For 2011: What’s Coming in Climate Change and Carbon IT

Last week at my co-working space Christmas party I was asked me about the next big thing in climate change IT.

2010 has certainly been about aggregating data and the end of this year gave plenty of hints about what ‘the next big thing’ is: data-based engagement.

I should say that I live in London, so I can’t speak for what’s going on in the US or on the Continent. This is specifically with reference to the UK.

For all of the hullabaloo about climate change that went on last year– especially in the mainstream media– it’s been equally as quiet this year.  But after the failure at COP15 and this year’s lack luster COP16 agreement, don’t think that the green community hasn’t been busy.  Indeed, it has been regrouping and rethinking the approach it takes to communicating climate change, as the topic has gone cold with ‘the public.’ It’s almost like we have to figure out how to communicate and engage without using the double ‘c’ word.

Before I get into what we can look forward to next year (probably the next few years) from the UK’s top green IT talent, I want to define precisely what I mean by communicate and engage: I mean making climate change and carbon tangible to people.  These are abstract notions. The extent of the impact of climate change is uncertain, carbon is invisible and doesn’t yet have the same normative connotation as pollution does.

Carbon and the observational consequences of climate change need to be made apparent in a way that is physical– that can be touched and felt. Further, they need to be made visible in our everyday lives. And then, people need to be engaged to do something about it. There are different types of engagement that work in the right combination in a functional form for different types of people– data, emotion, money.  The trick for today’s climate change IT types is to bring that mixture of appeal to new apps that make people inherently understand the consequences of their everyday choices. Moreover, as the public has become fatigued by climate change as a topic, engagement needs to be in a round-about kind of way, where behaviours that contribute to high-carbon choices are addressed using other language. Social networking and AR (artificial reality) is where the possibility lies.

What we’ve got so far is encouraging: lots of web-based networking applications for inter- and intra- business carbon reduction, internet applications that help people travel and work more efficiently, learn about upgrading their energy to a mix of renewables and traditional energy, and we have the first glimpse of what’s to come in the next few years: mobile apps in development that will do everything from utilize artificial reality (AR) to create carbon savings to putting control of your home’s carbon emissions in the palm of your hand.

What’s coming in climate change – related AR from what’s already here:

Eco-desk is a web app training system with definite possibilities for mobility. The program engages employees in highly contextualised nature: Eco-drive for light commercial vehicles and trucks shows drivers visually how to make fuel savings (conserve carbon) by showing them how their gauges should look whilst discussing low-carbon driving methods.

WorkSnug is a mobile app that wasn’t necessarily intended (but has the capacity) to mitigate climate change by reducing rush hour traffic jams.  WorkSnug is an AR app intended from professionals who can ‘work from home’. It shows you where there is wifi in proximity to your location. You can also check user ratings of those places for characteristics like electric outlet provision, food, and whether or not the management is bothered by a high number of freelance professionals hanging out.*  Cisco systems has adopted WorkSnug as part if its Connected Urban Development program to help cities move and conserve carbon more efficiently.

Here, Now is a product that’s in development that will be able to build on the WorkSnug idea: maybe your favorite neighborhood wifi cafe is full or you need to upload some data intensive files. Here, Now is looking at how to tell the population and energy usage of workspaces.

PassivSystems is an exciting app that will put users home energy control in the palm of their hand– even if they’ve left for vacation.  Yes that’s right, forgot to turn the heating down before you’ve started your drive to Granny’s house? No problem. Their iPhone app can help you with that and make suggestions about how to reduce your energy spending.

Sandbag is a UK energy think tank.  They’ve done fun stuff this year with data visualisation and their Geiger-counter like app is a great idea but perhaps a bit less practical than the others. The app allows users to see their proximity to some of the country’s highest emitters but these are mostly large power plants.  While this promotes consumer awareness, it might be a bit too novel.

But Sandbag’s app has definite possibilities with the UK government setting the example by making their carbon footprint data available online to the public.  As companies begin to do this and pressure increases to sustainably label products I can easily see the emergence an AR app that will tell you how large a carbon footprint your favourite high street shops have and barcode scanners that tell you how ethical products are.

Something like this is now available in UK: Barcoo was developed in Germany and tells users how well a company treats its employees to how ethically they source their products.

UK readers: what have I missed? What do you like?

US readers: What’s the best in the US? What should I check out while I’m home for the holidays?

*Full disclosure: Ann is a WorkSnug ambassador.

Ann Danylkiw is a freelance writer and digital media producer. Her background is Finance and Development Economics.While writing for Triple Pundit, she is currently producing her first social experiment / digital documentary, the lives in London but visits 'home' in Wisconsin during the summer.