This Finnish tech startup wants to revolutionize the travel industry and make it more sustainable
The transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to data from the US Department of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2020 alone, 27% of 2020 greenhouse gas emissions came from the transportation sector.
Today, climate change is one of the biggest threats facing our planet and that is why governments, organizations, and big tech companies around the world are coming together with measures to drastically reduce CO2 emissions, lower the carbon footprint, and reverse the climate trend.
However, big tech companies are not alone in the fight against climate change. In the summer of last year, we wrote about Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital after the venture firm raised $800 million to back companies that are developing technology to reduce CO2 emissions, sucking carbon out of the sky, and buying us time to heal and save the planet.
However, considering that the transportation sector generates the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions, one startup has made it its mission to change the travel industry and make it more transparent in terms of environmental impact.
Enter Oncarbon, a Finnish tech startup that offers an automated carbon footprint calculator for travel products and a toolkit for its visual communication, secured pre-seed funding last summer and is now starting to bring its first customers on board.
The story of Oncarbon began in 2021 in Tampere, Finland. With the pandemic in full swing and global air travel down 95%, young entrepreneurs Jussi Ahola and Tomi Turtiainen were discussing the social and environmental costs of travel choices. By this time, Finland had already experienced most of the recent travel trends and challenges, such as “flight shame” and micro-tourism, and air travel was beginning to carry the label “bad for the environment.”
Ahola and Turtiainen decided to address this challenge. Their goal was to give the travel companies and their customers a tool to allow making informed travel decisions. This is when Oncarbon solution was born.
Oncarbon helps forward-thinking travel companies calculate and communicate the carbon footprint of the products they sell. Ahola and Turtiainen see transparency as the first step in minimizing the harmful impact of travel and a push for better supply and demand of low-emission travel products.
“We want people to continue enjoying the benefits of travel but we believe that today, being aware of the environmental footprint of travel is the first step to lower emissions in the future. The travel industry needs to change and we need to travel more consciously because if we continue to emit the current levels of greenhouse gasses, we will exceed the limit of global warming of 1.5℃, agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and exceed it in a serious way” Ahola says.
An innovative carbon footprint calculator
The Oncarbon model for calculating flight emissions uses a wide variety of characteristics of a flight itinerary: plane models, engine models, the number of seats in the aircraft, an estimation of the amount of cargo on the flight, airport busyness factors, and the great-circle distances between the origin, destination, and any stops on the way. It gives out numbers in terms of the warming effect attributable to each seat of a flight itinerary. The warming effect is communicated as kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Travel companies can receive the emissions data through Oncarbon’s APIs and display it to consumers at the point of purchase.
In the future, the startup is planning to extend the coverage of their calculation service to more travel product categories, such as accommodation. Also, their ambition is to start accounting for sustainability information beyond emissions, as the social sustainability of different accommodation options.
“We see ourselves as a trusted third party that monitors travel companies. Our mission is to hold companies accountable for the carbon footprint of their products and empower their customers to make conscious choices. We want the travel industry to be more transparent and more sustainable. There is no room for greenwashing,” Ahola emphasizes.
Growing pressure from climate-conscious consumers
The pressure toward bigger transparency from climate-conscious consumers is growing, and communicating emissions becomes a standard in some industries.
According to EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) survey, 80% of passengers would like to receive environmental information about the flights they take, and 3 out of 4 passengers would welcome an Environmental Label on their flight. Meanwhile, only 5% of passengers are aware of how much CO2 they use when they travel by air.
Yet travel agencies and airlines aren’t openly sharing the emissions or fuel burn data – and Oncarbon is determined to change that.
“We did not start Oncarbon to make a quick buck – we want to make an impact and educate consumers who are unaware of the environmental costs of travel,” say Ahola and Turtiainen.
Oncarbon pushes for full transparency
Oncarbon currently operates with a team of four. Ahola and Turtiainen were joined by Chief Data Officer Julia Bondarchik, a researcher and Ph.D. student at LUT Sustainability Science, and Joanna Kocik, a content marketing specialist.
The Finnish startup already has its first customers onboard and is on track to scale its impact in Europe. The founders admit that in Finland, sustainability issues are high on the agenda and business often takes responsibility for environmental issues. Now it’s time to expand this trend to other countries.
“We realize that our product is to help travel companies communicate an unpleasant fact, but we believe there is no room for compromise when it comes to climate change. Humanity is running out of time to stop global warming and we cannot afford not to be brutally honest about the impact of travel on the environment,” Oncarbon’s founders conclude.