Today, mobile phones are everywhere. In the US alone, 450,000 cell phones are discarded every day. Over half of the world's population has quick, easy access to cell phones and wireless technology. For example, 97% of people surveyed in Tanzania had access to a mobile phone, while just 27% could access a land line phone. In Kenya, only 19% of the country's 36 million people are reached by traditional banking methods...but virtually all have access to mobile phones. Knowing these facts, it isn't surprising that the devices are being used as a key tool for environmental change. Check out how cell phones can be used for eco-activism, the apps that help us go green, and some how-to ideas for turning your mobile phone into a green sidekick.
The Power of Mobile Phones for Activism
Mobile Phones Make Fast, Effective Action Possible
We have seen repeatedly how the use of mobile phones has helped spur rapid social activism around politics. MobileActive reports that mobile phones seem to spur people to action more effectively that other media, including email. And while repsonse metrics for text messaging are difficult to obtain, anecdotal evidence shows that text campaigns have a response rate of 20-40%. Greenpeace Argentina has reported that 15-25% of their mobile activists give feedback to the organization that they took action on a particular message campaign.
Gathering Environmental Information with Mobile Phones
As pointed out by MobileActive, cell phones are a great device for gathering information, and researchers are noticing. For example, by embedding sensors in cell phones, researchers could gather real-time, location-specific information on things like air quality, weather conditions, or traffic conditions. It would make users passive citizen scientists.
Platforms that make users active participants are also possibilities, and tools exist for helping people everywhere, including in developing nations, be active information gatherers. For example, DataDyne is a company committed to making data collection and mobile communication available to everyone. One of their open source products is EpiSurveyor, a data collection form generator. It allows people to create a handheld data entry form, gather data on their mobile device, and send it back in to a laptop or desktop for analyzation.
Environmental Activism Projects Using Mobile Phones
Mobile phones are already assisting wildlife conservation efforts on a wide range of projects. Save the Elephants in Kenya is using GPS/GSM collars to track elephants in the area in order to help keep humans and elephants from clashing. Tensions between farmers and elephants are often high and mobile devices - specifically push-to-talk technology - allows communication among people to tell farmers and ranchers to take proactive steps against possible damage to their crops from the animals.
Greenpeace Argentina showed the power of cell phone networking when they utilized it for advocating for The Forest Law, Argentina's first federal forest protection act, in 2007. The group was able to collect 3,000 signatures for the petition via text messaging, as well as asked the 350,000 people in their mobile phone network list to call specific legislators. The effort helped the law to pass, providing a one-year moratorium on cutting down native forests.
Helveta is a company that is deploying bar coding technology to prevent illegal logging. Forestry companies hammer in bar codes into stumps and felled trees, then use mobile devices to scan the codes and upload them via satellite or wifi to a central database. The idea is any tree that doesn't have a bar code with tracked scans is considered illegal when it reaches mills.
Greening Consumer Behavior
Using mobile technology to make consumer behavior more eco-friendly is already highly popular. When it comes to food, for instance, FishMS helps consumers make on-the-spot purchasing decisions, and also tracks trends in consumer behavior regarding fish selections. For instance, the service often sees spikes in SMS inquiries about certain fish species after that species has been in the news. airTEXT does a similar thing for Londonites who want to receive updates about air pollution levels in city. Access to this information can shift to what parts of the city people travel, and the method they use to get from one place to another. Many more examples will be discussed later when we talk about all the apps available to shoppers.
Affecting Green Politics
Crowdsourcing is a big aspect of using mobile technology to affect people's behavior. It's a way of getting a massive group of people involved in tackling an issue, rather than one or a few organizations bearing the burden. Americans for Informed Democracy's Richard Graves pointed out in last year's Bioneers conference the idea of bird-dogging. The group asks people with video on their cell phones, or with Flip cameras, to ask political leaders tough questions on camera, committing them to a certain action on a certain issue. It creates an instantly uploadable video of a political leader making, for example, promises to help the environment that they can then be held to.
How to Use Mobile Phones for Your Environmental Activism
Guides and Tips for Getting Started with Mobile Activism
SocialBright has a great how-to guide for getting started in mobile activism. If you're looking to utilize mobile devices for your cause, this is a great starting point for learning the technology and steps you'll need to take for an effective campaign. It even has screenshots to illustrate how texting is used for various campaigns.
The site also has a top notch tips guide that walks you through effective ways of using the technology of texting. It walks you through what to do - such as to know your constituency, be relevant, and be action oriented - and what not to do - such as avoid sending too many messages, and be aware of the time of day you're sending messages.
Organizations Helping to Get Phones and Information to People
Hope Phones takes used phones and puts them in the hands of community health care workers in developing countries. It's an excellent way to give new life to the millions upon millions of used cell phones getting replaced each year in the US alone. The phone being sent in doesn't even need to be usable. Donors can print a free shipping label and send their old phone in to The Wireless Source, a global leader in wireless device recycling. The phone's value in selling it to recyclers allows FrontlineSMS:Medic to purchase usable, recycled cell phones for health care workers.
Mobile Database still a somewhat small database but it is set up to grow infinitely as more and more projects are created and added to it. It is searchable by several filters, including article, report or project, or by location, category, or keyword. Searching just conservation, 41 entries came up, from 3rdWhale Mobile and Nokia's Eco Sensor Concept, to Rare Bird Alert and GPS/GSM Animal Collars. The database seeks to compile all the information on the social and environmental impact of mobile technology globally. If you start up a project using mobile technology for environmental good, be sure to suggest it's addition to this database.
Top Apps That Help You Use Your Phone for Environmental Activism
Google Earth on the phone is great for a few tricks, from checking out the potential of renewable energy to "visiting" the farm where your grocery store produce comes from before purchasing it. Ecorio helps people not only calculate carbon footprints but also encourage one another through social networking to green up even more. A plethora of iPhone apps that support green living, from driving to public transportation, from shopping to home automation.