Five online “acts of green” you can do right now to make a real difference

In the face of a global warming crisis, using a non-disposable coffee mug or flicking off the lights when you leave the room might seem too trivial to really count – but when you multiple acts like those by a million, it’s a different story.

Canadians posted more than “One Million Acts of Green” to a Web site hosted by partners Cisco Systems Inc. and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The milestone was reached Feb. 3 — months in advance of the expected finish date, originally planned for the early summer.

The combined acts are estimated to have prevented more than 56.9 million kg of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s not a complicated idea and I’m sure there are a lot of others like it out there,” says Willa Black, vice-president of corporate marketing at Cisco Canada. “But the response has been really great.”

Black came up with the concept to match Cisco’s marketing position as a supplier of network technology. With a slogan that refers to “the human network effect”, the goal was to show how a network could help people and work collaboratively for social change.

Launched Oct. 21, 2008 on TV talk show The Hour, the site has about 100 different actions users can participate in to cut back on their carbon footprint. Tasks range from the simple (walk or bike to work instead of driving) to major home renovation projects (insulate your basement, install solar power).

“We’re going to keep going, there’s so much momentum here and so many schools, communities and businesses are involved,” Black says. “Canadians have embraced this and one in 1,000 Canadians is registered on this site.”

It’s a testament to the national consciousness around sustainability issues, she adds.

For Canadians who want to exercise that consciousness, and chip into the 1 million acts of green, ITBusiness.ca has created a list of five suggestions you can implement right now:

1. Do your Web searches with Blackle

Most tasks you do on your computer take place on a white background — word processing, e-mail, and surfing the Web are no exceptions. Whenever you use Google’s search engine, it brings up its results on an all white background. It’s done to make the results more readable, but isn’t the most energy efficient way to list your search results.

Blackle is built on the simple concept that a monitor requires less power to display a black screen than a white screen. The theory goes that if Google was always black, it would save an estimated 750 megawatt hours in power a year.

“A lot of our every day habits are becoming more eco-friendly,” Black says.

You could make your everyday Web search habits a bit greener by using this black search engine. Blackle is powered by Google, so you’ll get the same sort of accuracy that you’re used too.

2. Calculate your carbon footprint in one minute

If you think it’s hard to assess just how much greenhouse gas you produce in a year, this calculator will prove you wrong. From Toronto-based Zerofootprint Inc., this tool will ask you four different lifestyle questions and then give you an estimate of your annual emissions.

Knowing how your behaviour leads to pollution is a key step in changing your habits to be more green. Users simply enter how much they drive with what sort of car, the number of flights taken in a year, what they typically eat, and where they live. Then presto, you have a number to compare yourself with other Canadians.

“We built that sort of functionality into our tool too,” Black says. “Every single act has carbon savings attached to it.”

For example, leaving the car in your driveway and pedaling to work will help prevent around 3 kg of greenhouse gas emissions a year. If you clean your furnace filter once a season, you can save 43.8 kg a year.

3. Make GreenNexxus your new social network

GreenNexxus is the social network technology behind the One Million Acts of Green Web site. Users can also sign up for an account on the main GreenNexxus Web site to further green their existence.

Site users can participate in green-related conversations on blogs and forums, and pledge to engage in a carbon-cutting activity. Projects are created and groups formed around them to help complete the project. There’s also a market for carbon offsets so users can make up for the pollution they pump into the atmosphere from their car tailpipe by funding a carbon-reducing project elsewhere.

“We tried to build a social networking site based around the environment,” Black says. “You can complete acts, aggregate them, and immediately see your greenhouse gas savings.”

The social networking site also allowed for new green acts to be added as users recommended them, she adds. It proved a good way to allow members to share information about the green acts they’d completed.

4. Get PowerWatch for your next home gadget

Most people don’t make it a practice of monitoring just how much electricity they use. It’s not until you get the bill in the mail do you have any real idea of what sort of power you’ve been drawing from the grid.

PowerWatch seeks to change that problem by providing a small LCD screen that home owners and businesses can place in a visible spot and customize to their liking. Buying a PowerWatch kit gets you three basic parts – the main module that’s hooked up to your power distribution panel and reads your incoming electrical usage in volts and current, the LCD screen that displays the information, and computer software that can analyze the data.

Connected to the main module with a wireless network, the monitor can tell you how much power you’ve used over the month and how much you’re projected to use. It can also display the total cost of all that electricity. Users can choose what sort of stats they see on screen.

“We’re going to see more and more tools along these lines,” Black says. “People are going to take control over managing their lives from an environmental standpoint.”

5. Use carbon-free, renewable energy to power your home or business

Using electricity has a negative impact on the environment because of the greenhouse gases often associated with producing it. Coal-fired power plants are notorious for their carbon emissions, and still a major contributor to the electrical grid across Canada.

But power bought from a company such as Toronto-based Bullfrog Power Inc. comes from carbon-free, renewable resources. Using wind-power and low-impact hydro generation, Bullfrog generates enough green power for all of its customers and feeds it directly into the energy grid.

“We continue to build new capacity to meet the growing demands from businesses and homes,” says Tom Heintzman, president of Bullfrog.

No new hook-ups are required. When you sign up with the company, you’ll start being billed by Bullfrog on a monthly basis instead of your regular electricity provider. Then Bullfrog guarantees to produce an amount of green electricity that is equal to what you take from the grid.

The company is listed under the “Use Green Power” challenge on the One Million Acts of Green site.

So far, 287 participants have saved 8,230,680 kg of emissions.

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