All the right messages

JouleBug provides social media-type incentives for taking steps towards sustainability. It’ll...
JouleBug provides social media-type incentives for taking steps towards sustainability. It’ll work for some. Photo: Gregor Richardson
At the risk of encouraging yet more umbilical phone behaviour, Tom McKinlay looks at a couple of free apps designed to make a better world.

There’s an app for that, they say. I wouldn’t know, what with being on the experience-rich side of mid-life and owning a very cheap phone.

But in the interests of research and connecting with a younger demographic, I’ve given it a whirl.

So I borrowed a better phone, held it at arm’s length so I could read the text and clumsily smeared a search term with my index finger: "sustainability apps’’.

Because there are a lot of people out there who spend more time looking at their phone than they do looking at anything else — other people, where they are going, trees — it’s conceivable that a sustainability app might be a force for good (ignoring the embedded footprint of smartphones just for the moment). It smacks just a tad of Winston Smith’s world, but if it worked for Ingsoc etc ...


JouleBug incentivises you to cut your footprint by setting challenges for which you collect points. First up, you have to watch a video about the sorts of things that can shrink your footprint; like walking instead of taking the car. And just watching it earns you eight points! So good start.

Then it gets a little more difficult. The next challenge is to turn the lights out when you leave the room. Now, I work in an open-plan office. Much as the idea  of turning off the light above my desk appeals, it would also turn off a row of fluorescents and LEDs the length of the floor. I wasn’t that brave, so passed up six earth bonus points and four wallet bonus point, thinking I might yet chalk them up when I got home. There I could turn off lights and leave people in the dark without ending up in front of human resources.

Other early challenges involve recycling something (8 points), using a recyclable bottle (1 point), setting your computer to turn off when not in use (1 point), turning the water off while you brush your teeth (1 point), and letting the yellow in the toilet mellow (1 point). If you earn enough points you can earn badges and medals!

Below these challenges there is information about the significance of the action: So, it says that walking instead of taking the car has the same yearly impact as planting three tree seedlings, charging a laptop 1611 times or keeping the fridge cold for 76 days.

But all that’s just for a start. You can join challenges!

There was one going on when I joined in September and the leading light was a Julia Diniz, who had already saved 152kg of CO2, diverted 3kg of waste and saved 126 litres of water. She had 2931 points. Clearly a very impressive individual.

Second on the table at the time was Serena Nielsen, whose blurb declared she is a "scientist and environmentalist’’.

In October’s challenge though, Diniz joined the also rans as Noraini Anie saved a whopping 457kg of CO2. Among her genius planet-saving activities: eating a piece of chocolate cake — it was locally made!

You can make "friends’’ and "follow’’ their activities on JouleBug too. And there’s a trending button. When I looked, taking the stairs, taking public transport, using a reusable lunchbox and eating local produce were all trending. I’d done them all. Before lunchtime. Including climbing three flights of stairs  several times, so felt pretty eco-warrior, I can tell you.

ASSESSMENT: Good app, well designed, easy to get into and use. Could get quite compulsive.


Oroeco suggests we should discover our planet-saving powers.

"Learn how different aspects of your life affect climate change, and find fun, easy ways to vanquish climate villains,’’ it says.

Just as with Joulebug, you’re on the board almost before you start. Tell the app what country you live in and how many cohabitants you have, and you get 500 oro points.

We then struck a bit of a problem. It asked what fuelled my car and gave me two options: petrol or diesel. Mine’s electric. But a quick and questionable online search showed a Nissan Leaf gets the equivalent of about 100 miles per gallon. Don’t ask me how that works. Anyway, all good.

Moving right along. So, you fill in all your energy figures, for how often you fly, how much energy you use to heat your home etc., and it tells you whether you’re any more profligate than the average of your species.

Having set up a profile, you can then compete with other folks through a Facebook platform, and share carbon cutting tips and offsetting suggestions, towards the ultimate goal of becoming a carbon neutral citizen.

ASSESSMENT: Good app, well designed, takes a little bit of time and information to sign on. But could provide some good food for thought.

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