Smartphone apps help you shop with sustainability in mind

Good Guide phone screen shotLittle things add up. Switching off the lights when you leave a room, adjusting your thermostat when you go to work, or running your washing machine on cold all can save energy, save money, and help the environment. But what about the dozens of other small choices we all make without much thought, from what type of soap we use to what type of food we serve for dinner? 

Today, smartphone apps can help make the dizzying array of daily choices a little simpler and more sustainable.

The GoodGuide app simplifies the search for green and ethical products whether you are shopping online or in a store. GoodGuide, created by a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, rates products and companies on a scale of 0 to 10 based on health, environmental and social impacts. Those scores are then averaged for a total score. You can find performance ratings for more than 170,000 products. Good Guide’s data sources include scientific institutions, government agencies, commercial data aggregators, non-governmental organizations, media outlets, and corporations. 

For added convenience, the app features a barcode scanner that lets a shopper scan a product to check its rating. If GoodGuide has not yet rated a product itself, more often than not it will have rated the company that makes it. At this time GoodGuide only covers products available in the United States. It is free and available on both Apple and Android.

Seasons app screen shot with fruits and vegetablesAnother app that can help you make smarter choices is Seasons, which tells you what fruits, vegetables, herbs, fungi, and nuts are in season based on your location. The developers, Christian Klotz and Saki Schmidt, originally launched Seasons in the United Kingdom, and the app has since spread across other parts of Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

Importing food long distances requires burning fossil fuels. Similarly, food grown out of season is maintained in greenhouses, which require energy for heat and light. So eating local, in-season produce can be a more sustainable choice. It can also be a healthier one, since the nutritional value of food diminishes the longer it sits on the shelf. 

The Seasons app lets you view what is in season in your area now and in the future. In Washington, D.C., for example, blackberries and blueberries are in season, but we’ll have to wait until fall for a good persimmon. Seasons also uses your smartphone’s GPS/WLAN to find nearby farmers’ markets. 

The app costs $1.99 in the US/Canada, and is currently only available for Apple. 

If you’d like to learn more about being a responsible consumer and ensuring your waste ends up in the right place, check out the iRecycle app, a go-to tool to learn how to recycle hundreds of common household materials near you.  And for the young at heart, we recommend the recycling game Scrap Squad

For additional mobile tools to help you tread lightly on our planet, check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s database of green apps