Go-Green Advisor - A Students Best Carbon Calculator and Green Advisor

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Group Members

First Name Last Name
Ryan Buehl
Brian Goldstein
Adam Hisley
Sean Spencer
Burmaka Vsevolod

Tasks

The Go-Green Advisor is aimed towards college students in general, and our prototype will be aimed exclusively towards students at UMD. Therefore, it will be created as a web-based application. Since the vast majority of UMD students use the Internet frequently and are well-accustomed to it, this seems to be the best way of reaching out to the majority of the projected user base. Furthermore, we recognize that there is currently no true incentive to actually use a carbon calculator unless one is environmentally conscious, so this calculator will be more specifically aimed at UMD students that are environmentally conscious. However, the calculator also aims to attract other users by presenting low-carbon emission alternatives to their current lifestyle that can help them to save money, time, and generally improve their lifestyle.

The average user will be led to the web page by one of two methods. First, some users might find the website simply through their own curiosity. Secondly, due to the campus’ many new sustainability programs, there are a lot of opportunities to get advertising for the calculator directly through the university, including advertising during classes, via emails, or from other campus websites. The expected users will be curious about their own carbon footprint and, more importantly, what they could do to reduce their carbon footprint. Since other carbon calculators already exist, it is important to stress the capability of the Go-Green Advisor to give feedback and suggestions as to how to improve one's carbon footprint.

Essentially, the Go-Green Advisor is split into two fundamental parts. Splitting the application into two parts like this helps to organize the information and data entry without inflicting any data overload on the user. The first section is similar to any other carbon calculator. It simply prompts users with questions about their lifestyle, and then uses their responses to calculate their carbon footprint. The questions are displayed using plain text, and answers are inputted via a mix of text boxes and drop-down selection menus. After clicking a “submit” button, the user is sent to the second part of the application, whose additional functionality separates the Go-Green Advisor from a traditional carbon calculator.

This second section is contained within a separate HTML page. In addition to giving users detailed information about their carbon footprint, this second half of the application will walk users through their choices in the first section, and provide dynamically generated feedback on how they can reduce their carbon emissions. These suggestions will also be catered towards a college student lifestyle, and would, where appropriate, link students to helpful information about their campus recycling program, bus schedules, etc. As users move through the second section, they select any changes that they’re willing to make. The suggestions appear next to the original questions, and each suggestion has a check mark next to it used to indicate whether or not the user is willing to make that change. Upon completing the second half of the application, the user is presented with a list of their accepted changes and a summary of how their changes can not only reduce their carbon footprint, but save them money, time and provide other benefits. In a list format, each accepted change is displayed along with the corresponding effects of the change, organized in an easily readable fashion.

Thus, the Go-Green Advisor will offer UMD students both a source of information on carbon emissions and a personalized plan to reduce their carbon footprint.

User Scenarios

Scenario 1

For one typical user scenario, consider Jane, a freshman UMD student. Jane considers herself to be environmentally conscious, and makes an effort to recycle her dorm room’s cans and bottles. Jane frequently uses her computer to browse the internet, using it to find entertainment, news and also for social interaction. However, Jane has never used a carbon calculator, and is generally uninformed about carbon emissions.

In her first semester, Jane enrolls in UNIV100. One day, their class discusses sustainability programs on campus, and the teacher passes out a list of websites linking students to online resources on the topic. As Jane looks over the list, her eye is drawn towards UMD’s Go-Green Advisor, an online application that advertises its ability to help students reduce carbon emissions and save time and money. Later in the week, Jane remembers the hand-out while browsing the internet. Using the URL provided by her teacher, Jane visits the website, interested to see both her current level of carbon emissions and how she might reduce it.

Upon entering the website, Jane begins by reading the introductory page, which explains how she can use tabs or arrows located on her screen to navigate through the two phases of the application. In the first section, Jane answers simple questions about her current lifestyle; she is pleased to see that most options are catered towards students, for instance when she is able to select a dormitory with winter-heating but without AC as her residence. At one point, Jane forgets to select how she gets to class under the “Transportation” tab. When she tries to move to the next tab, she receives a notification about the missing field, and corrects her mistake.

Eventually, having filled in each field, Jane exits phase 1 by clicking a button in the final tab which promises to calculate her carbon emissions and generate feedback. Now, Jane finds herself at another introductory screen, which describes her carbon emissions. Jane is pleased to find that her carbon emissions are below the American average, mostly thanks to the fact that she does not own a car and tries to recycle frequently. Once again, she is prompted to move through the same sections as in the first part of the application (again using either arrows or tabs). Under the residence tab, the application reminds Jane that she uses an electric fan for 24 hours a day (she and her roommate leave it plugged in all day long). The application then prompts Jane if she might be willing to cut her fan usage, in order to help reduce her carbon footprint. Thinking to herself, Jane realizes that she and her roommate could probably turn off the fan when they leave for class, and estimates that she could save about 4 hours a day of fan usage if they try to be more careful. She enters “20” as the number of hours of fan usage she’ll aim for, and checks a checkbox labeled “I can do that!” Similarly, Jane is also willing to place her computer in standby mode during class and at nighttime (she had previously left it on with only a screensaver), specifying 8 hours for her daily computer usage and again checking under the heading“I can do that!”

Of course, Jane isn’t willing to make every change suggested by the application. For instance, under the “Food” tab the application suggests that Jane could reduce carbon emissions by changing to a more vegetable-based diet. Currently, Jane eats most of her meals at the campus Diner, and isn’t fond of their vegetarian selections. In this case, Jane leaves the “I can do that!” field unchecked, and moves to the next tab. Furthermore, Jane already walks to all her classes and doesn’t own a car, so the application has few suggestions for her to reduce her carbon emissions under the “Transportation” tab. Instead, the application congratulates Jane on her low emissions in this area, and prompts her to continue on to the next section.

Under the second-to-last tab, Jane finds links to campus student groups and programs that are concerned with improving sustainability. Being a freshman, Jane has been looking for campus groups to join, and bookmarks an interesting program for future reference.

Eventually, Jane navigates through all the tabs, selecting some changes she’s willing to make and ignoring others. Having reached the end of the application, the Go-Green Advisor shows that Jane’s changes will reduce her carbon emissions by 20%, and congratulates her on her choices. Since Jane lives in a dormitory, most of her changes (like reduced electrical use) won’t directly save her money, but the application still reminds her she is lowering her daily cost of living by around 20$. Jane notes that while this isn’t as important today, in the future that saved money could be her own.

Lastly, the application offers Jane the option to save a “Checklist” of her promised changes. Jane clicks this button, and saves her checklist onto her computer as a reminder. Exiting the application, Jane feels well-informed about her carbon emissions, and interested in sustainability initiatives at UMD. She makes a personal note to discuss limiting fan and computer usage with her roommate when she gets back from class.

Scenario 2

Next we will look at Mark, a senior at the University of Maryland. He is a very busy student who prides himself in his ability to balance class with his many extra-curricular activities around campus. Unlike Jane, Mark wouldn’t consider himself environmentally conscious. He shares an apartment with three of his best friends and drives to and from campus everyday. Mark usually uses his laptop for checking emails and looking up events around campus but spends most of his time studying or with one of his several clubs. He has heard of carbon calculators before but never used one on his own.

One day, while hanging out with friends from a student organization at dinner one night the group starts to talk about the environment. One of Mark’s friends mentions carbon calculators and asks what everyone else thinks of them. Mark is interested in the concept, and asks for more details. One of his other friends suggests he try UMD’s new Go-Green Advisor because it is focused on students and gives great feedback. When Mark gets home later that night he does some homework then decides to check the website after he finishes. Mark is curious to learn about his own carbon footprint, but is also motivated to learn more about the topic he and his friends were discussing.

Mark quickly skims through the intro page for the carbon calculator and gets the feel of the application pretty easily. The first page is filled out pretty quickly, except that Mark takes a little time trying to make a good estimate of how much driving he does each week (this is made slightly difficult due to his many extra-curricular activities). He appreciates that the questions really are catered to students and that his activities on campus do in fact affect his results in this carbon calculator. He then clicks on the next tab, but later changes his mind on how much driving he does each week. Fortunately, he has no problem selecting the first tab and is able to quickly and painlessly change his entry.

Once Mark is satisfied with his answers to the fields on the first page he moves on to see how he stacks up compared to his friends and the average American. He is a little surprised to be notified that he actually has a relatively large carbon footprint for a student, due mostly to his driving and infrequent recycling. Mark is happy to see that there are several suggestions and ways for him to consider lowering his carbon footprint and he is pleased that it shows he can really make a big difference by selecting some “key changes.” Mark focuses on the transportation section and the fact that it suggests carpooling; Mark realizes that he and his roommates could drive to campus together on most days of the week. He decides to enter 3 days of the week as “carpool” days and clicks the “I can do that!” check box.

Mark is also interested in the section that talks about recycling and decides to set up a recycle bin in the apartment for aluminum cans. He finds the option that suggests recycling aluminum and once again checks the “I can do that!” box that correlates to it. He also likes the ideas posed by the site about eating habits and takes them into consideration but decides to leave that part unchecked mainly because he doesn’t really want to change his diet. For the most part Mark is satisfied with the changes he has decided to make and is really excited to actually put some of them into action.

Mark continues on to the next page and sees links to other campus student groups and applications that deal in sustainability. He decides to open a few of the more interesting pages in other windows so he can browse through them after he is done with the carbon calculator.

As Mark makes it to the end of the application he is pleased to see that he is able to really cut down on his carbon footprint to a large degree. He is also interested in how much money he and his friends could potentially save through carpooling and making changes around the apartment. Mark finds it cool that he is able to help the environment, save money and live a more sustainability-conscious life thanks to his choices.

Mark decides to utilize the applications save operation and prints out a copy so he can go over it and explain his suggestions to his roommates later. He feels good about how he’s taking steps to be more environmentally conscious and thinks about bringing the calculator up to his friends at his various clubs.

References

InsideHigherEd.com

"Comparing Environmental Data." InsideHigherEd.com.

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/04/02/sustainable.

This article discusses the "2008 Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference" held at the University of Maryland College Park campus this past April. Most notably, it summarizes some of the results of school involvement in the conference, including links to relevant data and individual college programs.


Business Week Online

Damast, Alison. “Carbon Neutrality Makes the Grade.” Business Week Online. 24 October, 2007. Academic Search Premier.

http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?topicID=1&marketID=1.

This article talks about business schools in Great Britain, Canada and the United States and their efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It focuses on the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, which is giving carbon calculators to students in the hopes that they will use those to reduce their energy output at school.


Planet Green

Muren, Dominic. “How to Go Green: Dorm Rooms.” Planet Green.

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/go-green/dorm-rooms/dorm-rooms-basics.html.

This website gives many hints and tips on how college students can reduce their carbon footprint and in general be more eco-friendly while living in the dorms. Additionally, it provides some statistics for different situations in which schools have managed to reduce their carbon footprints.


ChiagoTribune.com

"On Trail of Elusive Carbon Footprint." ChicagoTribune.com.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/green/chi-carbon-confusion_bd10aug10,0,2878148.story.

Focusing on the individual efforts of one man to reduce his own carbon footprint, this article discusses many of the difficulties faced in measuring carbon footprints. Attention is also given to the widespread disagreement in methodologies as to how to do so.


Environment

Rappaport, Ann. “Campus Greening: Behind the Headlines.” Environment. Jan/Feb 2008, Vol. 50 Issue 1, p6-17.

http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?topicID=1&marketID=1.

This article discusses the attempts made by different colleges in the United States to reduce their carbon footprint. It gives an example of Massachusetts schools that have created new ways to calculate their footprint and focus on student and faculty education on the subject. There are suggestions on simple things that can be done to reduce energy consumption.


Rice University

Rice, Jeremy. "Calculations Used In Carbon Footprint Calculator." students.rice.edu.

http://students.rice.edu/images/students/Calculations%20for%20Calculator.doc.

This academic paper outlines specific equations used to develop a carbon footprint calculator. Using cited materials to reinforce claims, the paper presents a strong methodology for calculation.


Reliable Controls

“The Trend.” Reliable Controls. Q1 2007 Newsletter.

http://www.reliablecontrols.com/news/newsletter/pdfs/Q1_2007.pdf.

This document authored by Reliable Controls details a community called Dockside Green in Victoria City in British Columbia, Canada. It explains that a product of theirs called the MACH-Stat will be installed in every residence and will monitor all aspects of the residence and give them all a real-time reading of their carbon footprint giving residents the ability to see changes in their carbon footprint and compare them to other residents and their own readings in the past.


TravelPost.com

“TravelPost.com Carbon Offset Guide.” TravelPost.com.

http://www.travelpost.com/carbon-offsets.aspx.

Gives a fairly detailed list of some major carbon calculator and carbon offset websites and their details. It shows what types of things you can calculate for each and what cost they apply to certain types of emissions as well as whether they are non-profit or not. Good site for comparing carbon footprint sites to get a general idea of what is currently out there now.


University of Massachusettes

"UMass Amherst CO2 Emissions." umass.edu.

http://www.umass.edu/epac/carbon.htm.

This page outlines the University of Massachusetts' methodologies to calculate and reduce its campus' carbon footprint. It cites numerous organizational and governmental programs and models with which to meet these goals.


SeattlePI

"Want to Calculate a Carbon Footprint?" SeattlePI.nwsource.com.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/372284_carbonfootprint26.html.

This article discusses the results of a Seattle Post-Intelligencer survey of ten "popular" carbon calculators using the same data sets for each. It finds that calculators give a wide range of results, some as many as 300% higher than others. It concludes that the main effort of a carbon calculator should be to introduce new, carbon-neutral ways to improve lifestyles, rather than focusing on potentially inexact numbers.