There are thousands of ‘green’ apps

Dear EarthTalk: What are some cool apps that work with a mobile phone that can help me get in better touch with the environment? – Mitchell Brown, Troy, MI

Answer: Not surprisingly, there are thousands of “green” apps out there that make it easier for people to find and share information to help us all become better stewards of the natural environment.

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air app shows live color-coded air quality maps for any U.S. location and includes both ozone and particulate pollution counts. The app also provides air quality alerts, short-term forecasts and opportunities to learn more about air quality risks and to contact lawmakers to push for more stringent pollution regulations. Another way to find out who’s emitting what nearby is via aMobileFuture’s Pollution, a free app that compiles information from various pollution databases around the world and then shows users which big polluters are emitting what near them. Coverage includes 1,380 cities, mostly in Europe and the U.S.

Ethical shoppers will appreciate the GoodGuide, a free app that shows how any of 120,000 food, personal care and household products stack up in terms of sustainability, fair wages and even health risks. Users just snap a picture of an item’s bar code to get the low-down on whether or not it’s a “good” buy. And the free JouleBug app turns living greener into a game, taking specific sustainability-oriented steps such as reducing energy use, recycling more or buying local and translating these small acts into positive “units of impact.” Embedded videos demonstrate ways once can green up daily life.

Adair Systems’ 99 cents GasHog app makes it easy to track a car’s fuel efficiency. Enter the odometer reading and amount of fuel added each time you refill the tank and the app calculates the fuel economy of the previous tank and compares it to historical averages. The app also offers tips for improving fuel economy. And Avego’s free CarmaCarpooling app matches nearby drivers with riders to share the commute and the expense. At the end of the trip, the rider can send a payment through the system to the driver to cover a share of gas and wear-and-tear.

PaperKarma is a free app to help reduce junk mail. Users input their address information once and then snap a picture through the app of any unwanted junk mail. Behind the scenes, PaperKarma’s automated system notifies the publisher to take the user’s name and address off their list.

Another popular app is Light Bulb Finder, a free app designed to help ease the transition from older incandescent bulbs to more energy efficient replacements. Users enter in their zip code-the app automatically inputs average regional electricity rates accordingly-and then choose which type of fixture, size/shape and wattage bulb(s) they are looking to replace. The app then suggests options that use less energy and shows how much money the user can expect to save with the newer bulb(s).

It’s nice to know that the little screens we’ve become increasingly dependent upon-and which otherwise tend to distract us from nature and the outdoors-can also be used for the betterment of the environment.

Dear EarthTalk: What’s going on with Earth Day this year and how can I get involved? – Christine B., Boston, MA

Answer: This coming April 22 marked the 44th annual celebration of Earth Day, and the focus this year was green cities. “As the world’s population migrates to cities, and as the bleak reality of climate change becomes increasingly clear, the need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever,” reports Earth Day Network, the Seattle-based non-profit that helps coordinate Earth Day celebrations and serves as a clearinghouse for related information and resources. The group hopes to galvanize the support of more than a billion people across 192 countries this Earth Day for increasing the sustainability and reducing the carbon footprints of urban areas everywhere.

By focusing on buildings, energy and transportation issues in cities this year, Earth Day Network hopes to raise awareness about the importance of making improvements in efficiency, investments in renewable technology and regulation reform in the urban areas where half the world’s population lives today. By 2050, three quarters of us will live in cities, making it more important than ever to adapt and adopt policies that take into account how to support larger numbers of people with less environmental impact.

Earth Day Network has already mobilized a network of partners on the ground in strategically placed cities and towns around the world to organize grassroots efforts to improve local codes, ordinances and policies that will help cities become models for sustainability, but participation of the wider public is crucial to making the Green Cities campaign a success. The Green Cities section of Earth Day Network’s website features a series of in-depth tool kits designed to educate the public about key elements of the campaign and serves as the locus of organizing around Earth Day 2014. By making such resources freely available, Earth Day Network hopes to spur individuals to take civic action by signing petitions, sending letters to policymakers and organizing more events.

Some of the ways to get involved and raise awareness in your local community about Earth Day itself and the need to green our cities include: hosting a talk for co-workers or community members on the topic of local sustainability initiatives; starting a farmers’ market; organizing a day of tree planting, park or beach clean-up, or an eco-fair; and leading a recycling drive to collect as much metal, plastic and glass as possible. Schools can register with Earth Day Network and get access to many student-friendly resources, including an interactive Ecological Footprint Quiz and environmentally-themed lesson plans tailored to the needs of different grade levels from kindergarten through high school. College students can work with dining services to start a composting program or switch over to reusable plates and flatware or start a competition between classes or residence halls to reduce waste and electricity use.

Those looking to initiate just participate in an Earth Day event need look no further than Earth Day Network’s website, where a comprehensive database of Earth Day events around the world is updated daily. Even better, keep in mind that every day is Earth Day and the planet-and generations to come-will benefit from every positive action you take.

EarthTalk is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com