When it comes to sustainability and living a more ecologically friendly lifestyle, it’s easy to feel a little frustrated at times. That is, we know it is important for us to consider alternatives that make our daily routines less stressful on the environment, but in real terms – how do we accomplish this?
Films such as “An Inconvenient Truth” are informative and thought provoking. However, Al Gore’s film left out action steps for me to help alleviate climate change and the associated negative environmental impacts caused by my lifestyle. We all know the general guidelines such as choosing organic foods, lessening the amount of driving we do, and recycling as much of our waste as possible. However, what about going beyond to help lessen our carbon footprint?
Providing Personalized Context
To gain a grounded, rational picture of our ecological impact, we need information that is tailored to our lives and day-to-day routines. For example, someone who walks to and from work every day is responsible for less carbon output than someone who drives 2 hours a day in their own car.
Nokia, the Finland-based mobile handset giant, has launched a research project to investigate the affects of arming individuals with facts about their personal carbon footprint and some useful related facts regarding environmental awareness. The project, in association with the UCLA Center for Embedded Network Sensing (CENS) and the GoGreen Foundation, collects these data, allow you to analyze and even share your environmental impact, and arms you with data surrounding how the environment is impacting you as well.
To gain personalized data points for your lifestyle and day-to-day routine, Nokia is putting its mobile phone capabilities to work. You see, many Nokia N Series and E Series handsets have GPS chips and are constantly connected to the Internet thanks to their 3G cellular chipsets, therefore making them perfect data collection devices.
The Project Team
Jeff Burke and his group of post-graduate and undergraduate students are with the CENS group at the University of California at Los Angeles. These talented individuals have developed an application for the Nokia S60 Operating System that starts the process off by collecting your geolocation data. To help analyze and present the data in a useful manner, Burke and his team built a corresponding web site and Facebook application to allow PEIR users to analyze their commute data. The PEIR “Campaignr” application collects your current location on a regular basis and securely transmits these coordinates to servers in the CENS lab.
Nokia has dubbed the research project the Personal Environmental Impact Report, otherwise known as PEIR. PEIR helps you analyze for components of environmentally-related data in four unique ways:
1) First, the PEIR application and web site allow you to assess and analyze your impact on the environment by gathering and calculating the carbon footprint of your daily commute.
2) Secondly, PEIR shows you the impact the environment has on your health by displaying a map containing particulate matter that affects those with lung conditions such as asthma and COPD.
3) A third measure of environmental impact that PEIR addresses is fast-food exposure. It’s a known fact that fast food and the methods this industry uses to produce and deliver food products to consumers is far from being environmentally friendly. In fact, their methods of food production (mainly beef and cattle-raising practices) and packaging choices make fast food a very carbon-heavy industry.
4) Finally, PEIR shows you if your commute has any impact on sensitive environmental areas. These areas might include geographic regions with above average particulate matter.
Knowing this, those behind the PEIR project want to help its users by showing them the extent of their fast food exposure throughout their day. The intent is that when individuals are armed with this type of information, they are thereby enabled to make more environmentally responsible choices, especially surrounding the types of food they consume on a daily basis.
The Research In Action
In a visit to UCLA campus, I was able to go through the PEIR program from the user’s perspective with PhD student Nithya Ramanathan of Culver City, California. Nithya has an infant daughter who she walks to UCLA campus each day with. Using PEIR, Nithya was able to track the carbon footprint, particulate exposure, and fast-food exposure of her daily commute of taking her young daughter to day-care, then continuing on to her office on UCLA.
When I asked Nitya how PEIR and her personalized environmental reports has impacted her thinking about her routine, she gave me an answer that suprised me. Because Nithya walks to work every day and only drives her Toyota Prius around when she has to, I was expecting her to tell me that the report merely showed her more fast food exposure than she was expecting. Her carbon footprint, in my estimation, was already remarkably low. Nithya told me that she would change her daily activities in a surprising way.Â Because her extended walk exposes Nithya and her daughter to high particular matter, she is going to start driving to day care on a daily basis.
As a result, Nithya is going to start driving to work more frequently to lessen the impact on her family’s lungs. With childhood asthma rates on the rise nationwide, perhaps more parents should look at making similar choices on behalf of their young children.
Nithya’s change in behavior surrounding her daughter commute patterns is an expected outcome of the PEIR application, according to Jeff Burke. PEIR is intended to help you ascertain your impact on the environment, but to also know how your local environment is impacting you on an individual level. Are you traveling in areas that are unhealthy for you because of high particulate mater or a high exposure to fast food, tempting you on every trip? These are the types of questions PEIR tries to help you answer.
Other Nokia Research Projects
Nokia was working with Lonely Planet, the popular tourist information media company, to produce a short documentary about PEIR and some associated social works projects Nokia is working on. The series of projects, called PROGRESS, also includes:
1) Nokia Data Gathering: an effort to use mobile phone service and Nokia’s handsets in data collection to automate and speed up diagnosis and treatment of communicable diseases in the developing world.
2) Nokia Mobile Millennium: again, using the GPS and data connection found inside Nokia’s handsets, Mobile Millennium is a project to track and monitor traffic patterns. By utilizing this data, a real-time view of traffic is visible and allows motorists to avoid congested areas, resulting in few gallons of gas being burned while sitting in motionless traffic.
3) Mobile Learning Institute: This project follows and captures the thoughts and learning of a group of 14-16 year old children at a digital art project camp. They are given advanced handsets as instruments to express their creativity.
4) Nokia Life Tools: Farmers from India are using Nokia Life Tools to retrieve information needed to run and manage their farms. Life Tools provides data such as weather forecasts, supply costs, and current market prices for their crops. Many farmers in these areas have regular phones, and Life Tools gives them the ability to get this rich Internet content using their existing handsets capabilities.
Nokia is a massive multi-national corporation that also happens to operate in many developing markets with vast needs on the social front.Â It is very exciting to see Nokia partnering with so many educational institutions, mobile network operators and other players to deliver technology solutions to social problems.
One thing of note: not only is Nokia throwing resources at the problem, the company is doing so in a way that is applicable and useful to the very populations the company wishes to serve.Â For example, the Life Tools team are publishing the data in a manner that the Indian farmers can utilize on their non-smart phones, utilizing the existing technology the farmers are used to working with on a day-to-day basis.