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Clear Standards' Carbon Tracker app for the iPhone

written by: Steve Wilcox•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 6/18/2010

The iPhone can be used for a lot of things and thanks to Clear Standards, reduction of CO2 emissions is now one of them. With the Carbon Tracker app you can easily set a target and track your progress. But is it resourceful enough to earn a permanent spot on iPhone?

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    Renewable Staying Power

    Clear Standards icon Where eco-oriented apps are truly tested is in the depth of their features. A successful app, even a free one such as this, has to provide a compelling reason to stay on your screen. While 'disposable' apps have their uses, they generally warrant neither the time nor the space on your iPhone, especially when the same information can be found online. Since carbon tracking is hardly a new concept, several services already exist on the web. The trouble lies in the fact that tracking isn't all that easy or convenient. Luckily, that happens to be one of the iPhone's specialties. So, not only should such an app effectively calculate emissions, it should make doing so a cinch. In this regard, Clear Standards' Carbon Tracker does not disappoint.

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    Monitoring Your Emissions

    Upon launching the app you’ll notice three main icons at the bottom, each representing a distinct aspect of the Carbon Tracker system. The first window presented to you is the 'Home' screen. Here, your CO2 'Goal' for the current month is represented as a number in either kilograms or pounds, either one of which you can select from the About tab. This number is accompanied by a green bar showing its relative size, below which is your Actual CO2 output and a red bar. The length of each bar is relative to the other. So a disproportionate Actual amount of emissions is represented by a large red bar and a diminished green one. This is also visually depicted in a 12-month graph on the same screen.

    Of the two variables, emissions targets are left entirely up to you, which is kind of shame. For although I would consider myself an environmentally conscientious individual, I had no clue what the ideal amount of CO2 emissions for an average individual was. Rest assured, after downloading the app, I did my research and as it turns out various sources cite an ideal of 2 tons of CO2 per person per year. That’s approximately 84kg/per month (or 182 pounds). Simple enough to find but it would haven been a pertinent snippet of information for the developer's include.

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    Measuring the Distance

    As for the measurement of 'Actual' emissions, the Carbon Tracker uses an activities system to based on various modes of transportation to calculate the total number. Tapping on the 'Activies' tab brings up a form not unlike that of the Calendar app, except this time, once you’ve selected the date, you proceed to identify what mode of transportation you took and how far you traveled. The app covers air travel, automobile (by size: small, medium, and large), bus, and commuter rail. Each mode has an assigned amount of CO2 emissions per kilometre/mile, as set out by the World Resource Institute. If you’re not into calculating just how far you’re going to be riding the bus, the app can also make use of the GPS feature to record the distance traveled.

    As you input your daily travels, the CO2 accumulates and you begin to get a real feel for the impact of, say, a 25 kilometer commute in a medium sized car (5kg of CO2) versus a bus (1kg of CO2). Add that up over a month and the difference is sobering. While there is no auto-fill option, a significant drawback given the often repetitive nature of commuting, you can simply calculate the average distance per week or month and enter that number in as a single event.

    You can, however, quickly manage your monthly targets on the Goals tab. These can be set to variously levels but should be done so after determining your current output. That way you can slowly wean yourself onto more environmentally sound methods of travel. Or if you’re determined, you could set them all to 83 kilograms from day one and see how well you can reform your ways.

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    Closing Thoughts

    Rating Average

    At the end of the day, or in this case the end of the month, the Carbon Tracker app provides an ideal statistical means of tracking your CO2 output and if you’re even remotely interested in reducing that number, this app is certainly worth your time. It remains baffling, though, why they would not include an ideal personal output. There’s also room for improvement in the feature set, such as streamlining the activity-entry process. One addition that might prove successful, especially given the apps reliance on stats and graphs, would be the ability to share data with friends and family. Various eco programs have benefited from adding a competitive edge to their conservation efforts and it may work well here.

    As to whether the app is worthy of a spot on your iPhone, that’s difficult to answer. It requires active input from users, and if you aren’t overly committed to reducing emissions, it may seem like too much effort. That being said, there isn't a much more conveinient or accessible alternative and if you’re serious about cutting down on CO2, then this app may actually help you achieve that golden number.

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    Carbon Tracker graph (actual/target emissions)Carbon Tracker activities screen