The Best Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: A Review of Helpful Apps
By Emily Batdorf
Do you ever look around in disbelief at the amount of technology in our lives? Do you ever feel like it’s distracting you from what’s important? Or keeping you from simple pleasures, like reading a book or gazing out the window?
Sometimes it feels like there’s an app for everything, and – let’s be honest – there probably is one.
But what if we could use this technology to help us better understand our planet and the impact we have on it? What if technology could help us close the gap between ourselves and our natural world?
Lucky for us, this may be possible. Today, there are countless apps aimed at helping people develop more sustainable habits. Some of these apps focus on reducing an individual’s carbon footprint – to slow global climate change.
If you’re someone with a smartphone who also cares about the future of our planet, this is for you. Read on for a practical review of apps that help you reduce your carbon footprint.
What Is a Carbon Footprint?
You may be aware of basic actions you can take to benefit the planet, like recycling or eating less meat. But knowing your carbon footprint allows you to measure the impact of these actions. So, what is a carbon footprint, and how is it measured?
Our carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by our actions. Emissions related to transportation, housing, and food are usually the biggest contributors.
We most often hear carbon footprints measured in tons. For example, how many tons of greenhouse gases do our actions produce each year? This number includes all greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.
Why Do I Care?
You’ve likely worked out the danger of a big carbon footprint. Simply put, a bigger carbon footprint leads to increased climate warming.
The average American citizen has a carbon footprint of about 16 tons per year. The average global citizen has a carbon footprint of about 4 tons per year – a quarter of the American average. Clearly, we have some work to do.
It’s tough to imagine what one ton of greenhouse gas emissions – let alone 16 tons – actually looks like. This is where we look to scientists’ projections to help us put this in perspective.
Scientists estimate that we need to change our actions to avoid a 2℃ rise in global temperature. To do this, the average carbon footprint per person needs to drop below 2 tons per year by the year 2050.2
That may sound far-fetched. It can be overwhelming to think about the habits we’ll have to change to reach this goal. Fortunately, there are many tools within the latest apps that can help us move in the right direction.
How Do I Calculate My Carbon Footprint?
There are plenty of carbon footprint calculators out there. They take many details into account to give you your specific footprint. For example, the size of your household, the type of car you drive, and what you eat all impact your carbon footprint. Many of the following apps do their own calculations when you sign up. You can also get a good calculation on The Nature Conservancy’s website.
Today’s Carbon Footprint-Tracking Apps
So, you know what a carbon footprint is, and you know why it’s significant. You may even by now know your personal carbon footprint. Scary? It may be, but you can act in the interest of our planet. Now is the time to start reducing your footprint.
As you’ll see within some of these apps, carbon offsets are a method of balancing your carbon footprint. A carbon offset is the funding of an emissions-reducing project, like planting a forest. Consider your lifestyle, your daily activities, and preferences. Then choose one of the following apps to help you reduce and offset your emissions.
The LiveGreen app provides two options for getting started. You can choose a default profile based on other users’ data, or sign up to create a custom profile. For the custom profile, you’ll need to answer a range of questions. This includes adding details about your utility costs, eating habits, and spending habits. The app will calculate your emissions and separate them by category.
Once your profile is set up, you can check in daily to record emissions or complete actions. You can track your carbon footprint or connect to other apps for more accurate data. For example, you can connect your Health app to automatically gain points for each mile you walk.
LiveGreen inspires action with three daily tasks that you can complete and share. For example, it might suggest you air-dry your clothing or choose chicken instead of red meat. With each task, users can take a picture and share this action. You’ll also see what other people around the globe are doing to reduce their emissions. Completing actions earns you points. You can use them to plant trees in different reforestation projects around the globe.
To get started with Swrm, you create an account and enter basic information. I will ask things like what car you drive and which appliances you use. Each day, you can add emissions by recording usage details. For example, you can include how many miles you drove, or how many loads of laundry you washed. You can even scan labels at the grocery store to better determine the carbon footprint of your food. When you meet your hive’s preset difficulty level, you earn badges.
This data allows you to compare your daily, monthly, and average emissions. You can also compare yourself within a “hive” of people from your state – or, start a new hive with your friends.
Finally, Swrm features up-to-date videos and blogs on relevant topics.
EcoHero doesn’t actually calculate your carbon footprint. But it does allow you to “level up” by completing certain eco-friendly tasks.
To succeed in becoming an “EcoHero,” you’ll input activities and routines each day. Doing this lets you see the reduced emissions as a result of those actions. For example, you might add eating a vegetarian meal instead of a chicken-based meal. EcoHero then calculates how much land, water, and emissions they save (or reduce).
Compiling these different actions allows you to progress through different levels. You’ll begin as a “Baby Hero” and progres to an “EcoHero.”
This app functions like a social network. You can follow other users to see their actions, comments, and hero status.
Carbon Down compares your monthly emissions to the average US and world emissions. It categorizes emissions into transportation, food, housing, and travel. Carbon Down also subtracts monthly offsets to calculate your net emissions. Incorporating offsets requires you to support a project in the “Carbon Offset Marketplace.” The marketplace features various projects like reforestation and forest protection.
Carbon Down encourages you to join a chapter in your local area. This allows users to connect with like-minded people in their community.
Finally, this app has a “Learn” section. This section features informative blog posts about sustainability.
After you launch this app, you’ll answer 5 simple questions to get started. Earth Hero then compares your emissions with other Americans and global citizens.
Next, you can select actions (rated by difficulty and impact) to add to your list or to mark as complete. When you complete an offset-creating action, you can choose to update your emissions.
You can also create a more accurate profile by noting specific emission-producing actions. For example, you can add details about composting or recycling. This can help you get a better idea of the footprint your “waste” category creates.
Earth Hero helps you track your progress by keeping a record of completed actions. Completing more impactful actions results in a better Impact Progress rating. Everyone begins as a “seed” and can progress to higher organically-named levels.
Finally, you can set annual targets for emission reductions based on your own goals. You can also choose the app’s preset reduction goal of 10%.
In the North app, you’ll need to input data into energy, travel, food, and purchase categories.
North app keeps track of your monthly emissions “budget.” This is based on the reductions needed each month to reduce global warming to 2℃. Your usage appears as a percentage of this “allowance.”
You can set emission-producing activities to be recurring. You can input and edit them as often as needed.
This app also features a section of “Integrations.” Integrations allow you to connect to apps – like Uber, for example. Then you can track emissions from your daily activities based on these apps’ data. These integrations make up the social aspect of this app. Anyone can build or use these tools. You can input data for any activities not covered by Integrations.
Personal Review of Carbon-Tracking Apps
Each of these apps has its own unique set of features that may appeal to different people. For example, when I download an app, I’m looking for something that’s user-friendly. I also want the app to be fun to use and to help me out in some way. Depending on your preferences, some of these apps may suit you better than others. Below are my thoughts on the best features of these carbon-tracking apps.
Best Features of Carbon-Tracking Apps
When using and reviewing these apps, I felt especially drawn to the ones that inspired action. After all, I’m using these apps because I want to create better habits. Calculating my carbon footprint is pretty gloomy. It helps to have practical ideas to help me reduce my emissions. I want my technology to help me feel productive, and not just show me where I’m going wrong. For this reason, I enjoyed using LiveGreen and EarthHero.
Some of these apps allow users to make real-world changes. I appreciate Carbon Down and LiveGreen allowing users to offset their carbon emissions. This has real-world impacts through supporting ongoing reforestation projects. I felt motivated knowing that my actions have a bigger impact beyond my own life.
If we’re talking about details, Swrm does an amazing job of taking these into account. The grocery-tracking feature (which calculates individual items’ carbon footprints) really impressed me. To be honest, this process is time-consuming. But these details create a much more accurate portrait of someone’s carbon footprint.
Finally, the fun factor! I loved the “Hero” motif in both the Earth Hero and EcoHero apps. EcoHero has the appeal of a social network. It’s fun to see yourself graduate from a BabyHero to a Child Hero…all the way to EcoHero. Earth Hero has a similarly engaging method of tracking progress. I found that it actually inspired me into action.
Let Technology Help You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
With all the technology that seems to be everywhere, it’s time to make it work for us – and for our planet. I hope this review gives you some insight into what apps will work best for your lifestyle. As a result, you will hopefully become a more conscious global citizen. We can all do something small today that can contribute to bigger goals down the road. All you need to do is pick an app (or two) and get started!
Which apps will you download to get started reducing your carbon footprint?
Consider subscribing to the Ocean Blue Project Newsletter. Keeping up-to-date with relevant topics can help you make more informed decisions.
Author Bio: Emily Batdorf is a copywriter, educator, and artist who lives in Michigan. She enjoys the outdoors year-round, whether skiing, hiking, or swimming in the Great Lakes.