Can an app make you a greener person?
A start-up team with roots in MIT, Harvard, Stanford and University of California Berkeley says yes and is using a suite of scientific data, games, competitions and social media to get consumers to make more sustainable choices, from investing to grocery shopping.
Called Oroeco, the group is just one of many attempting to use the avalanche of information and technology available today to make us into better people. Oroeco's niche, however, is to automatically track environmental impacts of purchases and investments. It’s a big, intriguing idea – but a challenging one. Sustainability is a great buzz word, but how to make it understandable, easy and meaningful has been elusive (even for reporters) and there are a slew of unreliable labels and rating systems that confound the issue.
“Oroeco’s mission is to provide information and incentives that make personal sustainability easy, fun and rewarding,’’ said Oroeco CEO and Stanford University lecturer Ian Monroe. “I think we’re hitting a tipping point where information technology drives clean technology, fueled by the ubiquity of smart phones and social networks, as well as advancements in supply chain tracking and life cycle assessment science. Oroeco is aiming to help catalyze a revolution in informed consumption.”
Here’s how Oroeco can work, according to Monroe. The app automatically tracks your spending habits on groceries, gas, travel and other purchases. Then, it will calculate your carbon footprint for those purchases based on average prices and grocery shopping patterns in your ZIP code from a University of California Berkeley carbon impact database. Let’s say you are horrified at the amount of greenhouse gases you emit - driving to work, eating cheeseburgers every night or taking that trip to Turkey last year.The app will have personalized tips and goals you want to achieve – driving less or eating less meat, for example - and will spell out the carbon benefits from telecommuting or eating more vegetables or even planning a a staycation. The team expects to launch a beta version in January, initially available to Oroeco's supporters who initially contribute. (see link below).
The app, which automatically syncs with your credit and bank accounts using secure technologies (similar to the popular Mint.com) also allows you to share with Facebook friends and family to compete, collaborate and win “oro” points toward prizes. The mock-up below shows a simplified way to visualize goals - and remind you that they are there. The group has already raised $43,000 from Start-up Chile, a program of the Chilean government, and is in the midst of a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.
There are lots of teams working on sustainability, traceability and incentives to drive consumer behavioral change. Oroeco’s mock-ups are promising (as well as their clever cartoons). It will be interesting to see where it goes. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll walk into a store and be able to figure out which box of mac and cheese is really better for the environment.
About the green blog
Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
Doug Struck covers environmental issues from Boston.
Glenn Yoder produces Boston.com's Lifestyle pages.
Eric Bauer is site architect of Boston.com.
Bennie DiNardo is the Boston Globe's deputy managing editor/multimedia.
Dara Olmsted is a local sustainability professional focusing on green living.