Every consumer choice you make has an effect on the environment. The materials in your soap, the hardware in your phone, and the eggs on your breakfast plate are all a part of the global ecosystem. Yet, it can be easy to forget that every purchase is fundamentally an ecological one, which is why a crack team from Stanford, MIT, and UC Berkeley are combining their powers to form the Captain Planet of Web 2.0, otherwise known as Oroeco.
Oroeco links data about your spending and investment decisions, via Mint.com, with climate change data to track the environmental impact of each dollar you spend. In addition to raising awareness about sustainability, the platform involves social games, tips, points, prizes, and real-world deals to encourage a sustainable lifestyle.
Americans are (and should be) concerned about climate change, and the growth of movements to support local food, eco-friendly clothing materials, and greener cities attest to the population’s interest in making good choices. However, it is not as simple as “good” or “bad” for the environment anymore. Now there are buzzwords like “organic,” “natural,” “local,” “sustainable,” “seasonal,” “grass-fed,” free-range,” “green,” “clean,”, not to mention an alphabet of hormones and chemicals to watch out for.
CEO Ian Monroe is a lecturer on Energy & Climate at Stanford University and has worked on sustainability related projects around the world for corporations like Walmart, Nike, UPS, and the World Bank. In an email to VentureBeat, he said that small decisions have a large impact and that most social and environmental problems can ultimately be traced back to collectively how we spend our money.
“The basic idea is that every dollar we spend on products or services impacts the environment and society for better or for worse,” he said. “The problem is that these impacts aren’t apparent when we’re deciding what to buy, particularly now that global supply chains have shifted problems half a world away. Our overall goal is to dramatically reincentivize the global economy for sustainability. Politicians have thus far failed to address major global issues, like climate change, but we see tremendous potential in bottom-up change that comes from informed and incentivized consumer.”
The technology harnesses advancements in supply chain analytics, online banking, mobile networks, gaming and cognitive psychology so consumers can actively make choices for the world they want to live in. They can track how the impact of their small decisions, and compare how they are doing as compared to local and national averages, and with participating friends on Facebook.
There are other companies in the field such as GoodGuide, which helps users find green products, Recyclebank, which rewards people for taking green actions with discounts, and Opower, which incentivizes consumers to make smart energy decisions. However, Oroeco claims to be the first to take this financial approach, and will be introducing more advanced social gaming mechanics than the other players.
Cofounder Kirstin Cummings studied Symbolic Systems and Artificial Intelligence at Stanford and has worked as a web developer and designer for over a decade. She said that changing consumer behavior requires intent, knowledge and external rewards, and the time is ripe to unite them all on one platform.
“It’s all about aligning incentives and information for better choices,” she said. “We finally have the information technology infrastructure that can tell us how our daily decisions impacts the world around us, now we just need to make this information fun and engaging so that it motivates real change.”
The other team members include an MIT-trained engineer, a PhD candidate in Psychology with a focus on climate change and consumer decision-making, a clean energy finance expert, and a Stanford physicist/environmental journalist who moonlights as a programmer. Together, they make up Oroeco’s core team. They operate in San Francisco and Chile, and recently raised $43K from Startup-Chile, as well a $7K and climbing on Indiegogo.
This crew of self-described “scientists, engineers, sustainability junkies,and startup vets” are taking on nothing less than one of the biggest problems facing our globe today. While it is a major, systemic issue, change begins at home. Eco-friendly lifestyle tweaks can be as small as cutting down on red meat or taking public transportation a few extra times a week. Often, decisions that are good for the environment are also good for the wallet, as well as for physical and mental well-being.
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