Can This App Help Workplaces Become Greener?

Earn badges, pins, points—and keep track of the dollars you're saving by making sustainable choices.

Not every workplace has great green policies. Some places—like my last job—are more than willing to make changes if employees show interest. We got compost bins, real dishes and a dishwasher, and even two pool bikes in that office. But sometimes it's hard to make those changes, too.

I've been wondering for a while how to maximize the impact of a few interested (even marginally interested) people in a workplace, and the answer may have dropped into my lap.

JouleBug is an app designed to help users save money and cut down on energy usage. The app is launching nationally today, as is JouleBug Communities—more on that in a second.

It's like a Foursquare for sustainable acts. Earn badges, pins, points, etc.—but JouleBug also tracks energy savings in dollars, which is perhaps a stronger motivator for some! It's not geared specifically for workplaces, but I think offices are where people who are normally pretty conscious of sustainability issues let things slide a little, because it's frankly a lot easier to control your carbon footprint in your own castle.

A midday reminder that what you do at work matters can't hurt.


Communities is JouleBug's solution for forward-thinking organizations. The marquee client is the city government of Raleigh, N.C. Using JouleBug Communities, government employees are competing with one another to see who can save the most energy and money for the taxpayers—which is cool. Cooler still is that this is just the beginning for JouleBug, and I expect we'll see corporate clients pick it up and try the same thing soon.

Even if your workplace doesn't adopt it, though, you can sign up and grab the free app, then compete with coworkers, keeping track of those reusable dishes you've been bringing to the office, the biking to work that you do when it's not bike-to-work-day and the local beer you brought to the holiday party.

The app is available for iPhone—but not yet for Android. So I haven't tested it. If you guys do take it for a test run, let me know what you think, here or on Twitter.

If you happen to be going to SXSW Eco this week, you can check out the JouleBug booth there.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

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