After Earth Day: Eco-Friendly Apps Keep the Spirit Alive

We know most articles about Earth Day and eco-friendly apps come out before Earth Day. So, technically, this article should have been published on Tuesday. But we feel that kind of takes away from the actual spirit of Earth Day. It isn’t just about caring for only one day or deciding that you are going to ride your bike to work and are going to use a water bottle instead of buying one. Those are all good things to do, but the point is that we should be committed to our environment in the long run. Earth Day is an attempt to turn temporary actions into an eco-conscious lifestyle. It’s about making choices that impact you today and moving forward.

That’s why we wanted to post this after Earth Day; the day after isn’t dedicated to nursing a hangover like on New Year’s Day. It’s characterized by a renewed sense of purpose and clarity. It’s spring. Flowers are beginning their shy resurrection and the world yawns, stretches, and looks around. If you want it to like what it sees, you can do worse places than looking to your phone or tablet. Mobile technology has given us some eco-friendly apps that can help us monitor what we do, and if we’re taking care of the planet.

This is the earth. It’s literally the only one we have. If there are eco-friendly apps that can help it, then that’s a good thing. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Can Apps Help Modify Behavior

Time magazine, the venerable conventional wisdom spout, has a recent article about the “app you need to download.” Among other things, it mentions an app that helps you track your carbon footprint by monitoring your energy consumption. The app organizes consumption by category including food, travel, and water. It also employs a cute polar bear sitting on an iceberg that lets you know how you are doing, consumption-wise. The berg grows as you reduce your footprint, partly thanks to helpful hints on how to conserve. It’s a pretty great idea.

Critics of this can roll their eyes and say that it turns activism into a game- make sure that you give the polar bear room! Grow your iceberg faster than your friends! And I admit to a bit of eye-rolling myself. But then I ask myself: why not? If turning eco-consciousness into a game causes people to do the right thing, is that bad? Intentions don’t matter as much as results. You can do the wrong thing for the right reason (road to hell, etc.) but also the right thing for the wrong reason.

The critic might respond that once the thrill of the app has worn off, people will revert to their old habits without having learned anything. Fair enough, but I don’t think this is like Candy Crush some other game that will fade away. This is a learned behavior.

To me, it is more like the health apps we talk about so much on this blog. What they do, for many people, is increase awareness. They make you aware of your actions, and then, for a variety of complicated reasons, you adjust them. You might be mad at yourself when faced with the stark unhealthiness of your lifestyle, or you may (in some sense) just not want the app to think ill of you. And so you change your behavior. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The Best of the Eco-Friendly Apps

I’m certainly not saying the polar bear app is the best eco-friendly app on the market; I’ve never used it, and anyway, we aren’t in the habit of endorsing specific products. It has appeared on a lot of lists of eco-friendly apps, though. What we want to ask is what the best apps do. How do you know if you’ve found the right one on the list?

  • It should make sense for your life. We all know that there have to be huge policy shifts in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe (or we all should know that). An app can’t do that. You want to avoid ones that attempt to address huge issues. Even if the part you play in improving the health of our environment is negligible, it is all you can achieve. Being an activist is great, but the problem is when people get discouraged at not changing everything all at once. If you can only focus on yourself, only use apps that do that.

  • Measuring results works. This is a psychological effect; the best behavior modifiers measure something. All humans love to compete, even if it is just against you. I biked 10 miles last week- I can do 12 this week! I reduced my consumption by 5%- let’s make it another five! Benchmarks give us something to achieve, and help keep us on the right track. As long as they aren’t “You Didn’t Burn Any Tires Today- CONGRATS!” you should be OK.
  • Find apps that fit into your lifestyle. The planet would be better off in many ways if we went pre-industrial, but that’s not going to happen (plus, I wouldn’t want it to happen- that would cause a host of problems). So, find apps that improve your lifestyle. Foodie? Gets apps that help you be a locavore. Don’t have access to public trans for your work? Carpool apps. Do you do the shopping? Compare brands that are more responsible with shopping apps, and vote with your dollars.

When talking about environmentalism, it is easy to get discouraged. It’s such a huge problem, and so hard for anyone to do anything about it. That doesn’t mean you should give up, though. Little bits do, in fact, help, and apathy just lets the problem win. Maybe it is a lifestyle choice, and maybe it is fashionable. But so what? Good things can be in fashion and still be good.

Our mobile tech has the power to help us live better. We just have to use it right- not just on Earth Day, but on every day.

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