A Site That Tracks Your Carbon Footprint And Rewards You For Beating Your Neighbors http://www.fastcoexist.com/3030014/a-site-that-tracks-your-carbon-footprint-and-rewards-you-for-beating-your-neighbors[
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A Site That Tracks Your Carbon Footprint And Rewards You For Beating Your Neighbors

Oroeco adds a little friendly competition to lowering your impact.

If you care about climate change and want to check your carbon footprint, there are plenty of calculators on the internet. Oroeco isn't like those other sites. For one, it's more comprehensive. It tracks the impact of almost everything you buy, including the small things, and does it automatically. It also compares your footprint with those of your friends and neighbors, and rewards you for doing better.

"Climate change is pretty nebulous for most us. [The site] makes our impacts visible and contextualized," says co-founder Ian Monroe, who is also a lecturer at Stanford. "You can compare how you're doing versus the average and your friends, and versus what's needed to stabilize climate. It is based on our primal human desire to be at least as good as average, if not better."

Oroeco is taking a lead from Opower, which lets homeowners compare energy usage with similar-sized houses in their area. Opower uses utility data, but Oroeco's spending data comes from Mint.com, which aggregates information from your bank accounts and credit cards. Oroeco then estimates carbon impacts for each item using data from Berkeley's Cool Climate initiative. That includes major outlays like, say, a flight to Beijing, and a minor things like something you bought at Amazon. The site includes plenty of analytical tools to graph and chart everything (though in our experience, Mint.com's spending data isn't 100% accurate).

To encourage people to participate, Oroeco is giving away Nest thermostats to people who sign up and invite friends. In the future, Monroe hopes to add a points system that will further reward people who cut their carbon compared to the rest of the community.

Monroe plans to make money three ways. First, Oroeco is selling carbon offsets through a partnership with Impact Carbon, which markets clean-burning cookstoves in Africa and China. Second, it is planning a premium finance site that will you track the impact of investment portfolios (it will cost $2 to $3 a month). And third, it will recommend green products and take referral fees.

The larger aim is to build a platform that goes beyond climate change to include several impacts. Monroe sees opportunities to tie spending data to things like biodiversity and, perhaps, your "slavery footprint." "Every dollar that you spend and invest has all these impacts around the world. We just don't track them," he says.

The question will be whether people care as much about carbon as they do about energy, given that caring about carbon doesn't necessarily net savings the same way energy efficiency does. Opower, which just went public, provides a direct way for people to save through better information and analytics.

Monroe thinks people will respond under the right conditions. "The vast majority of us really do want to do the right thing. It just about having the right information that's meaningful and trustworthy, and then having incentives to act on that information," he says.

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  • Eric Hulburd

    As it stands now you may be able to make the argument that people care more about energy than climate. But that is largely because of poor messaging - and saving a bit of money here or there will never solve this problem. This is about cultural change - recognition that if this planet is going to host 10B humans, we have to make lifestyle choices that can accommodate an opportunity for everyone to enjoy their experience on this planet. Making that possible requires creativity and elevating the experiential over the material. That may still sound a bit naive, but it is evolving into something practical - both socially (social pressure to demonstrate your consciousness of this issue, as has happened with gender, race and lgbt issues (certainly not resolved but certainly progressed)) and bio-economically (changes to our environment have a direct impact on our cost of living, especially food and water). Hopefully the social pressure can create change faster than the latter.