Headlines about climate change are pretty regular nowadays, sometimes even becoming front page news as has happened in the case of the fires currently engulfing Australia – an event blamed on summers becoming continually hotter in the country. In this piece I’m going to run through a collection of apps available on both Android and iOS which will help you understand your carbon footprint, reduce food waste, buy clothes sustainably, and more.
When it comes to global warming we all know ice is melting and certain species are going extinct, however, when it comes to the numbers, things start to get a little bit complicated. We often hear about keeping temperature increases at +1.5 Celsius but that at the current rate we’re going to surpass this; we’re never really told what our personal carbon emissions are and what we should be aiming for, this is where For Good comes in.
I’ve been using this app for the last month or so and have found it incredibly useful, you begin by creating an account and answering some preliminary questions such as what type of vehicle you drive, whether you’ve got a green energy supplier, and whether you produce your own energy. From there the app will use your location data to try and calculate your vehicular emissions and will even guess what type of transport you’re using with the option to edit or delete the entry if it’s wrong.
Aside from travel, For Good attempts to factor in food intake and energy usage and adds these to your overall carbon footprint. Rather than monitoring individual food items, For Good will ask what type of diet you eat (omnivore, vegetarian etc) and will also ask more narrow questions such the amount of packaging you use. Each question you answer shows how much your answer affects your footprint, giving you a place to start to begin cutting your carbon emissions.
In the energy section, you have the opportunity to enter your gas and electricity meter readings, if you don’t enter this data the app will try to guess based on averages but providing a reading will allow For Good to more accurately calculate your footprint. The travel, food, and energy scores are all totted up and displayed in your overall score on the homepage where you can get the latest climate news and helpful tidbits to help you reduce your footprint. As time goes on, the history tab will start to populate and you can see how much effect any lifestyle changes you make have on your footprint.
Note: On iOS, I had an issue entering the postcode because the numerical keyboard was being displayed despite our postcodes having letters in them. To bypass this, type your postcode elsewhere and copy it into the postcode section and continue with the setup.
Now that you’ve got yourself oriented with For Good, you’ll no doubt want to find a way to start reducing your emissions; one way to do that is by switching to the tree-planting search engine Ecosia. This search engine uses ad revenue to donate to projects that focus on planting native trees across the planet and every month creates an easy-to-understand graphic detailing its income and expenditure.
After digging into Ecosia’s help pages I’ve found that it takes around 45 searches for the company to fund one tree. On another of its help pages, Ecosia estimates that each search on its search engine is the equivalent of removing 1 kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere because trees remove an average of 50 kg of carbon dioxide over an expected 15 year lifetime.
When it comes to using Ecosia, you can install the browser extension on the desktop which will change your search settings without all the faffing around. On mobile, Ecosia has its own web browser which automatically uses Ecosia as the default search provider. Additionally, on Android, the Ecosia browser comes with a search widget giving you quick access.
By utilising Ecosia day-to-day you may actually find yourself heading into carbon neutral or carbon negative territory if your footprint is already modest. By being carbon negative, you’re removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than you’re putting there in the first place.
Giki Badges (UK Only)
Giki is an interesting app that lets you scan different food and drink products, then awards them badges if they meet several different criteria. Some of the badges awarded do relate to climate change such as the Low Carbon Footprint and Better Packaging badges, however, the scope is a bit broader and Giki will alert you when a product is unhealthy or relies on animal cruelty.
According to the Giki website, the product database currently consists of around 280,000 supermarket products, from a bit of testing with food and drink I have around the house, only one product went unrecognised and the app does allow you to report any missing entries. Some niche products may not be recognised by the app so be sure to submit those for review if you give the app a go.
Following a successful barcode scan, you’ll be presented with a page explaining which badges were awarded to the scanned product, and which badges were not. Each badge is accompanied by a description explaining Giki's decision. If you’ve got an item that scored badly be sure to look at the alternative recommendations provided by the app, these items will be better for the environment and your health.
Good On You
No matter whether you buy clothes from online stores, high-end stores on the high street, or from fast-fashion retailers such as Primark, Good On You will be able to provide information about the clothes you’re buying. The main focuses of Good On You include labour conditions, animal welfare, and environmental impact. Brands receive an overall rating out of five stars giving you an idea of how well the brand scores in the three categories.
In a similar way that Giki explains why it awarded a badge, Good On You gives a detailed explanation as to the reason it has ranked a brand the way it has. Of course, business practices change over time so Good On You gives you the last review date so you can tell how relevant the information is now.
If you look up a brand and can’t find any results be sure to search online for the parent company which may yield results on Good On You. If you do find what you’re looking for and it gets a lousy two stars - ‘Not good enough’ rating then the app will helpfully point you in the direction of similar brands with a higher rating, you’ll also get an indication of product prices, indicated by the dollar signs under the brand name.
According to a study, around a third of food worldwide is wasted before it reaches the plate. It says that food is thrown at all stages from harvesting, while it's being stored, transported, and by shops that can no longer sell the food after the sell-by date. The final app recommendation is Olio, an app designed to help you reduce waste – but primarily food waste.
With Olio, you can see what food other people are giving away and arrange to collect it, or, offer up any food that you no longer want. If you’re lucky and live near a store that uses Olio such as Pret a Manger in the UK, then during certain times of the day you’re able to go and collect baguettes or sandwiches that are about to be thrown away – the best part is that these sandwiches that would set you back a few pounds have to be given away at no cost, according to Olio’s rules.
In terms of item availability, your location does matter. In towns and cities, there will be a lot more listings due to the sheer number of people. The further out you go from population centres the fewer items there are generally but you will still see the odd listing that’s in a reasonable travelling distance.
If you're planning to use the service be sure to read Olio’s guide to safe sharing, there are several videos on YouTube, too, which give you a decent idea of how the service works. In terms of personal experience of the app, I’ve only used it once before because I’m in a more remote area; the process was simple, just request the order, arrange where and when you’d like to collect the item and collect it at the agreed time.
If you've been watching and wondering what you can do about climate change and found the subject a bit daunting then hopefully these apps will help you clarify things such as your carbon footprint and who the best retailers are when it comes to sustainability. There are many more sustainability apps in both the App Store and Play Store; let us know in the comments if you find anything worthwhile.