How Does the Joro Carbonizer Work?

Sanchali Pal & Sophie Janaskie
December 4, 2020

What does my spending have to do with my impact on the planet?

How you spend money – your consumption habits – can reveal your impact on the planet. By connecting your credit or debit card to the app, Joro can automatically track your real-time carbon footprint. This approach has many advantages:

  • Using your spending to estimate your carbon footprint eliminates the need for manual input. With a connected card, our proprietary Carbonizer algorithm can automatically convert your purchase history into a carbon footprint based on the carbon intensity of different products in the economy. There’s no need to manually enter details on the meal you ate or the trip you took; Joro can infer an approximate estimate independently.
  • It enables you to compare the relative impact of different activities. By converting your spending choices into a common unit of climate impact -- kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2e) -- Joro can compare the relative impact of, say, a new pair of shoes versus dining at a restaurant. Joro helps you develop carbon intuition.
  • It creates direct opportunities for climate action. By providing direct, personal data on the sustainability of your lifestyle, Joro can illuminate clear ways to have an impact.

The Carbonizer applies rigorous data sources to develop proprietary algorithms

At the highest level, Joro’s Carbonizer uses rigorous academic and publicly available datasets on the carbon intensity of US industrial sectors to convert a credit card transaction into a carbon footprint.

Let’s take a simplified example. At the most basic level, the Carbonizer might identify that you spent $30 at The Gap. It multiplies the dollar value of this transaction by the average carbon intensity (in kg CO2e per dollar) of a clothing purchase. 

For some types of purchases, this might be relatively straightforward. For others, the calculation is more complicated and requires other inputs. The Carbonizer’s algorithms are made up of four key pieces of data: digital spending data, economic-environmental data on the greenhouse gas emissions of various industries and sectors, a proprietary mapping of spending and environmental data, and survey information on a user’s unique lifestyle and habits.

Carbonizer Diagram

Digital spending data

For card-connected Joro users, Joro uses the Plaid API, a secure fintech platform, to access information about your purchases. Plaid is the same API that Venmo, Robinhood, and most cutting-edge fintech applications use to securely process bank-related information. Joro doesn’t store any sensitive information about accounts, but rather simply reads the names, categories, and amounts of your transactions. This is the first input to the Carbonizer.

Economic-environmental data

Next, Joro uses a rigorous, national-level dataset from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the US Environmentally-Extended Input-Output (US EEIO) model. The EEIO combines macroeconomic data with National Greenhouse Gas Inventories to provide a per-dollar estimate of carbon emissions from 386 US industry sectors. These estimates include carbon impacts starting at the beginning of the supply chain (i.e. raw material extraction) up through to the manufacturer’s gate. We apply additional research by researchers at Yale University to extend these climate impacts to the customer point-of-purchase, expand the number of sectors to 405, and include the impacts of capital investments in industry (see our white paper to learn more).

Putting it together: mapping spending and environmental data

Joro has created a unique, proprietary mapping between financial “transaction categories” and USEEIO environmental “industry sectors”. WIth this mapping, we have carefully crafted carbon weights for each transaction category to provide our community with improved, granular estimates of the carbon impacts of their purchases.

Personalizing estimates with the Carbon Survey

Not all parts of your carbon footprint can be calculated with just spending data. For example, not all purchases are paid for with a credit or debit card. Some lifestyle factors (dietary preferences, location, etc.) might impact the carbon footprint of your purchases in more personalized ways. Other types of purchases might be too ambiguous to discern from transaction data alone. To reflect these nuances of your footprint, Joro asks you to provide answers to questions regarding your diet, lifestyle, and home through our Carbon Survey, which most users complete as part of their onboarding process. By combining insights from your answers with external datasets such as those from University of California, Berkeley and Oxford University, Joro is able to fill in the gaps to create a more complete estimate of your total carbon footprint.

Joro helps you build carbon intuition

There are billions of products in the world, and it is impossible for anyone to know the exact carbon footprint of each and every unique product. Instead, Joro’s Carbonizer intends to help you build carbon intuition: a relative understanding of the carbon intensity of different types of purchases. To understand your relative carbon footprint and levers for impact, it’s not necessarily important whether you purchased a dress or a t-shirt at the clothing store, but rather that you spent $30 on a new item of clothing at all. Joro helps you understand the carbon footprint of that action versus, say, the ride-share trips you took this week, and shows you the areas in which you have the most potential for impact. 

As we develop our algorithms, Joro will be able to make better and more actionable estimates. For instance, for a clothing purchase, we might distinguish between second-hand and new clothes, or more or less sustainable vendors. Ultimately, we seek to help you understand where you can focus your efforts to live more sustainably in ways that truly matter.

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

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