As part of the EU-funded mySMARTLife project, Forum Virium Helsinki piloted a downloadable mobile app that gently encourages people to make more sustainable and environmentally conscious choices in their everyday lives. Combining service design, digital features, open data and emissions data, the pilot provided interesting insights on how to encourage people towards carbon neutrality.
In the summer of 2021, Forum Virium Helsinki piloted the Carbon Ego mobile app, which encourages people to lead carbon-neutral lives. Carbon Ego used data visualisation to show how mobility, housing, eating and consumption habits affect a consumer’s carbon dioxide emissions.
The mobile app encouraged users to lead carbon-neutral lives by providing tips and inviting them to take on different challenges. By completing these challenges, the user learned useful lessons about actions that can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint. Above all, Carbon Ego’s aim has been to encourage and inspire the consumer to adopt a climate-friendly lifestyle with a positive and solution-oriented angle.
The pilot recruited 70 test users from Helsinki to participate in a four-week trial of the Carbon Ego mobile app. The trial was conducted remotely, meaning that each test user received an email with instructions and could independently download the mobile app from an app store. Carbon Ego was available for download to both Android and iOS phones. During the pilot, Forum Virium provided technical support to the test users via email. At the end of the test, 36 of the test users responded to a feedback survey.
In the pilot, the test users started by taking the Sitra lifestyle test in the mobile app, which calculated their current personal carbon footprint and told them how the carbon footprint was distributed across four categories: housing, food, consumption habits, and mobility and travel. After completing the lifestyle test, the users were given access to Sitra’s tips for reducing their carbon footprint.
On the mobility tab of the mobile app, the users recorded how they had moved around and travelled during the week. The app asked the users for information about their mobility on a weekly basis and allowed them to see and compare how they had moved around at different times.
On the housing tab, the users could find out the energy data of their building by typing their address on the screen. The building data is based on data from housing companies provided by the Energy and Climate Atlas. However, the availability of this data is still patchy, so not all buildings were necessarily included.
The challenges tab allowed the users to browse Carbon Ego’s challenges in four categories: 1) food, 2) transport and travel, 3) goods and purchases and 4) housing. The selection included challenges such as ‘vegan weekend,’ ‘leave your car at home for a week,’ ‘test circular economy services’ and ‘minimise mixed waste.’ The challenges were different and of varying lengths; some only lasting a weekend, others seven days and others up to a month. For each challenge, the users were able to record how they performed. The challenges could also be interrupted according to the user’s needs. The app listed ongoing and completed challenges separately.
Background on Carbon Ego
The Carbon Ego mobile app was developed as part of the mySMARTLife project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The project aims to mitigate climate change and develop sustainable urban structures by adopting smart and clean solutions, together with residents. The project aims to make the cities involved – Helsinki, Hamburg and Nantes – more environmentally friendly and also improve the quality of life of their inhabitants.
One of the challenges of the project in Helsinki was “How can we help people make carbon-neutral choices in their everyday lives?” The project teamed up with design agency Kuudes Helsinki and digital development agency Lucky Few to launch a service design process, which included investigating consumer values, among other things. It was discovered that most consumers want concrete information related to their daily lives. Good choices should be the easiest to make. People are motivated by many different things, and carbon neutrality is merely one of them. How can it be linked to other values? As a solution to Helsinki’s challenge, a mobile app called Carbon Ego was developed to encourage and inspire its users. Instead of pointing fingers, Carbon Ego was designed to encourage users to adopt a more climate-friendly lifestyle with a relaxed attitude. The app was developed by Lucky Few.
There was a desire to test the Carbon Ego app with a randomly selected group of test users. In the summer of 2021, Forum Virium conducted a trial to see how such an app would be received and whether it could help the residents of Helsinki take an interest in a carbon-neutral lifestyle and their everyday choices. The trial also explored the views of Helsinki residents on what kind of content such an application should include to make it motivating for users. The City of Helsinki and other project stakeholders will use the lessons learned from the Carbon Ego pilot as part of the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2030 strategy and future projects.
Roughly half of the participating test users (36/70) responded to the feedback survey. The results of the feedback survey showed that the participants had different opinions on how satisfied they were with the app. The average response was neutral. On average, respondents found the app easy to use and most were satisfied with the visual appearance of the app.
Satisfaction with the information provided by the Carbon Ego app was also rated differently by respondents. Approximately 42% of respondents were satisfied with the information provided, while 36% were neutral. Many respondents said that they were already very climate-conscious, which may account for the neutral and negative responses. The challenges offered were not challenging enough for very climate-conscious users. A wider range of challenges could have been included for different target groups, from beginners to more advanced users tracking their carbon footprint.
All in all, this was the first pilot of this kind, and most respondents were positive about using the app. We gained valuable information about what to improve in a carbon calculating app and how people want to be encouraged and guided towards more climate-friendly lifestyles. For example, when the user enters the kilometres travelled each week by different modes of transport, the app should calculate the person’s total carbon footprint on that basis, rather than just showing the carbon footprint of mobility. Also, if the total carbon footprint could be refined by, for example, food eaten and products purchased, people might be more motivated to use the app. This would also give the user the opportunity to try out what kinds of changes they could make in their lives and what the real impact on their carbon footprint would be.