Green 2.0: Eco-living goes high-tech in Kirkland

Ever wondered what your impact is on the environment? With an online community of two million members, Kirkland-based EarthLab.com might have the answer.

  • Monday, April 14, 2008 5:29pm
  • News

Ever wondered what your impact is on the environment? With an online community of two million members, Kirkland-based EarthLab.com might have the answer.

Using an online “carbon calculator,” the educational foundation measures the impact lifestyle choices have on energy resources and the environment. The results are then analyzed and suggestions made on how to take personal responsibility for choices — large and small — that could help the world at large. The hope is that anyone who wants to do something about the threat of global warming or conservation can find “easy, simple” advice on how by visiting the Web site, Executive Director Anna Rising said.

“We want to make our calculator a user-friendly test. It’s a first-step to incorporate green in your life,” she said.

Rising certainly lives by the foundation’s aims. The back of her business card reads “Wash your clothes in cold water and save yourself up to $400 a year.”

“Did you know that an un-used cell phone charger, left plugged into your wall, costs up to $9 a month?” Rising said, “It’s all about individuals taking responsibility … It’s funny, these things will save you a lot of money.”

Founded by online-dating guru Duane Dahl, he and a group of Web developers designed the calculator and Web site. According to Rising, Dahl and his wife were motivated to do something with their talents after watching the Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Much like Dahl’s other business ventures Kiss.com and PerfectMatch.com, EarthLab.com is based on information shared through personalized accounts. But instead of creating your own online dating profile to meet others, members can review their Earth Conservation Plans (ECPs) and make pledges to lower the amount of carbon that they generate over the year to improve their score. Measured in “Carbon Tons,” an indexed score allows the user to compare their habits to those of other members.

“Your score and lifestyle choices are saved in your profile. This just helps you develop a plan of what to do,” Rising said. “Certain things people don’t want to change, like driving their SUVs … So this gives them a way to see where else they can make an impact.”

The calculator got its start last July in front of a worldwide audience during the green-themed “Live Earth concerts. And, despite its large online presence, the small office in downtown Kirkland is run by only five full-time employees and a few part-timers. But Rising is keeping busy with her latest effort, an Earth Day challenge of getting one million old and new visitors to pledge a reduction in their scores on the site.

Later this spring, Rising is planning two improvements to the ECP profile: a “Car Compare” feature that recommends vehicles based on a variety of factors — such as climate or driving habits — and a report card that points out the individual’s strengths and weaknesses while trying to make helpful recommendations. Rising noted past educational attempts at using a personal calculator were not as successful because the analysis punished the visitor with a negative comparison or demanded information considered too private or inconvenient to enter.

“We don’t want to make people feel bad with statements like ‘It will take so many number of Earths to support your lifestyle’,” Rising said. “Some

of these sites were asking for users to enter the totals from their energy bills from the past several months. We don’t do that … We have a strict privacy policy.”

The foundation is funded through a variety of means, from individual members donations, environmental foundation grants and corporate partners who use the company’s calculator on their Web sites to promote a greener image.

In the future, Rising said she plans to work with large corporate partners on a wider basis, even with companies that appear to have a conflict of interest. Jet Blue, a national airline directly responsible for millions of tons of carbon in the atmosphere every year, has agreed to incorporate EarthLab’s calculator into its Web site and plans to offer “carbon offsets” later this year.

“We understand it’s hard for their industry … (But) they’re trying to make a difference,” Rising said.

One of the foundation’s strongest supporters is the City of Kirkland. At a recent Council meeting, Mayor Jim Lauinger demonstrated the carbon calculator for the audience. After scoring 418 on his initial survey last December, Lauinger said he replaced his old incandescent light bulbs and old shower head for energy efficient types; bought a new hybrid Toyota Prius; prints only double sided copies from his printer; packs a lunch to work and is considering the purchase of an electric lawn mower. By adopting those small lifestyle changes, he reduced his Carbon Footprint number to 334.

“Because I occasionally have to travel, taking those airplanes really raise your score,” Lauinger said at the meeting before demonstrating how much lower his score could have been if he hadn’t travelled.

“It’s silly to take all those trips. Don’t get me wrong, Vero Beach in Florida is a lovely place, but … Soon, we’ll do all this by video conferencing,” he said.

The calculator can be accessed online at http://www.earthlab.com/carbonProfile/LiveEarth.htm.

Contact Kendall at kwatson@kirklandcourier.com.

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