This App Ties Your Carbon Footprint to Your Wallet
It could be a sketch straight out of Portlandia: While a couple stare nervously into a laptop, the carbon emissions of everything they’ve bought or eaten in the past month pops up on the screen. Their expressions turn from anxiety to dismay, and after an earnest discussion about ways to lower their carbon footprint, they choose to forgo meat a few more days a week. Smiles ensue.
Giggle all you want, but this scenario could play out in the near future, thanks to San Francisco start-up Oroeco. Its eponymous new app calculates your carbon footprint through spending activity data (provided by Mint.com), energy consumption, diet, and transportation choices. In a world of laborious carbon calculators, it’s perhaps the first to streamline data that is already tracked meticulously.
The app—which for now is Web based—was developed as a way for individuals to vote for a more sustainable world with their wallets and lifestyle choices. Oroeco cofounder Ian Monroe, an energy lecturer at Stanford University, told TechCrunch that the company focuses on individual action because “political solutions and activist solutions are not going to be nearly enough” to slow the effects of climate change.
Here’s how the free app works: After users provide Oroeco encrypted access to their Mint.com data, it spits out the carbon emissions of an activity or object based on the amount consumed over its entire life cycle. To calculate these figures, Oroeco uses life-cycle assessment data provided by scientists at UC Berkeley (via its Cool Climate Network) and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Oroeco says it’s handing out prizes (such as cash or a Nest thermostat) for participating and recruiting new users. For a fee, users can also purchase carbon offsets through Impact Carbon, an organization that distributes fuel-efficient cook stoves throughout Africa. Beginning this summer, Oroeco will offer a service for $3 per month that shows users the emissions of their investment portfolios from data collected by Trucost.
There’s a caveat: Users won’t be able to calculate the precise size of their carbon footprint. “The LCA [life-cycle assessment] databases we use generally represent average values rather than product-specific data, so there will always be some degree of error,” Oroeco writes on its website.
Future versions of the app will allow users to track a range of environmental, societal, political, and health impact indicators, such as biodiversity loss, air and water toxins, modern-day slavery, wages, and diet-based risks for diabetes and cancer.
“We think you have a right to know how your actions and your money intersect with your values, and we think you deserve to be rewarded for your efforts to make our world a better place,” the company avows. “We may only get to elect our representatives once every few years, but we vote with our wallets and our lifestyles every day.”