Brighter Planet Rolls Out Social Web App to Lower Carbon Footprints
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input information—such as the type of car they own, how often they travel by plane, and the cost of their home electricity bills—to get an estimate of their annual carbon usage. Based on peoples’ inputs, they receive tips on how to reduce their CO2 consumption. The person also has the option to purchase carbon offsets from Brighter Planet, or apply for the firm’s credit or check cards. That’s how Brighter Planet makes money from the site.
The social element of the app includes a Facebook-like dashboard where people can post comments, receive postings by others in their network, and view a progress bar to track how much they have offset their annual carbon footprints. The app is also integrated with Twitter, giving people the option to make their actions on the Brighter Planet site known among their peers on Twitter. Other interesting features include an option to rate comments made by people on topics such as climate change and a trend tracker that shows how many people in the community say they are reducing their CO2 emissions by, say, biking to work or buying local produce.
Prairie likened the functions of her firm’s Web app to those found on WeightWatchers.com, which offers dieters online tools to track their weight-loss goals and eating patterns. Just like people won’t lose weight by talking about running, Brighter Planet wants people to use its Web app as a launching pad for taking real actions to reduce their carbon footprints.
Indeed, the 12-employee startup grew out of a student project in an environmental economics course at Middlebury College, which is well known for its environmental programs. Two students who completed the project, Andy Rossmeissl and Jake Whitcomb, and the professor of the course, Jonathan Isham, founded Brighter Planet in 2006. The company has raised more than $3.7 million through two round of private financing, Prairie says. Also, the firm has attracted environmental leaders to its advisory board, including Bill McKibben, the author of the pioneering book on climate change “The End of Nature.” McKibben lives in nearby Ripton, VT, and is a scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College.
Brighter Planet got an earlier taste of the power of social media, Prairie says, when it helped launch McKibben’s global climate change effort, 350.org, last May by encouraging blogs to put the firm’s 350 Challenge badge on their sites. (350 parts per million is considered the upper limit of safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.) The 350 badge spread throughout the blogosphere—beginning with environmental blogs and then to mommy blogs, political blogs, and others—faster than the team at Brighter Planet expected, Prairie says. At last count, 2,350 blogs wore the badge. The initial goal was 350 blogs.