Feb 5, 2009

"CO2 Tracker" - travel emissions tracker on iPhone

Yesterday while commuting on the train to the city, I decided to track my carbon footprint for the trip using the Carbon (CO2) Tracker (personal edition) application on my iPhone.

Why bother? CO2 emissions cause a greenhouse gas effect in our atmosphere that leads to climate change. Al Gore's movie, The Inconvenient Truth explains the cause and effect of climate change really well. Since transportation is a major source of emissions, it is vital every one of us becomes aware of our carbon footprint. Even though I have been immersed in sustainability for two years now, it is still hard to really figure out my personal carbon footprint by activity.

Carbon calculators are a dime a dozen, and they all return varying data. But because this app comes from Clear Standard (that I am familiar with from a corporate susty job where I had to evaluate enterprise GHG management software), I had high hopes for it. It turns out v.1.0.0 has pretty limited functionality. Here's my experience using it...

What does it do? This app uses iPhone's GPS to track the start and end point of a trip and returns an estimate on the amount of CO2 emissions your mode of travel generated. The result is in metric (kg CO2), and is only an estimate using World Resource Institute cross-sector business travel emissions factor data. Such data leverages databases that contain information on how clean or dirty different energy sources are, in different parts of the world.

How does one use it? First, create a New Activity. You can either plug in the distance (in km), or turn on GPS. If using GPS, create the new activity at the start of the journey. Turn on Use GPS, and touch the "Start" button. The GPS takes a little while to locate itself.

Once it found the lattitude and longitude, it seemed like I would need to hit the Stop button when I arrive. So I tried to browse the other parts of "CO2 Tracker" (e.g. Goals), but that apparently cancelled the trip... oops. A few minutes of repeating the above steps (which was troublesome because the GPS search took a while and filling in the form was cumbersome) resurrected my experiment. Luckily, this time round, the new trip didn't get cancelled when I hit the Home button on iPhone to browse to my podcast and play another game.

This confusion about what to do made learning the app a little time consuming, which could discourage some users, esp those on the slower EDGE phone like me (but then I persisted since I have a blog to write). At the end of my trip, I hit the Stop button, it found the location, and told me I had emitted 4kg-CO2 for a 40km trip.

The app also allow you to set a monthly carbon budget. However, I found that I don't quite know what budget is realistic to set, so didn't use it.

Wish List:
  • The metric measurement unit is great, but an option for imperial measurement unit would make the information more understandable to folks in America
  • What does emitting 4kg-CO2 mean in layperson's term? How bad is it?
  • What is the emission factor used and why was that particular factor picked? Being somewhat literate on this topic, I have a need to know to verify the trustworthiness of the app.
  • I love factoids. Esp factoids relevant to the context I am in.
  • An explanation on why commuter rail generates more emission than bus (4 vs. 2kg) would be educational.
  • Some guidance on realistic carbon budget for various transportation scenarios would encourage me to use that part of the app.
  • Don't cancel the trip when I look at another part of the app
Developer: Clear Standards, which according to the app, is "the leading provider of enterprise software solutions to help organizations manage and reduce their carbon and energy waste."

Cost: FREE

Compatibility: iPhone or iPod touch, with iPhone software v2.0 onwards.

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