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Web tool measures carbon footprints

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Posted on July 27, 2009 |
By John Flowers



By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury-based environmental firm has developed a “carbon footprint calculator” that allows people to compute how they are individually contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, while also prescribing ways they can reduce those emissions.

The new calculator is undergoing final tests by its creators at Brighter Planet, a self-described “small environmental services team, working with environmental leaders, partners, and (the public) to build a sustainable future.” During its brief history, Brighter Planet has already garnered some major headlines, most notably for its 2008 partnership with Bank of America in developing Visa credit and check cards. Users of those Brighter Planet affiliate cards pile up points that generate financial resources to fund environmentally friendly projects.

“The card has been pretty successful,” said Ian Wilker, Brighter Planet’s on-line community manager. The company’s Web site states that its program supporters have to date offset almost 132 million pounds of CO2, which is equivalent to taking almost 4 million cars off the road for one day.

When it comes to one’s carbon footprint, Wilker said, the idea is to “reduce what you can and offset the rest.”

In an effort to make that process easier, Brighter Planet has unfurled its carbon footprint calculator. Accessible at http://beta.brighterplanet.com, the calculator — available for use free of charge — invites users to privately share their daily transportation, shelter and purchasing habits. They plug those variables within categories included in the calculator. For examples, users are asked to include the type of vehicle they drive, the average number of airplane flights they take in a year, the dimensions of their home, and the kinds of food they eat (and if they are locally grown).

The calculator then projects the user’s carbon footprint and provides tips on how to shrink it — such as taking “military showers” (turning off water while soaping up), using the cold water cycle more extensively with the washing machine, and tapping into public transportation.

Also included are the costs of offsetting that carbon footprint through projects supported by Brighter Planet.

“The offsets are sold by a variety of companies,” Wilker said, noting those offsets are vetted by Brighter Planet staff and board members, several of which several hail from Addison County. Middlebury College Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics Jon Isham is a co-founder of Brighter Planet and a member of its project selection committee and board of directors. Environmental author and Middlebury College scholar in resident Bill McKibben is a member of Brighter Planet’s advisory board.

Company officials are optimistic that their carbon footprint calculator will catch on. They noted that while the Web is brimming with other carbon calculators, Brighter Planet’s version is more personalized and will allow users to track their progress month by month. Wilker added the Brighter Planet Web site also invites calculator users to share their success stories and advice through a variety of other media connections, such as Facebook and Twitter.

“What differentiates us is that the tools we’ve built into the application allow people to comment, submit tips of their own and encourage other people,” Wilker said. “People can share videos, photos and text on how they got something done.”

And unlike other sites, Brighter Planet offers tips and offsets to help a person reduce their carbon footprint — in essence, one-stop shopping opportunities for the environmentally conscious citizen, according to Wilker.

“It is really a utility for helping you manage your environmental footprint,” Wilker said.
“This is in keeping with our mission — to let people know what they can do personally (to fight global warming) and let them know the small actions they can take to make a difference,” he added.

Brighter Planet’s carbon footprint calculator will be in its testing phase for around another month, according to Wilker, during which it will be fully accessible. The company will then fully promote the new tool.

Isham is pleased to see the new calculator come on line.

“The new clean-energy economy is bringing together tools of the digital age with new tools for reducing dirty-energy use,” Isham said. “With luck, Brighter Planet’s new carbon calculator — along with other features still in the planning stage — will be on the forefront of this promising economic transition.”

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