3 Things I’ve Learned Tracking My Carbon Footprint Using the Cilo App

I’ve started tracking my carbon footprint using the Cilo app!

I have exciting news!

As of this week I’ve started tracking my carbon footprint using the Cilo app! I know I’m biased, but so far I’m loving it. Being able to track my carbon footprint based on the actual things I’ve purchased is something I’ve wanted to be able to do since I was at University, so now being able to — using something I built myself — feels like a big moment.

It’s also helped me learn a few things, both about the process of tracking your carbon footprint, and about the potential benefits to doing so, and I wanted to share a few of these.

#1 — Investing Time to Upload Your Data will Make You More Invested in the Results

One thing that I’ve always seen as a flaw with this first version of the Cilo app is that users will have to take time out of their day to tell the app what they’ve bought in order to track their carbon footprint. The issue with this is that not everyone will be interested enough to do this, which is completely fair and understandable, and it raises the barrier of entry for who would be willing to try the app.

However, for those that are willing to jump that barrier, the fact that you have to actively engage with your data in order to track your footprint has pretty significant advantages. I’ve found that because I’m investing a bit of time and brain power into remembering to take the receipt when I buy something from the shop and then sitting down for 2–5mins when I get home to tell the app what I’ve bought, I’m more interested in the results it gives back. What had the largest carbon cost? What was not as bad as I expected?

It means that now when I go to the shops I’ve got in the back of my mind that I need to remember to take the receipt when I pay, and that means that I’m also thinking about the carbon footprint of the products around me, and the little carbon-saving wins I realised I could make last time I uploaded a purchase to the app. All of this puts me in the right frame of mind to try and make the footprint of my shop a little lower if possible.

On the other hand, if you never needed to open the app in order to track your carbon footprint, it might be easy to forget it was there, meaning you’d stop interacting with and learning from the data.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still determined to make the barrier of entry for people to understand their carbon footprint as low as possible. I would like to get Cilo to the point where even someone with a passing cloud of interest in their environmental impact could open the app and learn something, and that’s why one of the biggest priorities for me once I’ve finished the first version of the app is to make the data upload process easier, and eventually entirely passive.

In the meantime though, if you can make a habit of taking the time to understand your carbon footprint, even if it’s just 5 minutes every couple of days, it seems much more likely you’ll start making a habit of reducing it too.

#2 — Making Changes that would have a Significant Impact is Easier Than I’d Anticipated

The government recently announced new targets to reduce nation-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 from 1990 levels. Taking into account the progress we’ve already made since 1990, that amounts to roughly a further 60% reduction from today’s levels. This sounds like (and would be) a very big reduction, but when broken down into small chunks it starts to feel more manageable.

To over-simplify things, in order to achieve a 60% reduction in 14 years we will need to reduce our emissions each year by 6.33%. Still a pretty big number. So let’s go smaller again. Getting a 6.33% reduction each year would require a monthly reduction of 0.54%. On a nationwide scale a monthly emissions reduction of this size would be quite an achievement. But on an individual level it feels way more achievable.

For context, for this first month of tracking I’ve given myself a carbon budget of 130 Cilos for food and drink products (a Cilo is equivalent to 1kg of carbon dioxide emissions — a carbon kilo, if you will). I’m currently roughly on track to hit that target.

My biggest carbon outlay in the first couple of weeks of the month has been on a 550g block of cheddar, which set me back ₵6.61 (6.61 Cilos). If I’d instead bought a 400g block, which I’m sure would have been plenty, I’d have saved ₵1.80. Or for another example, I bought 6 small bottles of foreign lager, at a total cost of ₵3.45. If I’d instead bought 3 large cans of local lager, I would have saved ₵1.31 of that, for the same amount of beer.

Either one of those minor changes would be more than enough to cover the reduction in my carbon footprint that I’ll be aiming for next month. A 0.5% reduction in your carbon spending each month really is as easy as it sounds, so long as you’re able to keep track of your spending. And it’s also way more significant than it sounds, because if we as a society can achieve it month-in month-out, year-in year-out, we’ll be well on our way to achieving our emissions goals and sorting out this crisis.

#3 — It’s Much Easier For Users of an App to Understand What Will Make it Better than it is for its Developers

The other key things I’ve learned since becoming a user of my app as opposed to just a developer of it, are things that would make using it a more engaging experience. This isn’t something I’d fully grasped before but it seems quite obvious now. When working on something for months you think you’ve developed a firm idea of how it will work and look, but it’s only once you start using it that you realise that there are holes in the plan that need to be filled, and small changes that could be made to significantly improve the experience.

This is why I can’t wait for you guys reading this and other people to start downloading it and giving your feedback. I know that I still have my developer blinkers on and there’ll be things that would improve it and ideas that you guys have that haven’t even occurred to me because I’ve had my head stuck in it for so long.

It’ll be at least another month or two until that’s possible, but if you do want to be one of the early users please do sign up by following the link through to the landing page here. There’s a good chance that this first version of the app won’t be released to the public market but rather used as something to iterate and improve upon so that an upgraded product can be released further down the line. But the app will certainly need people to test it and give their ideas on how to improve it, so if you want to be one of the first to track your carbon footprint with the app and to have your say in the product it becomes, follow the link above to get counting cilos!