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Refrigerant Revolution: EOS Climate Turning GHGs from Liabilities to Assets

Image credit: EOS Climate

Each week leading up to the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) finals on June 5th, where the runner-up will be decided via live online public vote, we will feature articles introducing our semi-finalists. This week, meet EOS Climate.

Joe Madden, Todd English and Jeff Cohen met at graduate school in 2009, and created their company EOS Climate with the objective of tackling climate change by managing greenhouse gases with market-based approaches.

“Todd, Jeff and I met at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco and EOS was the result of our thesis there,” says Madden.

At the time, Cohen had been researching the extent to which refrigerants were aggressively contributing to climate change. In fact, Cohen had worked for 10 years at the US EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. He was also a 2008 Nobel Peace Prize honoree for his contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Working Group on Ozone Protection and Greenhouse Gases. Meanwhile, English had a strong background in climate methodologies and program implementation. Madden, on the other hand, had been a pioneer in the North American greenhouse gas markets. 

“Jeff had done years of research on how to change the lifecycle of refrigerants while at the EPA and realized that refrigerants and the climate were heading towards a collision,” Madden says.

This collision would not only be the result of the ozone-depleting and global-warming properties of refrigerants, but also the global scale of their use.

Refrigerants are ubiquitous products, used across multiple industrial, commercial and consumer sectors. For example, they are necessary for most modern-day comforts such as air-conditioning systems in buildings and cars, but are also used in systems required to store and produce food. Unfortunately, although refrigerants are undoubtedly useful products, the primary ingredients in most refrigerants are also potent GHGs, such as hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). These potent GHGs are actually also referred to as “super-greenhouse gases” to emphasize their high global warming potential.

Over the past three decades, there has been a constant move forward in the refrigerant industry to phase out the most harmful fluorochemicals, largely due to regulations such as those put forth under the Montreal Protocol. However, many businesses are at different stages of the lifecycle of their refrigerants, which indicates that harmful refrigerants are still in use, continuing to be environmental liabilities.

An additional area of concern is that most regulations manage the production and consumption of refrigerants, but not the accidental emissions of refrigerants over their lifecycle. In fact, the current global refrigerant inventory is over 7 billion mtCO2e, and 99 percent of refrigerants are released to the atmosphere over their lifecycle. Furthermore, refrigerant use is predicted to increase globally 50 percent by 2030.

Given these facts, and their collective expertise in the management of GHGs, Madden, English and Cohen wanted to create a product that allows large refrigerant users to manage the refrigerants within their supply chains. More importantly, they wanted to provide large refrigerant users with an economic incentive to manage these GHGs by transforming refrigerants from "liabilities" into "assets."   

“Our philosophy is that if it doesn’t make economic sense, it won’t be adopted to scale, and we are looking to make a global impact,” says co-founder Madden, who is also EOS Climate’s Chief Business Development Officer.

As a result, they created a technology platform called Refrigerant Revolution — an innovative method of tackling climate change by incentivizing the environmentally responsible use of fluorochemical refrigerants throughout their lifecycle.

Madden says, “We realized that refrigerants were being treated as 'consumables' — that is, as a one-time expense — and were not being properly managed beyond purchase.” However, refrigerants do not break down easily, so they can be recycled and reused.

Therefore, Refrigerant Revolution was created to track refrigerants across the existing supply chain. This enables companies to not only derive more value over time from their refrigerants by recycling them, but it allows companies to be able to take refrigerants out of the supply chain to dispose of them in an environmentally safe way. The result is economic and environmental benefits on a global scale.

“Our goal is to help our customer take control in managing their refrigerants. This helps them to be proactive and stay ahead of the regulatory curve,” says Madden. This is particularly important for multinational companies that have to comply with varying federal, state and international regulations.

Therefore, EOS Climate assists companies in developing “beyond compliance” best practices throughout the lifecycle of their refrigerants, particularly for safe disposal. They also assist their clients with the generation and sale of carbon offsets “from verified destruction of phased-out refrigerants at end of life.”

In fact, EOS Climate originated a standardized protocol, adopted by California’s Air Resources Board under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, also known as AB 32, which enforces the cap-and-trade regulation of GHG emissions. This means that not only does EOS Climate help its clients safely dispose of harmful refrigerants, the company’s expertise in GHG trading allows the company to reward its clients for the safe disposal of these “super-greenhouse gases.”

In order to provide this comprehensive lifecycle management service, EOS Climate has established several key partnerships with organizations from different stages within the value chain, including Carrier, a global manufacturer of heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration products, Recyclebank, a green rewards program that rewards consumers for environmentally responsible purchases, and the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program, which is responsible for recovering “ozone-depleting chemicals from old refrigerators, freezers, window air conditioners and dehumidifiers.”

“We aim to link the supply chain together to create a sustainable, economic model. We also identify the leaders in each sector that are driving change and partner with them. Overall, we have spent a lot of time creating an ecosystem of knowledgeable people dedicated to environmental sustainability,” says Madden. “We applied for the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open because Sustainable Brands, to us, is the driver and the platform for progressive business.”

This “ecosystem” has enabled the company to accomplish a lot during its four-year tenure. As of April 2013, EOS Climate has approximately 50 percent market share of California compliance credits, which is equivalent of three million tons of offset production. They have also developed a diverse client base including pharmaceutical manufacturers, mechanical contractors, HVAC and commercial/residential refrigeration equipment manufacturers, supermarkets and universities.  

EOS Climate has also been recognized by several prestigious organizations; in addition to being an SBIO semi-finalist for 2013, Environmental Finance and Carbon Finance magazines have awarded the company Best Project Developer  North American Markets. EOS was also named runner-up for Best Offset Originator for California.

“Our overall goal continues to be a global transformation of the refrigerant value chain. A lot of entrepreneurs get caught up in the widget game and focus on incremental improvements on the existing system. However, the technology now exists to deliver massive change on big problems,” says Madden.

The company is already disrupting current practices, and continues to develop strategic partnerships with multinational organizations to further drive its environmental impact.

SB '13 See EOS Climate and our 11 other SBIO finalists present live at the SB Solutions Expo, June 4 at the SB ’13 conference. Enter the discount NW3pSB13 for free entry.

Candice D McLeod is an Energy Associate in facilities management at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working on energy efficiency and whole systems sustainability, writing on the intersection of business & sustainability for Sustainable Brands. She received a Masters… [Read more about Candice McLeod]


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