Toronto residents wield Web 2.0 weapons to vanquish climate change

Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace move aside.

Social network-crazed Torontonians have a new Web 2.0 profile to manage – an Internet portal designed to help fight climate change.

Zerofootprint Inc. launched its Toronto-specific Web site yesterday in the city with mayor David Miller. The site contains an emissions calculator and other social networking tools such as forums, groups, a market place, and an events calendar.

“Toronto’s the first Canadian city to provide this tool to residents, and I hope not the last,” Miller says. “We can’t make greenhouse gas reductions as a whole without the help of every single Torontonian.”

Zerofootprint is Toronto-based and hoping their hometown is a good place to unveil the project. Toronto residents are famed for their social networking savvy, and the city boasts the second-largest Facebook network of well over 1 million users.

Users can tweak their emissions calculations to such city-specific information as how often they ride various forms of public transit, and how far away their food comes from.

The City of Toronto has been testing the Web tool before rolling it out to the public. By filling in the types of transportation used, habits, and even diet information each user calculates the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide he or she emits each year.

Mayor Miller’s is 7.3 tonnes per year – lower than average, he says.

The tool also helped him realize he could cut down on his emissions by taking the train to Ottawa instead of flying there to do business.

Many green-minded community partners filled chairs at the launch event.

Companies and organizations plan to use the new portal  as a tool to help encourage employees to cut down on their emissions.

“We love the idea of using a social networking technology to raise consciousness,” says Sara Diamond, president of Toronto-based Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD).

Zerofootprint is training managers at the college later this week. An on-campus event will help introduce the online calculator and it will be used to generate competitions between student groups, says Alastair MacLeod, director of IT services for OCAD.

The site will “dovetail what’s already going on at the community level and empower the students, faculty and staff to take matters into their own hands and measure their footprint,” he says.

Addressing climate change is a critical issue, Miller told the crowd, urging Toronto residents to sign up.

But more than an appeal to altruism is often needed to get the masses on board.

Ron Dembo, Zerofootprint founder and chief executive officer, says he is looking to his sponsors to help create incentives for users to get involved.

“You have to incent people to actually measure their footprint and reduce,” Dembo says. “That comes in the form of iPods, recognition, and the like.”

One corporate sponsor is offering its employees a chance to win a hybrid car if they sign up for the site, he adds.

The sponsors include Air Canada, EcoMedia Direct, First Capital Realty, SAS Canada, Toronto Hydro, Tridel and Unilever.

Dembo also wants to see incentives from utilities to reduce water and electricity usage.

“If you do that, you’d see huge pick-up” of the online calculator, he says.

Zerofootprint uses Business Intelligence software from San Jose, Calif.-based Business Objects to power their Web 2.0 community. Miller announced Toronto’s partnership with the company last May.

The launch event yesterday marked the first city-specific version of Zerofootprint’s calculator, which also has a global version available. The green message was made clear with attendees munching on organic muffins and sipping fair trade coffee.

The event was hosted at the SAS Institute Inc. building, which is “the greenest office building in Toronto,” Miller says.

Other cities around the world have voiced interest in doing a similar project with Zerofootprint, Dembo says. Sydney, Australia and Seattle, Washington are two near-future possibilities.

The company is also on the verge of releasing a Facebook application that lets users calculate their emissions in one minute, he adds.

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