The State of Green Business: Sustainability goes app crazy

As data increasingly spews from everything — buildings, vehicles, transit systems, cash registers and potentially every light fixture, switch, plug and machine — there’s a growing opportunity to capture it and make it useful for consumers and professionals. Some of it is making its way into apps.

App, of course, is short for “application software.” As anyone with a smartphone, tablet or PC knows, apps come in a vast assortment of flavors: utilities, games, social networking, shopping, productivity, communications, remote monitoring and more. Lots more.

The growth of apps mirrors some of sustainability’s other technology trends — the sharing economy, the smart grid, machine-to-machine communications. All are about data. Big Data: unprecedented and unfathomable volumes of 1s and 0s traversing our world, informing our (and our machines’) decisions about how to achieve the most with the least while addressing everyone’s needs. Energy, water, waste, toxics, carbon — the future of all of these things is linked in large part to how, and how well, we can measure, track, monitor and optimize their flows. And that’s all about data, and the apps that make it useful.

In a world where the perception of clean technology is that it largely “failed” — witness the bankrupt startups and lost investments and (in the U.S., at least) the toxic political conversation that emerged about clean tech during 2012 — apps may be its saving grace. Many of the most promising startups in clean tech focus on devices and apps that enable individuals, households, businesses and cities to use data to improve their energy and environmental footprint.

Sustainability-related apps cover the gamut of topics and audiences — and professionalism. A random sampling: greenMeter (pictured above; computes your vehicle's power and fuel use, and evaluates your driving to increase efficiency), JouleBug (a social, mobile game that rewards players for reducing energy waste), (a free, daily air quality alert for your city), iRecycle (access to more than 1.5 million ways to dispose of stuff), iGo Vampire Power Calculator (shows how much energy the electronics in your home use and cost), PEV4me (calculates the financial and environmental impacts of driving plug-in electric vehicles), Light Bulb Finder (shows how to switch from conventional light bulbs to energy-saving equivalents with the same fit, style and light quality), and GoodGuide (provides health, environmental and social performance ratings for consumer products).

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