Whitespace: Green Big Brother is watching

Issue 43: November 2008

Few people enjoy having someone watch over their shoulder. Perhaps even less people are comfortable with their behaviour being measured, dissected and evaluated, especially when it comes to how to act at home or work.

But like it or not a growing number of innovators in the sustainability sector claim surveillance technologies that peer deeply into our energy consumption habits is exactly what the planet needs to more effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Green Big Brother is on his way. And with recent studies showing 85 per cent of Australian consumers are prepared to change their behaviour to reduce their carbon footprint, it appears he might be welcomed with open arms.

This month's Whitespace gives you four innovations in this area, all of which revolve around the philosophy that if energy consumers are made aware of their individual or organisational contribution to the problem, they'll work towards being part of the solution.

Rewarding recycling

While there has been considerable hype about the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in recent years, green businesses have recently emerged as some of the most serious players of the wireless technology market.

US start-up RecycleBank offers just one example of how RFID technology can be applied to reducing carbon emissions.

The company provides American households with recycling bins fitted with RFID tags. When the bins are emptied, these tags transmit information on household recycling habits to a high tech collection truck.

Soon after, householders are able to see an exact measurement of their recycling efforts via a web interface. But this feel good factor is only part of the story. RecycleBank also provides rewards to recyclers in the form of vouchers and pay-it-forward donations to green causes.

An energy dashboard for your home

Another green focused start-up takes sustainability monitoring inside the home or office. Conservation technology firm Agilewaves has developed a monitoring service that collects and crunches data about a building's energy use in real time.

This information is made available via a web portal that allows building occupants to see exactly how much electricity, gas and water they are consuming. Agilewaves can also help establish customised emissions targets and is kind enough to send out warnings about excessive energy use.

But here's the killer application: Agilewaves interfaces with 'smart' technologies to achieve automated tasks like dimming lights,  controlling heat and adjusting appliances in order to meet building specific carbon emission objectives.

Corporate finance goes green

There can be little doubt a credit card bill says a lot about how we live our lives or run a business.

With this in mind Visa Commercial in Europe has teamed with RePay International – a company that evaluates carbon emissions – to offer a  carbon footprint measuring service for businesses based on information gleaned from credit card use.

Petrol, utilities bills, consumables: every time a product or service is purchased the system automatically calculates and logs its associated carbon emissions.

In addition to providing this knowledge, the Visa service helps business owners and managers tackle the greenhouse problem by allowing them to offset their emissions with green projects such as forestry or renewable energy.

Driving a green machine

The way we drive is something many of us take for granted, although perhaps not for much longer as car manufacturers tune into the possibilities of sustainability monitoring.

In partnership with Microsoft, Fiat is proving an innovator in this area with their ecoDrive technology. ecoDrive has been designed to collect and process information about driving style, including approaches to acceleration, braking, turning corners and changing gears.

After this application has had some time to check out your  driving patterns, data can be uploaded onto a PC to reveal exactly how and when petrol is used. Drivers are then offered a series of driving tips that Fiat claims can reduce fuel use by up to 15 per cent.

While this service is not yet available in Australia it does signal a trend in the making, one that may soon see intuitive petrol consumption warnings become part of every driving experience.

Headed for greener pastures

Evocative advertisements, celebrity endorsements and sustainability rating logos are all no doubt having some effect on carbon emission levels. But exposure to real time data about energy consumption habits may turn out to have the biggest impact on carbon footprints to date.

With a growing number of technologists extending their expertise to the green cause, you can expect to see a rapid increase in both individual and organisational green monitoring in the near future.

Sustainability monitoring does raise questions about privacy with a handful or more organisations having access to previously confidential information. While this isn't an overly pleasant sounding development, it may well be the unavoidable payoff for a greener planet.

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