Consumer Consequences: American Public Media's Online Eco-Game

TreeHugger is no stranger to carbon calculators – we’ve covered BP’s efforts in this regard, we’ve written about the first wedding carbon calculator in the US, and we even had our own calculator for the Convenient Truth’s contest. It was with some scepticism, then, that this reporter heard news of yet another online resource aimed at calculating your environmental impact. Launched by the Public Insight Network of American Public Media, Consumer Consequences is an online game that calculates your overall ecological footprint (not just carbon emissions), allows you to compare it with others within your demographic, and also offers suggestions on how to improve your score.

After creating your own character (the picture is what this author ended up looking like - the gumpy face is probably a result of the less-than-perfect score he achieved!), the game then takes you threw a series of questions about your lifestyle, including energy consumption, transport choices, and food buying habits, and ultimately spits out a figure for how many planets we’d need if everyone on earth lived like you. While any such program inevitably relies on a certain amount of generalization, the overall level of detail is good. The player (or perhaps the term ‘user’ is more appropriate – this is hardly Tomb Raider) is given interesting snippets of information and advice along the way, and the compare and contrast function at the end is particularly useful. There is also an opportunity to give feedback on the game, and the statistics collected are used to inform American Public Media’s journalists. If you leave contact details, there is even a chance that they will be in touch about future stories (maybe Andy Warhol was right after all!). Aside from being a highly usable and easy to understand illustration of the impact our everyday choices have on the planet, Consumer Consequences has another plus point – it doesn’t focus solely on the individual (a key failing of many lifestyle calculators). When it comes to providing advice on improving your score, alongside buying renewable energy and biking to work, the user is clearly told that changing government policy will help too. After all, conscious choices at the supermarket checkout are unlikely to save the world if the system around us continues to encourage over-consumption, waste, fossil fuel use, and other environmentally damaging activities by ignoring their external impacts. ::Consumer Consequences::via tip (thanks Mary!)::