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Calgary-based Arbor is driving consumer awareness on a product’s environmental impact

Local startup Arbor takes a company's product line and provides an environmental analysis.

As folks are surprising loved ones with gifts holiday season, is one factor in choosing the perfect present its environmental impact?

Calgary startup Arbor hopes it is.

Arbor helps companies examine their products with a sustainability lens, to not only separate them from similar items, but help them find pain points in their own practices.

Arbor CEO and co-founder Alex Todorovic said he and Abdullah Choudhry, Ben and Danny Grande, were entering hackathons as they all came from computer science backgrounds.

There was an ATB hackathon back in February 2020 geared towards fintech. They soon realized the industry was flooded with fintech apps, and it wasn’t that interesting, Todorovic said.  But, the insight they gained helped them dive into a consumer’s transactions to derive the products and their environmental impact.

Todorovic said he’s not chaining himself to trees, but the group wanted saw the impact they could make with this data.

“I cared genuinely about what’s going to happen in 10 years, 20 years with the environment and we want to use our skill sets with software and data, because if I’m recycling something doesn’t make a dent to the problem,” he said.

“If you get millions of people on a roll, doing the same action by being connected through software and data, all of a sudden the impact is much greater.”

That was the starting point. They refined it even more and entered a Canada-wide Microsoft hackathon in the summer of 2020. They took first place out of 400 teams.

“We’re like, ‘man, we really have something on our hands here,’” Todorovic said.

“But ultimately, we knew that the impact is really going to be generated from us working directly with businesses.”

Data makes the difference

Todorovic said when they first started digging into it, few businesses had any material understanding of their supply chain’s environmental impact.

The Arbor team saw that as the real opportunity for growth. Their goal was to help a company understand the environmental impact their products had and provide the ability to communicate to consumers what it meant.

“It’s kind of just evolved over time into this thing where we focus on essentially just mapping out the supply chain journey of a product and then showcasing what sort of emissions factors played into every single piece that it went through,” Todorovic said.

Arbor tracks it from the raw material stage, to manufacturing, transportation and packaging. They have raw data pulled from millions of different products, with specific calculations to provide the data to businesses.

“Then, businesses can showcase positive metrics or whatever it is they want to do, to stakeholders: Their investors, consumers, government bodies now, with all the different mandates and regulations that are coming in Canada,” Todorovic said.

The bare minimum they need to start is the product type. They use a database of products to generate the impact.  From there, the more product data points you add, the more detailed the result.

Todorovic said they give a confidence rating on each submission, too. It’s graded from A to E, though it’s impossible to garner an A+ rating. The tech and data just aren’t there yet, Todorovic said.  While some companies may balk at a confidence rating, and expect it to be 100 per cent accurate, Arbor isn’t hung up on that.

“Even if it’s 60 per cent accurate, you have a better understanding than you did before, having no insight whatsoever,” Todorovic said.

Driving environmental awareness

As a company, Todorovic said the environment is something everyone involved is passionate about tackling. 

While they started out with covering apparel, it’s expanded to include footwear, bags, winter gear, and some agriculture. They’re also revving up automotives, Todorovic said.

He said they want to continue to expand the analysis to different areas. Right now, they can do the analysis and the showcasing part for companies.

In the future, Todorovic said they want to help companies analyze hotspots in the different parts of their business. From there, they’ll help connect those companies to solutions that can help improve their environmental sustainability.

Todorovic said he’s aware there’s a lot of so-called greenwashing out there. He said Arbor wants to use data, math and “actual science” to give a more valuable perspective on a product’s impact.

“We’re really just driven by, if it’s not us, at least, hopefully, someone can actually make a difference in this whole kind of consumption cycle,” he said.

“We all actually we care about this change in environmental consumption and even just how people purchase things. We want to make an impact on that but we truly actually want it to be done the right way.”