Maybe you've checked your carbon footprint once or twice. But what next? The scale of the climate challenge—and potential solutions—can seem overwhelming to the point that many people don't take action at all. A new app called Oroeco is designed to make things a little easier by turning climate actions into a game.
After more than a decade of working on climate projects on an organizational scale, with companies like Nike and agencies at the UN, Ian Monroe, the app's founder, realized that individual action was key to progress quickly enough to avert disaster.
"Basically the conclusion I came to is that public engagement is the biggest missing piece in solving our climate change puzzle," says Monroe, who also teaches courses on climate and energy at Stanford University.
"We like to blame corporations and politicians on climate inaction, but really their decisions are based on our votes and really how we're spending and investing our dollars. A lot of those choices politicians don't have that much influence over. ... Politicians can't tell you what to eat, in terms of something like less red meat, which matters a whole lot more than people think."
The app starts by creating a detailed carbon footprint, based either on answering questions or linking up with your Mint.com account and automatically calculating every aspect of your personal impact through what you buy, from the groceries, to airline tickets, to clothes. "It starts with making the invisible visible," says Monroe. "It's something that the vast majority of us are not looking at on a regular basis."
Next, the app makes those numbers meaningful, since few of us really have a reference point for what 50 or 500 pounds of CO2 emissions actually means. "What we care about is not what the number is, but how we're doing versus the average, versus friends and families, versus what we need to get to on a personal level to solve climate change," he says. "So we contextualize info by showing how you're doing versus a local average."
Users can also link the app to Facebook to compare their performance to friends. "If you look at the psychological triggers of what motivates us to engage in change, just seeing how we're ranked—given that we all have this desire to at least be better than average—that does motivate those of us that aren't doing as well," Monroe says. "And then that improves the average, and creates this virtuous cycle where the average is continuously improving."
The app gives personalized suggestions for actions to take, from the small—like using a reusable bag—to the large, like installing solar panels. With each step, you get a breakdown of how much carbon you're saving (and how much money—Monroe says the average household can save around $1,000 by trimming their carbon footprint). As your cut your footprint, or convince friends and family to do the same, you can earn points that can be redeemed to buy sustainable products or services, like Method soap or a new solar power system.
Once you've done as much as you can, the app will connect you with carbon offsets to take care of the rest. "If you want to go to full carbon neutrality, pretty much the only way to get there is to support carbon offset projects," Monroe says. The app connects users with Impact Carbon, a project at the University of California-Berkeley that invests in clean cookstove projects.
The design team is still building new features into the app, and will soon include suggestions for political action. But it also emphasizes, again, that we don't need to wait for governments to act.
"I think individual action is really crucial," Monroe says. "With the combination of social gaming, social networks, mobile phones—these hyperconnected superomputers in our pockets—we can really drive a lot of action from the bottom up, without waiting for politicians to put in place policies that generally are much slower than the cultural momentum that we really need."
The app is free in the App Store.