of sustainable destinations is in the process of signing up to use the program with its clients.

The thought is that sustainable tourism can be supported using the app to help inform travelers of how their decisions of where to go and what to do impacts the environment.

Paola says that “If we achieve having frequent travelers share the information they get on the app, it will raise awareness of the importance of their actions and we will all start thinking of how to improve the future of our land.”

The app continues to be developed by volunteers at the IBM lab and the plan is for IBM Watson Analytics to be part of the next phase of design. Also, the current measured footprint is for air travel, and the team would like to scale it to the measure other types of footprints.

Paola is now also assisting Fundación Plan21 with other projects.

“I’m working in sustainability projects with entrepreneurs. The idea is to generate sustainable ventures that contribute to improve the quality of life—preserving environment and culture—while also supporting economic development.”

She also has joined the organization’s advisory board.

“As a volunteer, sometimes the situations can be stressful or controversial, but over the years, I realize the impact our activities have, and I am proud to be part of that change; I know it’s worth it.”

The IBM volunteers from Argentina are among 12 other IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the thirteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees.

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