One of the best ways to get an idea for a new mobile app is to think about a problem you'd like to solve. For lots of developers, that problem is climate change.
Of course, apps alone can’t fix climate change. But there are tons of innovative apps that make it easy for anyone with a mobile device to make simple changes that positively impact our environment, from supporting green initiatives to reducing carbon emissions.
Here's a list of apps to download if you want to start leading a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. Who knows? Exploring how mobile developers are using code to solve the world’s biggest problems might even empower you to build your own app.
Think about how many times a day you use a search engine to look up something for work or quickly find an answer to a question. Feels countless, right? A single Google search takes less than a second to complete, but produces 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide. With billions (or even trillions) of searches every year, that adds up.
Ecosia is a free search engine alternative (based on Bing) that devotes 80% of its ad revenue to planting trees around the world. (If you use Google Chrome, Ecosia offers an extension that makes it your default search engine.) Trees play a crucial role in the fight against climate change by helping absorb the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere — and since its launch in 2009, Ecosia's planted over 147 million.
Planting trees is about more than just improving our air quality: "Water and food scarcity, not enough availability of good nutrition, income for people in low-income countries — all of that can be solved through tree planting," explained Christian Kroll, the founder of Ecosia, in an interview with Impact Podcast.
Most of us barely have time to click “unsubscribe” from the barrage of promotional emails that end up in our inbox, let alone address the mountains of physical junk mail that we receive. Research shows that 10 million trees are destroyed each year to make junk mail.
PaperKarma is an app that lets you unsubscribe from magazines, catalogs, credit card and insurance offers that you get in the mail. Once you download the app, all you have to do is take a picture of your unwanted mail, and PaperKarma will opt out of the mailers for you.
You have to pay to use PaperKarma (packages start at $3.99 a month), but it’s a small price to pay for a cleaner mailbox and smaller carbon footprint.
Download on Android and iOS.
3. Loss Of The Night
Little compares to the beauty of a moonlit sky with stars twinkling overhead (just ask van Gogh), but light pollution in metropolitan areas makes it harder to experience the natural wonder.
Light pollution, excessive artificial light, does more than just steal our stars and ruin our sleep cycles — it can also harm nocturnal wildlife that relies on the dark.
You can lend a hand with the Loss Of The Night app, which measures light pollution in cities around the world. Head to an open area unobscured by tall buildings or trees to use the app, and record whether or not you can see certain stars. This app is kind of like an open-source science project: Your results are used to help scientists create better, more sustainable lighting concepts and technology — and you'll also learn a little about astronomy in the process.
The app Literatti is like a virtual trash clean-up that you can participate in at any time. Users take a picture of every piece of litter they come across (before throwing it away), then the app analyzes the picture, identifies what kind of litter it is and where it came from, and adds geotags and timestamps.
This data is used to back eco-friendly initiatives, from improving waste management systems to increasing legislative and corporate efforts toward sustainability. For example, Litterati data on the amount of discarded cigarette butts in San Francisco was used to implement a 40-cent tax on cigarette sales.
Download on Android and iOS.
JouleBug is a free app that makes it easy (and fun) to build sustainable habits by turning it into a social game.
Download and scroll through the app to find eco-friendly tasks and tips, like composting or turning off the light when you leave a room. When you find one that sounds doable, click "Buzz" after completing it to earn points. Then, connect the app to your social platforms to showcase your commitment to sustainability to your followers. "What we're trying to do is get friends to encourage friends to do good things," said Grant Willard, founder of JouleBug, at a Splunk conference.
Your completed actions are stored on your profile, which also provides a summary of your impact, like the amount of water you’ve preserved through your collective actions and how much CO2 emissions you’ve reduced. You can also participate in challenges where groups of people take on the same tasks.
6. Good on You
In today’s fast-fashion obsessed world, the app Good on You makes it easy to become a more ethical consumer by rating clothing brands’ sustainability efforts.
Good on You vets thousands of popular brands based on public information about their sustainable policies, including resource management, waste practices, carbon emissions, and chemical disposal, as well as humanitarian and animal-rights issues. As a shopper, Good on You can help you make more informed decisions about the brands that you choose to support, while also introducing you to more ethical alternatives with similar styles and price points.
7. Too Good To Go
If you’ve ever worked in food service, you’ve probably seen first-hand how much perfectly good food goes to waste at the end of a shift. Research shows that over a third of the world's food gets tossed, often ending up in landfills where harmful byproducts seep into the land, water, and sky.
Too Good To Go helps connect you to various eateries in your area that offer "surprise bags" filled with discounted food that would otherwise get thrown away. "By connecting app users to delicious surplus food at restaurants, eateries, cafes, and grocery stores at the end of each business day, Too Good To Go presents our partners and users with an easy, fun, and accessible way to fight food waste on a daily basis," Lucie Basch, co-founder of Too Good To Go, told Fortune.
Too Good To Go is currently available in cities across the U.S., including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Try it now to see what’s in your area.
NatureHub helps you become a more ethical consumer by connecting you to green and sustainable businesses in your area. You can search for restaurants and grocery stores near you, and filter by green criteria like ethically sourced, fair trade, and sustainably farmed. You can also use it to find eco-friendly household, medicinal, and pet products.
Not only will NatureHub introduce you to small businesses in your community, but it also lets you earn points that you can use for discounts.
Feeling inspired to build your own app that helps people live more sustainable lives? Check out our courses on mobile development.