The Silicon Valley startup inspired by SimCity has gamified decarbonization.
The New Zealand government’s plan for a “fart tax”—or charging farms for agricultural methane emissions—sent a wave of fear through the country’s sheep farmers when the government proposed it in October. One farm lobbyist raged that it would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand.” The government had been talking about taxing emissions to reach its carbon goals for years—agriculture does, after all, account for over half the country’s emissions. But the announcement of a start date—2025—made the idea terrifyingly real.
The country’s sheep farmers, however, may have a leg up on other businesses that are just as stunned by the pending regulation. Farmers who work with the New Zealand Merino Co. (NZM)—a grower-founded and publicly traded wool marketing and innovation company that has certified more than 700 growers on its ZQ “ethical wool” standard—will have access to software developed by Silicon Valley startup Actual that gamifies decarbonization; it’s like SimCity but instead of buzzing metropolises there are sheep farms; instead of coal plants there are belching ewes.
The startup, founded in late 2018, has modeled the carbon footprint of over 600 New Zealand farms that cover 3.5 million acres. Its software allows farmers to quickly model their carbon footprint—a baseline need in the age of climate commitments—and simulate the effects and return on investment of decarbonization efforts. The visual modeling helps farmers decide which emissions-lowering actions, such as forest plantation, to implement to avoid the pain of the “fart tax.” The information also enables the brands that buy farms’ wool—Smartwool, Allbirds, Icebreaker, and Reda—to track the suppliers’ emissions as the brands pursue their own decarbonization goals.
Beyond New Zealand, this kind of decarbonization utility is in demand as companies strategize how to meet their newly published net-zero goals, says Karthik Balakrishnan, Actual president and cofounder. “You’re starting to see pressure from the financial sector, from regulators, from consumers starting to say, ‘Okay, you said you’re going to be net zero in the next 10 or 20 years. You’ve made a pledge. Now, what are you going to do about it?’”
Including a $5 million seed round in February, 12-employee Actual has raised $5.65 million from funds that include Buckley Ventures and Sequoia Scout, which invested in a 2019 pre-seed round. The company declined to specify its valuation and revenue.