Meet Co2nscious

Since its very beginning in 2014, fighting against electronic waste and lengthening the lives of electronic devices and appliances, has been an important focus for Back Market. The Conscious project looks to address a challenging element of this mission: how to have meaningful conversations with people about the impact of high-tech devices on the environment, and how we can start looking for solutions here (even if they’re not completely perfect ones).

Here we’ve summarised everything about the project in a few lines – the idea behind it, the method, and even the short fallings.

The concept: a widget that helps you to limit carbon emissions each time you charge your phone or tablet

The electricity powering smartphone or tablet batteries comes from many different sources of energy (solar, gas, nuclear, hydroelectric etc.). These form the “energy mix” determining how CO2 is generated at any given time. Throughout the day the energy mix coming from your power outlet changes regularly…

The CO2NSCIOUS widget shows which energy sources are being used when a device is being charged through a power outlet. This lets you know what the carbon emissions are at the time you are charging.

Through the help of Electricitymap and with the use of machine-learning, Co2nscious can suggest the optimum time for charging to reduce carbon emissions.

Co2nscious is a proof of concept that is only available until the end of April on Android. However, we hope it’s useful and that people will want to keep it going. This is why we have decided to make the complete code available to anyone (all you need to do is email [email protected]).

So, how does it work?

  1. Co2nscious uses data that is available through an open-source project called Electricymap. They provide real-time visualisation of carbon emissions caused by the production and consumption of electricity across the world.
  2. Electricitymap recognises the general geographic location and forecasts the sources of electricity that are being used at that very moment based on different indicators such as historical data, geographic origin and meteorological conditions.
  3. These forecasts update every hour and are compared against actual data on a systematic basis to enhance machine learning.
  4. Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is then used to estimate CO2 emissions (we can calculate the CO2 emissions linked to the change in demand for electricity, for the electricity sources making up an energy mix.)
  5. As soon as you plug your device into charge, Co2nscious calculates the average carbon emissions in your energy mix (in gCO2eq/kWh) and lets you know if they will be lower within the next 6 hours.
  6. You can also see a real-time view of the current energy mix and related carbon emissions so you can decide whether its best to charge your device now or later.

If you are already charging at an optimal time (this means CO2 emissions are lower than the average emissions in the next 6 hours), CO2nscious lets you know to continue charging your device

If you are charging at not such a good time, CO2nscious will suggest a better time to charge within the next 6 hours.

And that’s all.

Limitations of the project

For us, Con2nscious is a way of generating awareness and starting a discussion about the environmental impact our electronics are having, rather than a full solution. For one, we chose CO2 emissions to be the sole determining factor deciding the optimal time to charge. However, there are many other elements to consider, for example, there are certain energy sources that emit very little carbon but also raise serious environmental questions for other reasons (for example, Nuclear).

No energy source is perfectly clean, and, in the same way, the perfect environmentally friendly device doesn’t exist. We see the widget as being a little reminder that our daily decisions matter and that people have the power (pun intended) to take control of these decisions, even if its in a small and imperfect way to begin with.

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