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UbiGreen: Eco-feeback on the go.

UbiGreen Green Mobile Phone App

UbiGreen – mobile wallpaper with a cause.

On average, the largest contributor to an individual’s CO2 emissions is personal transportation. In Canada, this represents more than 26 % of Canada’s total green house gas emissions.

In the paper “UbiGreen: Investigating a Mobile Tool for Tracking and Supporting Green Transportation Habits” by Jon FroehlichTawanna DillahuntPredrag KlasnjaJennifer MankoffSunny ConsolvoBeverly HarrisonJames A. Landay, the authors present the design, development and deployment of a mobile phone application that provides users with an ambient display providing feedback on sensed and self-reported transportation behaviors.

The above paper outlines the process by which the researchers came to the development of the application which was eventually tested. The tool acted as a dynamic wallpaper on the user’s mobile phone, and therefore occupied a prominent place on a technology that generally carried everywhere by participants. A series of changes to the images (depicted below) served as graphical rewards for opting to make greener transportation choices such as walking, biking, taking public transportation, or carpooling.

The researchers based their designs on findings from various fields, and were sure to build links between sustainable transportation and other goals like saving money and getting exercise. Moreover, they aimed to build connections between personal actions and the biosphere by including a an animation that allowed the user to care for a tree or the ever-popular polar bear through their transportation choices.

Screen Shot for Ubi Green

A sample of images from the tree progression and (bottom-left) a sample of images from the polar bear progression. Image from: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~assist/publications/09FroehlichCHI.pdf

The authors tested the application with a small sample in both Seattle and Pittsburgh, and tracked their use of the tool for an average of three weeks. As opposed to some theories around information displays, some participants seemed quite interested in known actual carbon emissions along with the iconic imagery they were given. Moreover, some suggested that negative imagery to be associated with poor performance – such as drowning bears and floating penguin bodies. I’d be quite curious to see if that would actually be motivating long-term.

The project has evolved since this publication a few years ago – smart phones now make it possible to track movement without the need of an external sensor – which was problematic with some of the participants. A few market based mobile apps have been developed  (e.g. Carbon Diem), so there appears to be some interest in tracking CO2 emissions on the go.



Jon Froehlich, Tawanna Dillahunt, Predrag Klasnja, Jennifer Mankoff, Sunny Consolvo, Beverly Harrison, and James A. Landay. 2009. UbiGreen: investigating a mobile tool for tracking and supporting green transportation habits. In Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI ’09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1043-1052. DOI=10.1145/1518701.1518861 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1518701.1518861 web:http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~assist/publications/09FroehlichCHI.pdf

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