There are a lot of different phrases that we associate with the rapidly changing conditions of our environment – climate disruption, global warming and carbon pollution to name a few. Whatever you choose to call it, the evidence is clear that our environment is undergoing constant change that will inevitably impact our way of life. But where there are problems, there are always opportunities for solutions. An increasing number of mobile apps and devices are helping users make small changes in their behavior and choices that, when combined, can make a big difference.
Home energy efficiency is often considered the low-hanging fruit for helping to fight climate change. Much of the energy used by our homes and buildings (often 30% or more) is wasted, and improving energy efficiency is the single largest way to combat this waste. A growing number of mobile apps are now making it easier than ever for individual homeowners to contribute to the cause by controlling and cutting energy consumption in their homes.
There are already a large number of products and services in the smart home space. Google and Samsung have invested in this category with Nest and SmartThings, respectively. After a few days of use, the Nest Learning Thermostat learns about you and your home and starts activating features to save you more energy. In partnership with Nest, Google is further expanding into the space by creating a full stack platform for building all kinds of connected products. Check out the keynote from Google I/O for more info.
Apple is also getting into the game with the introduction of their smart home platform HomeKit, a hub that enables users to connect and control compatible devices via their iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. Two products were released on June 2: a pair of lighting kits from Lutron, and a hub for Insteon’s own smart home system. Three other products will begin shipping in July: Ecobee’s smart thermostat, iHome’s power outlet, and Elgato’s series of home sensors that can detect air quality, weather, energy use, and whether doors and windows are open or closed.
Cars are a major villain in the war on global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gasses for every gallon of gas. While we won’t be giving up our rides anytime soon, we can reduce the amount of fuel they consume. One easy way that everyone can agree on is to avoid gridlock. The stopping and starting involved in traffic jams burns fuel at a far higher rate than the smooth rate of travel on the open highway. Avoiding congestion with accurate mapping data from GPS and other systems helps tremendously, but nothing can replace a pair of eyes on the ground. The Waze mobile app, available for both the Apple iPhone and Android smartphones, takes a community-edited approach to providing real-time map and roadway information. At last count, more than 50 million “Wazers” were contributing to building maps and information around the world, reporting gridlock-causing accidents and blocked roads that can’t be tracked by GPS alone.
REDUCE, REUSE & RECYCLE
The average American generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. More than half of the 220 million tons of waste generated each year in the United States ends up in one of over 3,500 landfills. Municipal solid waste landfills are the second largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 22 percent of these emissions in 2008 (EPA, 2011). Clearly, reducing consumption by recycling or otherwise diverting waste from ending up in landfills is a key strategy in combatting global warming.
One of the biggest ways one can reduce waste may very well already be installed on your smartphone. eBay was rated the top sustainable app, according to a recent study by the WSP Group, a U.K. environmental consultancy firm. eBay has popularized and simplified the resale of second-hand and unwanted goods, reducing waste and consumption. It is far and away the leader in it’s category. However, the platform can often feel intimidating to new or casual users. Enter a new breed of mobile commerce apps that aim to make selling and purchasing secondhand goods easier and faster. Apps like Poshmark, ThredUp, Threadflip and Tradesy allow anyone with a smartphone to become a retailer. And for those just looking to rid their house of clutter, there’s a new service called Unload. Recently launched in Chicago, San Francisco and coming soon Boston, Unload provides quite possibly the easiest way to rid your house of unwanted items. Simply text a photo and a description of the item and it will be picked up to be either sold or donated. The easier it is for people to recycle something they no longer need, the less likely it is those items will end up in the trash.
EDUCATING THE CONSUMER
Every purchase decision can be considered a form of activism. Educating consumers on the lifecycle of the products they use, from the factory to the landfill, can greatly impact what products continue to be produced and sold. Apps like OpenLabel and GoodGuide help you find the most sustainable products to buy and the best businesses to buy those products from. Both apps utilize the phone’s camera to scan barcodes and deliver instant information on the product you’re looking at, which allows you to make an informed decision when making a purchase. You can also use Leafully to understand and reduce your carbon footprint based on energy usage. This app will send a notification if you consume more energy than normal, allowing you to make adjustments if needed. Alternatively, you could use Oreoco to estimate your carbon footprint based on purchases made.
Whatever your method or area of concern, there are numerous resources available to help raise awareness and actively take steps towards making our planet more sustainable. Even small changes can make a huge impact, and with so much new technology at your fingertips, it’s now easier than ever to get involved and make a difference.