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Friday fun for the IT crowd: Tech shows the planet some love

February 20, 2015
By Lisa Dare

A game to reduce carbon

Changing electricity conservation habits is hard, especially when we feel like no one is watching. While we all know conserving energy is better for the planet, we don’t always remember—or want—to turn down the air-conditioning or make a final trip downstairs to shut off the lights before heading to bed. And our individual choices may not seem to matter much in the grand scheme of the billions of other people using power.

A service that gamifies electricity conservation—and puts extra money into users’ pockets—may help change our relationship with energy. Ohmconnect pays users to reduce energy consumption at certain times. Conserving energy during peak power periods (like especially hot days) is especially impactful because it contributes to a more stable energy grid, which helps produce less carbon and may eventually pave the way for cleaner energy sources like wind and solar.

The intuitive dashboard shows your performance against your predicted usage, as features like your rank and progress you've made in your conservation profile checklist. Humans naturally want to do well when we’re being scored and tracked, which may make the dashboard an even more powerful incentive than the cash Ohmconnect puts in your pocket (Wired reports it’s typically around $100 per year). Bonus: if you’re hooked into smart energy devices like Nest already, you don’t even have to do the work.

Can you pay in love?

Spinlister, a website that connects bike owners with people who wish to use them, demonstrates the problem with many socially responsible services: they don’t make much money. The company takes a small cut of each transaction, but much of it goes to credit card fees, insurance for stolen bikes and marketing. And bike owners don’t make much money off the transactions, so they don’t have a huge financial incentive to participate.

So how do Spinlister and similar services stay afloat? Spinlister’s head of marketing thinks the main reason is bike owners receive something besides compensation: a sense of community. “The reality is that most people want to help others.”

Do right by your mailbox

If there’s one needlessly wasteful problem that irritates me—but I rarely do anything about—it’s junk mail. In addition to the ubiquitous credit card offers, home refinancing deals, charity pleas and coupons, I also receive tank-sized Restoration Hardware catalogues addressed to the former owners of my house. All this unnecessary paper, printing and delivery adds up to both an annoying problem and an environmental disaster.

Unfortunately, there’s no “unsubscribe” button on physical mailing lists. Except … now there kind of is. PaperKarma, a mobile app, lets you to take a photo of your mail, and the app takes care of notifying the sender to unsubscribe you from their mailing list.

In case you’re wondering, the app has impressed lots of folks, including Apple and Geekwire. It was recently acquired by  

One catch? The mail you unsubscribe from has to be addressed to you, meaning I’ll have to figure out how to let Restoration Hardware know they can stop killing what I imagine to be an acre of trees every year on my behalf. Actually, that was pretty easy.

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Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. She frequently blogs about IT career advice and the lighter side of technology, and on her off days loves to kayak and play with her toddler son.


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