Filling the Sustainability Information Gap: The CARES Project

By Tobias Schultz

My uncle has nearly 100 acres of open land in the mountains east of San Diego, arguably some of the best territory in the country for both solar and wind energy generation; a rare combination. He’s a rabid do-it-yourselfer, and hoping to reduce his energy bills and mitigate the pesky blackouts he experiences in the summertime heat, he took out a bank loan to install solar panels.

But three years later, the bank loan still sits untapped. Why? “I don’t know which solar panels to buy, or what inverter to go along with them,” he told me. “It’s not like buying a car, where you can search online and find out all about a particular model before you buy it—there’s no information easily available.”

This is a perennial problem for the sustainability movement, not just limited to those looking to install solar panels. Which residential wind turbine is really the most durable and safe? Which solar hot water installer in your area is trustworthy, and which just looking to make a quick buck?

This information gap is not limited to renewable energy technologies. Who evaluated the carbon footprint of that sustainable shoe you’re thinking of buying? Is that dish detergent that purports to be green really just green-washed?

In our economy, becoming “green” is really all about making informed choices, and let’s face it—becoming informed is really difficult. Even basic information on sustainability is not readily available—it is spread among many different sources of varying trustworthiness, making it almost impossible for consumers to make good choices.

Community Assessment of Renewable Energy and Sustainability (the CARES project) seeks to fill that information gap, by creating an open-source website that can provide a “one-stop-shop” for anyone interested in becoming more sustainable.

CARES will provide everything from assessment tools for academics to local and regional lists of manufacturers and installers. Think; a set of tools that will be edited and constantly improved by a critical mass of users. The CARES database will provide tools and information for these users to improve their sustainability by assessing, advising, and helping to implement “green” technologies and practices—with the eventual goal of empowering end users to live more sustainably.

Several other companies have recognized the existence of this information gap and seek to address (and profit from) it; IBM has a fledgling program, and is refining its own renewable energy database.

CARES was founded by a group of students and professors at UC Berkeley, as a non-profit organization. The preliminary database is online at, with the full open-source database set to roll out later this year.

(image from calfinder)

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