Climate change poses a serious threat to ecosystems and the well-being of future generations. Vehicles are among the biggest sources of pollution and gasoline-powered vehicles have a huge carbon footprint. Given the severe global warming conditions, we believe that we can all do better, starting by changing our traveling habits. We are using incentives like discounts, visualization of personal carbon footprints, and gamification through a leaderboard and pushing people to use rideshare or electric vehicles, thereby causing a reduction in carbon emissions.
What it does
Visualize carbon savings We ask permission to access users’ Uber/Lyft email receipts on obtaining non-sensitive data- date and time of travel, distance, duration of travel, and category of the ride taken (Uber green in this case). We do not collect any sensitive data like pickup and dropoff locations. Carma uses publicly available Uber metrics to calculate the carbon footprint from a ride and computes the carbon savings from choosing an Uber Green vs choosing Uber X.
Rewards on greener ride choices Carma then adds up the savings and makes the customer eligible for a discount after the savings reach a certain level. Customers then get a discount of 5% if the ride costs on their next ride which they can redeem to add to their Uber/Lyft app. Customers can also see the history of all of the savings they had on past rides. This approach to designing the app motivates customers to keep checking their carbon savings because they would be keen on getting discounts, thereby subconsciously educating them about sustainable habits. It is worth noting that Carma makes a commission of 10% of the discount amount offered which is effectively 0.5% of the ride amount. This is a small enough number that is extremely reasonable for big companies like Uber and gives us the economy of scale.
Gamification Could Uber/Lyft have implemented this idea themselves? The answer is no because Uber does not want to risk changing to a gamified platform because that would be a significant change to its brand identity. By partnering with us, they get the advantage of getting customers that are attracted to gamification and discounts without having to risk changing their business structure. We designed a leaderboard that puts people with the most carbon savings on top.
Additionally, we add a feature to make and join teams, so that it enables users to not only look at individual emission tracking and sometimes maybe as the obvious question that their effort alone doesn’t make a difference. Creating teams at work place, universities and friends is what we believe an engaging and powerful way look at the collective of a community. People can join teams of the companies they work at, their university, etc. so that they can look at their team insights and see where the team stands in terms of their green behaviors. This is an appealing value proposition for companies because they want to be more sustainable.
Learning In today's world, where sustainability has become an urgent concern, it is important to have a learning feature in a sustainability app like CARMA. Many people are not aware of the environmental impact of their daily choices and actions. Moreover, there is an increasing trend of greenwashing, which is when companies present themselves as environmentally friendly without truly implementing sustainable practices. The learning feature in this can help individuals understand the true impact of their actions on the environment, and can help them distinguish between genuine sustainable practices and greenwashing. By educating and empowering people, it can play a crucial role in creating a more sustainable future for all. Moreover, provide a platform for budding content writers to share their experiences and blogs about changes they made in their daily lifestyle to reduce their footprint.
How we built it
We noticed, despite ambitious goals to attain high levels of sustainability at big companies, the main problem is that most people do not have a strong motivation to track and reduce their carbon footprints. As a solution, we designed a business model that provides economic incentives to encourage people to go green. After refining the business model, we used Figma to prototype our app and then iteratively refined it down to the finest details. With a clearer idea of what was to be built, we built the backend using Python and Flask. The backend was responsible for interfacing with our SQLite database and providing a backend server with endpoints that we could ping to get information for our app’s front end. The front end was built using React Native and Expo. We went with React Native as we can easily use it, along with Expo’s CLI, to easily develop, test, and build mobile apps for iOS and Android simultaneously. Users of our app can create an account with us to sign in, and we use tokens to keep them signed in to the application. We managed app-wide state with React’s Context API. Once a new user registers with us, we followed Google’s OAuth2.0 protocol to get permission from the user to access their emails. Our backend script would only query emails from domains that the user has selected, and we don’t store any of the emails in our database. Once we got the emails from the Gmail API (following Google’s strict authentication protocol), we parsed the receipt emails from those authorized domains for rideshare information relevant to carbon footprint such as the miles driven and the type of car. With that information, we immediately calculate their estimated carbon footprint and only store that in our backend.
Challenges we ran into
One of the biggest challenges was to perform the email scraping of the customers to obtain the necessary trip-related details and then implement that on the app. We did not have experience doing something like this and it was very technically challenging to consistently pull all the correct data from the email receipts. We also coded the entire app from scratch which is a very time-consuming process. We designed the login authentication page that would use the same Gmail account as the one that receives the email receipts. On top of that, we couldn't start coding immediately because we needed to first design the entire app on Figma first to make sure the workflow of how the customer would use the app was clear. Additionally, this is a competitive landscape and we had to find a way to differentiate ourselves in the market to make sure that it brings tremendous value at a low risk to potential partners like Uber and Lyft. Tracking the user email receipts needs to be done ethically, in partnership with the cab companies- which is how we decided to only pull non-sensitive data.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The majority of the team had no past experience in Hackathons and coming into this, we did not have a lot of experience in web/mobile application development or implementing email scraping. Throughout the hackathon, we taught ourselves how to use Figma through YouTube videos and conducted in-depth research on the market needs- an analysis of the government policies and carbon footprint calculation metrics used by major sustainability standards companies. It is truly a fulfilling experience to learn the concepts of building a truly meaningful company from scratch in such a short period and to celebrate the little accomplishments and celebrations that kept stacking until we got the final product. We are confident that this is an idea that can create a huge impact on a global level as it uses economic incentives to drive the behavior of people to make positive climate-conscious choices! Three of us were already close friends and our fourth teammate became close as though we knew each other for a long time.
What we learned
We learned the nitty-gritty details of the extent of planning that goes into designing an app from scratch. We also learned how to simplify seemingly complex ideas and to package them in an easily understandable and executable manner. We learned how to tactically position an idea that is in a competitive landscape. We learned to look into the business aspects of our idea and come up with a revenue plan in a short amount of time. We also pitched to YCombinator for the challenge which was a valuable experience for our team. After the different interactions with the mentors and sponsors, we gathered a lot of knowledge about industry trends and where the future of technology is headed.
What's next for Carma
Our immediate goal is to implement our current business model and build notoriety in the sustainability market. The revenue generated from the existing business would be used to explore bigger markets to make an even greater impact. It would be a continuous market feedback loop and we would make decisions based on the story the market tells us. The long-term goal is to use mobility as a great entry point for the larger markets of food, and energy consumption. One idea is to make Carma a business emissions tracking tool for tracking scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 emissions for companies. We can get even more technically advanced by using GPS tracking to identify the mode of transportation being taken and tracking the length of the journey to calculate the emissions from those modes of transport. This could include our personal cars, motorcycles, or even the Caltrain.