For many, technology represents our best hope for radically redesigning our lives to become more sustainable, efficient, and eco-friendly. Designed to revolutionize the way we live, work, commute, shop, heat our homes, and play, eco-tech offers a chance for us to mitigate the environmental effects of our modern-day lives with ease.
It’s too late to turn back the clock, and no one wants to give up conveniences like cars or climate-controlled homes — not to mention our almighty digital devices. Persuading people to do so is likely futile. Perhaps we should be doing the opposite instead. Our insatiable appetite for advancement and modernity got us into this mess, let’s enlist it to get us out of it as well. Enter eco-tech.
Most eco-tech concepts rely on having the right information at the right time, pointing out a pattern we were unaware of, or having the ability to do something from a distance that saves resources. If you are just about to buy a bottle of shampoo, wouldn’t it be nice to easily discover whether it contains carcinogenic ingredients? If you forgot to turn down the heat before you left home, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do it remotely?
These eco-tech ideas help us live smarter lives by making more informed purchases, cutting utility bills, and gaining useful information from others.
Are you looking for ways to cut your carbon and water footprint? GoGreen is an iOS app that helps point the way by monitoring how much electricity, natural gas, and water you use each day.
It uses data from your bills when possible, not estimates, for more accurate results. It then compares your usage to national averages and others in your area. The app helps identify trends in your energy consumption, and users gain a point for every 100 pounds of carbon dioxide under the national average.
Do your eyes fog over when you read product labels containing words with more than eight syllables? This app and website rates a variety of personal care products and household cleaners on a scale from 1 to 10 and lists ingredients of concern. GoodGuide has rated over 75,000 products based on the product composition, helping consumers make healthier choices. Users can also post their own product reviews and find new, safer products.
Among the best-known contenders in the eco-tech world, Nest is a Google product designed to regulate and control temperatures within the home automatically. For the first few days, adjust the thermostat manually, and it will train itself. This is much easier than training a programmable thermostat (that some families never get around to programming).
Nearly half of home energy use is for heating and cooling, and Nest can help chip away at that by cutting waste. When the house is empty, the Nest thermostat turns down your heating and cooling system automatically. You can also control your settings on the go, making last-minute adjustments.
Nest reports that users see an average of a 10% to 12% reduction in heating costs and a 15% reduction in cooling costs. All these benefits are actually available with an increase in comfort. Nest users report a more consistent temperature in their homes after installing Nest.
Priced around $250 and controlled by the ubiquitous smartphone, Nest is a simple and affordable way to track, control, and reduce heating and cooling costs, saving money. It can also pay for itself in energy savings in just a few years (depending on energy costs in your area).
Seafood Watch is a website that helps consumers and businesses make seafood choices that benefit the oceans and future generations. Information on what seafood is the most ecologically sound can be difficult to decipher. Seafood Watch attempts to decode this by ranking different kinds of seafood as best choice, certified, good alternative, or something to avoid. (The Seafood Watch app is no longer supported. Seafood Watch recommends deleting the app from your phone and adding SeafoodWatch.org to your home screen.)
I used to wish I could predict the amount of traffic on the interstate or intuit if there was an accident that was halting traffic. Waze creates the best route, using community-based, real-time traffic information. Get alerts about accidents, road hazards, approaching police, and traffic congestion. In addition to saving time and wear and tear on the car, Waze can save gas by helping you avoid traffic jams and needless idling.
While using the app, users passively contribute to road data, helping to improve the driving experience for others. This collaborative approach is a win-win by allowing drivers to pick smarter routes, reducing congestion for everyone, and saving gas.
Feature image courtesy of Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Originally published on May 13, 2016, this article was updated in September 2018 by Earth911 writer Sarah Lozanova.