Much as previous industries were built on materials like steel and concrete, the building material of the 21st century is code. The web, which is built on countless lines of code, is now connecting physical resources (from your mobile to your iPad to your TV) - it will play a crucial role in connecting consumption and activity data, unlocking environmental intelligence that helps us save money, be more efficient, and help us reach an environmentally sustainable future.
While technology alone is not the solution to a more environmentally sustainable future - we need governments and our society at large to fully engage - we know that the web can help drive social change, help businesses connect their management systems, and help governments engage in open-data, education and broad social communication.
Underpinning this, I see a symbiotic relationship emerging: the web is wholly dependent on vast energy resources, which should be powered by clean energy. Equally, we can achieve a vastly greater understanding of all of our personal and global resource consumption by enabling new data to flow across the web. From smart-meter technologies to your mobile phone, a new network of environmental data is emerging.
"The best way to influence behavior is through meaningful data."
There are two levels of this data flow - one is invisible: machine-to-machine. The other is to visualize information in a way that is meaningful and actionable. Both are relevant to behaviour change. Machine communication can automate efficiency and resource optimisation (e.g. smart-meters). Human interaction can reduce consumption and increase efficiency (e.g. car sharing).
Using the web to reveal environmental intelligence will help us understand the scale of our global environmental problems and, crucially, make it personal so that direct actions are easy to see, easy to engage with, and have a genuine impact.
I am seeing a resurgence of meaningful engagement after a long period of stagnation in the environmental space, public “apocalypse fatigue” about the issues, in-fighting between the science and media communities, lack of political will, and recession slowing down corporations.
There is now an acceptance that addressing environmental sustainability is both necessary and inevitable. When companies look at their financial risks, they can see that if they don’t act now, they will pay more (much more) later.
“Hack the planet back.”
We (AMEE) brought together raw data, domain-experts, developers and mentors together at The London Green Hackathon, to help shape innovation around themes such as behaviour change, the built environment, transparency and visualisation. Around 100 individuals gave up their weekends to innovate - to “hack the planet back”.
After 36 hours of coding, 16 very high quality projects were produced, ranging from “One Tonne” (how to manage your personal carbon budget) to “Company Carbon Death Map” (an estimate of which companies would go bankrupt first as climate change kicks in - last one’s standing included Apple and Oracle... ).
The majority of the hacks were business-focused, and the winning project, “Mastodon”, focused on a Green Cloud service that individual developers could use. To me this was a great example that combined individual action with our global network infrastructure.
One of the catalysts for this change is the huge amount of effort that is being put into making things more accessible and relevant in a human context.
For example, to visualise the size of the amount of carbon from driving 10,000 miles a year in a Bugatti Veyron, which is over 8 tons of CO2 per annum(!).
Alternatively, if you like Minecraft, one of our developers embedded carbon footprinting into the game itself, so as you cook, build machines or plant trees, the environment responds accordingly.
These are great examples of how the web can help us understand and act on our environmental impacts.
“Environmental intelligence is for everyone.”
AMEE wants to open up access to everyone, from individuals and students (we have a University programme) to developers, corporations and governments.
We’ve created some of the basic building blocks (AskAMEE and developer code) to understand Environmental Intelligence -- Everywhere. So while technology is not the only solution to building a sustainable world, it is inevitably critical to our ecosystem’s future.
Gavin Starks is the Founder of AMEE, the web's best destination for environmental intelligence. Got a question? Ask AMEE, follow @agentGav, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He's a regular guest contributor to TreeHugger