Want to Help the Planet? Here Are 5 Tech Tools to Lighten Your Environmental Footprint

Do grim environmental projections and government inaction have you feeling blue? Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard feels your pain. “If you’ve been paying attention, you'll know that things aren't going very well for the planet,” he said in a recent video. “It’s pretty easy to get depressed about it. I’ve always known that the cure for depression is action.”

Earlier this year, the outdoor gear label launched a digital platform to connect its fans and customers with grassroots environmental groups across the U.S. It’s one of several new tech tools designed to make it easier for average Americans to positively impact the environment with their day-to-day choices. If you're looking to cut your own footprint down to size, you may want to bookmark these.

1. Patagonia Action Works

Patagonia began donating a portion of its revenue to grassroots environmental organizations more than four decades ago. Over the years, the outdoor gear brand connected with hundreds of community-based groups and helped convince 1,200 corporate peers to donate some of their cash, too. Now, through its new digital platform, Patagonia wants to bring its vast network of customers and fans together with these vetted green groups to maximize collective impact.

"The biggest question I get from our community and customers is, 'What can I do to save the planet?'" Patagonia president and CEO Rose Marcario said in a statement. "This platform makes it easy to connect with organizations in your neighborhood who are working every day on local issues."

Through Patagonia Action Works, users simply enter their city and select a cause of interest—such as biodiversity or climate change—and they'll get a list of organizations and events in their communities. The platform also highlights relevant petitions, fundraising drives, skills-based volunteering opportunities and other ways to get active. "We have decades of experience with these groups, and our collective grassroots actions can add up to the change we need to make a better world," Marcario said. "With the threats we face, we need everyone in this fight."

2. Conservation International Carbon Calculator

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(image: Conservation International)

After President Donald Trump announced plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, more people started asking Conservation International what they could do in the face of government failure. In response, the nonprofit launched a revamped carbon calculator to help people understand—and offset—their carbon footprints. Simply answer a few questions about your lifestyle, and the calculator churns out your footprint alongside the U.S. average. It also suggests simple ways to cut back and tells you how much it would cost to offset the remainder through verifiable projects that fight deforestation.

"We've tied this calculator to a type of solution that oftentimes gets ignored, and that’s nature," Shyla Raghav, climate change lead at Conservation International, told Fast Company. The nonprofit says that nature-based solutions can significantly contribute to the fight against climate change, yet they receive only around 2 percent of climate finance. "We really see this as a missed opportunity for all of us in the climate conversation," Raghav told FastCo. "We wanted to feature and to demonstrate the link between climate change and data."

3. Swell

Meet Swell from Swell Investing on Vimeo.

Even as Americans become more concerned about the carbon emissions, deforestation and human rights abuses associated with their retirement plans, alternatives remain largely dominated by the wealthy—with minimum investments in the millions. Fortunately, that's beginning to change.

Launched last year, online investment platform Swell is out to bring sustainable and socially conscious investing to the masses. For as little as $50, users can back a combination of six themed portfolios related to pressing global challenges—including renewable energy, zero waste, clean water and disease eradication. To be included, companies must pass Swell’s social and environmental performance assessments and demonstrate high financial potential, CEO and founder Dave Fanger told Fast Company.

"We hope to have an impact both in the short term and the long term," Fanger told FastCo. "In the short term, we hope to see a world in which every investor is interested in, informed and empowered to invest in impact. And along the way, we hope to play a role in surfacing our most pressing global challenges so that everyone is more aware of the issues at hand—as well as the work being done to solve them."

4. The Guest-Imator

Americans send around 40 percent of our edible food supply to landfills in a given year. That means we pump billions of gallons of water and use millions of hectares of land to produce food that’s never eaten, even as an estimated 40 million of us go hungry. Consumers are responsible for nearly half of this tragic waste total—more than even restaurants or grocery stores. And considering the average family of four trashes at least $1,500 worth of food every year, making smarter choices about how we buy, store and cook our food can help us as well as the environment. Enter the Guest-imator, a meal-planning tool designed to power smarter shopping trips and empty trash bins.

Simply answer a few questions about the type of meal you’re planning, the number of guests you expect and the amount of leftovers you want, and the Guest-imator uses a prioprietary algorithm to calculate the exact quantity of each ingredient you'll need—meaning no more wasted food, money or resources. Created by SapientRazorfish, it's the latest waste-cutting effort from Save the Food, an ongoing campaign by the Ad Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which also created that tear-jerking strawberry commercial.  

"Consumers want to cut back on food waste, but they aren’t always sure how to do that," Peter Wagoner, associate creative director at SapientRazorfish, told Sustainable Brands. "That's why we zeroed in on meal planning." Launched in advance of last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, the platform is perfect for planning big gatherings and dinner parties, but it can also be used for everyday dinners and even meals for one. It’s available online, on mobile and via Amazon's Alexa.

5. BlitzResults Meat-Calculator

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(image: BlitzResults.com)

The environmental impact of raising animals for food is featured more often in the news these days—and for good reason. Animal agriculture now uses over a third of the earth’s landmass and is the No. 1 driver of climate change. As bleak as those stats sound, it’s tough for people to picture how their diets impact animals and the environment, but a new web tool is here to lend a hand. Created by educational website BlitzResults, the aptly-named Meat-Calculator turns dietary habits into compelling graphics to help people visualize the broader footprint of their choices.

"Sure, everyone knows that animals are bred and slaughtered for meat production, but a steak on the grill doesn't tell you its story. You just don't see the negative environmental impact and side effects," said Tim Lilling, a researcher with BlitzResults. “The Meat-Calculator makes the use of resources and the negative consequences for the environment tangible.”

As AlterNet's Robin Scher explains, the tool taps data from the USDA to show lifelong meat-eaters how choosing vegetarian meals more often can benefit the planet—from water, CO2 and antibiotic reductions to animals saved from slaughter. “It comes down to shifting perspectives," Scher wrote. "Using the averages of the calculator, I committed to a 60 percent reduction over the next decade. By crunching the numbers, the calculator revealed the full impact my dietary decision could have on both my own wellbeing as well as the environment and animals."

Do you use an online or mobile app to help reduce your environmental impact? Share it in the comments.

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