A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to join a citywide competition to try to reduce residents’ gas and electricity usage. We teamed up in groups of five households or more, and for a month, did whatever we could to cut back on our in-home energy consumption. At the end of the month, we submitted our utility bills both for that month and for the same month from the previous year. The teams that had the most year-to-year reductions won.
It was a great idea. How many of us, after all, have wandered over to one of those online carbon footprint calculators with the best of intentions, only to wander away just as quickly once the whole thing got too overwhelming? (Yeah, me. Like, a million times.) But add a social component and suddenly cutting back seemed achievable. I forced myself to make an effort that month, because I knew there were others counting on me. And wouldn’t you know it, my energy usage actually went down about 40 percent! A cutback, I’m excited to say, I’ve mostly maintained since then.
Which is why a new website from the folks at Brighter Planet, which launched earlier this month, might have a leg up on other carbon-footprint calculators. Sure, you have to input information about your lifestyle and energy usage. But the site also has a social component. Instead of requiring you to make your solitary way through the calculator, Brighter Planet has created a community where you can share your progress and follow other people’s. You can sign up to take on specific carbon-reducing activities from a Brighter Green-provided list—like “Buy in-season fruits and vegetables all week,” “Wash eight loads of laundry with cold water this week,” and “Share a shower 10 times this month.” You get to see who else is committing to that step and log your own success when you’ve completed it.
The site also lets you share stories, photos, and videos. Plus it’s integrated with Facebook, so you could theoretically even use it to create a group of your own and launch your own energy-reduction competition. Because, as committed as well all are, we also know that this whole turning the tide on carbon emissions thing is going to require continued and focused effort. The folks at Brighter Planet might have figured out one way to get more of us to keep moving in that direction. Like training for a marathon or going on a diet, it’s always easier—and often downright fun—when you do it with other people.