When University of California-Berkeley professor Dara O'Rourke started GoodGuide, a website for seeking out green products, the iPhone hadn't been invented yet.
"The science didn't exist for aggregating sources," he says. "Now, everyone's got a supercomputer in their pocket, and they're able to produce more information than any consumer could have gotten before."
His GoodGuide app went to the iPhone in 2008, and it's one of the biggest successes among green apps, with 600,000 downloads to date.
With GoodGuide, you open the app in a store, take a photo of a product's bar code and instantly discover information about how green the product is.
STORY: Mobile apps make it easier to go green
"The future for us is location-based information that's fully personalized," he says. "Apps about what you care about – climate change, health issues, cholesterol. Point the phone and instantly find out anything you want to know."
For now, this process is based on photographing bar codes, but O'Rourke thinks the advent of such technologies as RFID tags – receivers that go onto products that smartphones will be able to read – will make the process faster and easier.
"I can see a red light going on for the consumer saying, 'This isn't for you,' or a green light that says 'Yes, you should buy this.'"
His favorite green app comes from the Monterey, Calif., aquarium, and it's a guide to what fish are in season and from which areas.
"It helps me pick the right seafood," he says. "This is leveraging the power of consumers to improve social issues."
He also likes Routesy, which puts information about public transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area at your fingertips. "It has real-time feeds of when a bus will show up."
He believes that we're at the very beginning – "the tip of the iceberg" – in using technology to help people go green. "Information is only one part of changing their decisions," he says. "We're going up against billions of dollars of marketing. The environmental movement usually leads with facts – negative facts about what could happen. The exciting potential of the future is to turn that information into a more positive and engaging experience."
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