All about Co2nscious

Since it was founded in 2014, Back Market, has been focused on battling electronic waste and extending the lives of electronic devices and appliances. The Conscious project is one way that Back Market addresses a challenging aspect of this mission: to begin meaningful conversations with the public around the environmental impact of high-tech devices and, of course, to begin exploring solutions for them (however imperfect these might be).

Here is everything you might want to know about the project in a few lines—the concept, methodology, and even its limitations.

The idea: a widget that helps device owners limit their carbon emissions every time they charge their phones or tablets. 

The electricity that powers our smartphone or tablet batteries come from different energy sources (gas, nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, etc.) which make up the “energy mix”  that determines how CO2 is generated at any given time; the energy mix coming out of your power outlet changes regularly through the course of one day. .

CO2NSCIOUS is a widget that reveals the energy sources being tapped when a device is plugged into a power outlet, allowing you to take note of the carbon emissions associated with your charge in real time. 

Using machine-learning and with the help of Electricitymap, Co2nscious is able to recommend the most optimal time to charge in order to produce less carbon emissions.

Co2nscious is a proof of concept: available solely on Android until the end of April.  But we’re hoping that people will find it useful and want to keep it going, which is why we are making the complete code available to anyone (just email [email protected]).

How does it actually work?

Conscious uses the data made available by Electricitymap, an open source project that allows real-time visualization of CO2 emissions from the production and consumption of electricity all around the world. At the moment, data is available for 67 different countries and if it’s not already available, you can contribute by adding your own if your generous heart should move you to do so. Want more details? Here they are.

  1. Electricitymap pinpoints the general geographic location and forecasts the electricity sources being used at that moment using different factors such as geographic origin, historical data and meteorological conditions.  
  2. These forecasts, carried out on a national scale, are updated every hour and systematically compared to actual data to improve machine learning.
  3. Research by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is then applied to estimate CO2 emissions (we are able to calculate CO2 emissions associated with the increase or decrease of the electricity demand for the electricity sources that make up an energy mix.)
  4. From the moment you plug your device, Co2nscious calculates the average carbon emissions in your energy mix (in gCO2eq/kWh) and tells you if these will be lower in the next 6 hours. 
  5. You can also check the current energy mix in real time and the carbon emissions associated with it to decide yourself if you’d like to charge your phone now or later.
  6. If a user is charging at an optimal time (meaning CO2 emissions are lower in comparison to the average emissions in the next 6 hours), CO2nscious advises users to continue charging their device. 
  7. If the user is charging at a less favorable time, CO2nscious recommends the a better time to charge within the next 6 hours.

And that’s that.

Project limitations

To our minds, the Co2nscious project is a means of creating awareness and starting a dialogue with the public about the environmental impact of our electronics rather than a comprehensive solution. For one thing, we privileged a single factor (CO2 emissions) to determine the optimal time to charge when there are many different polluting elements that should be considered. Certain energy sources (nuclear, for instance) might emit very little carbon while also raising serious environmental questions for other reasons.

There is no energy source that is perfectly clean, and there is no such thing as a perfectly environmentally friendly device. The widget is simply one way to remind people that the decisions they make daily matter, and that they have the power (pun intended) to take charge of those decisions, even if it starts in some small and imperfect way. Knowledge is power. And now you know what powers what.

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