Becoming carbon neutral: emissions modelling with Maya Caicedo

Becoming carbon neutral: emissions modelling with Maya Caicedo

At Artfinder, hundreds of artworks are sold each week to destinations all around the world. We love that we can support artists to reach a global audience, but we also realise that this comes at a cost to the environment. We know that to do better as a business, we need to not only understand our carbon footprint, but to take steps in mitigating our carbon emissions.

To date, we've planted more than 100,000 trees and have offset almost 300t of CO2 with the help of our partner, Ecologi. We're extremely proud to be an internal Climate Positive Workforce, but now our attention turns toward our wider community.

Cue: Maya Caicedo. Maya joined us in July to help us better understand the CO2 emissions through shipments facilitated through the Artfinder site. What resulted was months of twists and turns - if you enjoy data and number crunching, you're in for a ride! - with some unexpected surprises along the way.

As part of Grow-vember, we chat to Maya about her professional background, her work on Paint the Planet Green and what she discovered while with us.

Tell us about yourself and what you’re currently studying.

I am originally from the northeast United States and moved over to the UK after completing my BA in Mathematical Sciences at Columbia University. In September 2020, I came to study at the University of Salford in the MSc Data Science program after I received the CSE International Excellence Scholarship - as well as to be with my fiancé, a born and bred Boltonian! I have since completed my degree and received a distinction for both my dissertation and my overall degree.

Explain the project you worked on at Artfinder.

I worked with Artfinder on a project entitled ‘Paint the Planet Green’. Concerned with being the most socially conscious company that they could be, Artfinder was looking for a way to predict the CO2 emissions for the various international shipments facilitated through their business.

I was provided with data that spanned 18 months of shipments with various data points about each shipment, which allowed me to create six multiple linear regression models, each with different criteria for transport methods and distance travelled from origin to destination. This then predicted the emissions based upon the distance travelled and the shipping weight.

What were you most excited to learn?

I knew that Artfinder had already begun taking steps to offset their impact on the environment and I was excited to see how great of an impact these efforts were actually having. I am also excited to see where my research helps lead the company in their future decisions regarding further offsetting.

Were there any surprises you discovered along the way?

This is not really a surprise once you actually think about it, but in the middle of my project, I hit a pretty big wall regarding postal codes and locations. When you are handling data containing more than a hundred countries, it is unreasonable to try and create code for each country’s system. This required some creative problem solving, as this step was done to calculate the distance between the origin and the destination of a package and was essential to the process of developing my models.

I was also surprised at the lack of literature surrounding shipping on an individual package level rather than at the macro transport method level. For example, many studies have been done into how much CO2 is emitted by a cargo plane, but this is not helpful to many businesses who often do not fill an entire plane. Therefore, it was up to me to find a way to do this for nonuniform packages that have different dimensions and weights from each other.

Why is it so important for businesses to understand their environmental impact?

Research shows that only 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of emissions. While these companies are extremely large, international businesses, smaller companies are still capable of putting thousands of kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere yearly through their activities.

Warnings from scientists are becoming more dire due to the limited amount of time before irreversible damage will occur. People are also becoming increasingly apathetic and hopeless to the situation, as it seems impossible to change as an individual. If more businesses took care of their environmental impact, the direct impact by business and the indirect impact on its customers could greatly help the current crisis.

What can businesses do to be more environmentally responsible?

I think that businesses need to start with a thought shift; it is no longer detrimental to their bottom lines to invest in sustainable solutions. It actually can affect this positively, as consumers become increasingly conscious of the actions of a company, rather than just its products. Systemic change can be a long and expensive process, but there are simpler changes that can be made at the individual level to improve the sustainability of a business. A little research into their options and the desire to be a positive entity will go a long way.

What’s next for you?

There are a lot of big things happening for me currently! I have just accepted a position as a Risk Model Developer and will begin working in that role within the month. I will also be welcoming my first child in January and am deep into wedding planning, so I am looking forward to spending time with my family and learning how to navigate this new stage of life.

Image credit: Katrin Roth


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