Better Carbon Accounting with Design Thinking

Did you know rice production is responsible for 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions? To grow rice, farmers flood the rice paddies. This creates the potent greenhouse gas methane. The good news? By changing farming practices, such as intermittent draining of the rice fields, emissions can be reduced drastically while still producing the same amount of rice.

How can farmers switch to low emission farming? What practices need change? And what’s the impact on greenhouse gas emissions? Seaspray Labs partnered with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), an agricultural research and training organization, to address these questions. IRRI’s climate change team has done extensive research and field studies on low emission rice farming and has developed carbon calculators. Our joint project is a web based carbon calculator to understand the carbon footprint of rice.

When we started the project, we had a few challenges: A very short timeline, a limited number of resources, and a globally dispersed team of experts. Thanks to Design Thinking, these challenges turned into opportunities.

One of the most important pillars of design thinking is the focus on end users. We got started by interviewing end users of similar tools from Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Germany, and the US. The wealth of findings informed the project throughout its iterations.

Another pillar of design thinking is teamwork. We were lucky to work with a team of amazing scientists. Through timed activities and the focus on end users we were able to rapidly translate their in-depth knowledge into product features.

The third pillar of design thinking is rapid prototyping. We started with paper sketches and continuous user and expert reviews. The sketches evolved into product mockups. They helped us learn how people use the calculator, and what kind of results they’d like to see. Once we had the basic structure for the tool we started the software implementation while continuously getting and incorporating feedback. After the final development and testing phase the calculator got successfully deployed.

IBM studied the business value of design thinking and found the following: Projects with design thinking doubled their design and execution speed. Human-centered design improved product outcomes, reduced the risk of costly failures, and increased portfolio profitability.

Our project was completed within weeks thanks to the focus on end users and streamlined teamwork. It brought together an international team with a unique set of backgrounds. Rapid prototyping and feedback rounds allowed for speedy improvements. The pillars of design thinking made this a fast, efficient, and successful project. Let’s hope the tool helps rice companies and farmers to adopt low emission rice.