I’ve been thinking about various ideas for new apps that would be able to make a real and meaningful difference in people’s awareness and behavior towards environmental and ethical issues. And it seems to me there aren’t many such apps in the app stores, or at least they’re rather hard to find, unpopular, superficial, and/or poorly designed. I managed to find a few that seemed to be somewhat better than the underlying useless, junk-ware “green” apps – although many of these also seem potentially undermined by limited content/functionality, inherent bias, conflicts of interest – and most seem to be far from popular with mainstream users. A couple examples:
BuyCott: the most popular enviro-ethical app I’ve come across (500,000-1,000,000 downloads on Google Play), potentially one of the most unbiased ethical apps available due to it’s crowd-sourced format, however potentially also contains much misinformation and propaganda (e.g. full of political opinion, anti-GMO, “anti-chemical,” and other such garbage), but perhaps if its user-base and content reaches critical mass the good will be able to rise above the bad?
GoodGuide: second most popular “green” app I’ve found (50,000-100,000 downloads on Google Play), likely contains some level of conflict of interest due to internal advertising, proprietary nature, and very speculative rating process (disposable coffee machine capsules are not remotely environmentally friendly due to their wastefulness and inability to be recycled, yet GoodGuide rates them consistently ~8/10 overall with 10 being the most environmentally friendly products)
At any rate, I’m interested in creating better environmentally and/or ethically oriented apps. I think there is certainly opportunity in the existing app marketplaces for many more well designed, well thought out enviro-ethical apps to succeed in this apparently under-saturated (as of this writing) app sector. Apps can be powerful forces for societal change (e.g. Google Search) and can have enormous and immediate impact on even very large and entrenched industries (e.g. Uber). So I decided to conduct a survey to test this hypothesis and hopefully collect some meaningful data from app users on their attitudes, motivations, and behaviors related to existing and new environmental and ethical apps. Normally when I have a new killer app idea, the last thing I do is broadcast it all over the internet; and I certainly don’t publish my relevant market research to the web! But that’s what I’m gonna do here. I figure if other developers beat me to the punch, then so much the better. The more quality environmentally and ethically minded apps there are in the marketplaces, the better off the world will be.
So below are the results of my short Environmental and Ethical Apps Survey:
- Sustaining the environment and its ecosystems as they exist today
- Reversing, wherever possible, the damage done to the environment by humans
- Ethical treatment of animals
- Ethical treatment of humans
- Personal convenience
- Personal expenditure
- Society as a whole
- You personally
- Law enforcement
- reducing energy use
- reducing ecological footprint
- enabling responsible consumerism
- encouraging the protection of the environment
- encouraging the ethical treatment of animals
- encouraging the ethical treatment of humans
- Every day
- Every month
- Maybe once a year
- reduced your energy use
- reduced your ecological footprint
- enabled you to be a more responsible consumerism
- saved you money
- made you feel you were making a difference
- you were sure it helped make a meaningful difference
- required no extra effort of you
- required a little extra effort of you
- required a fair amount of extra effort
- required no change in your behavior
- required a small change in your behavior
- required a fair amount of change
- were a free app
- were a paid app
- contained advertising
Q7. Which platform do you use the most?
The large app stores (Google Play and iTunes) are currently under-saturated in environmentally and ethically focused apps.
On average, respondents clearly tend to claim that reversing the damage done to the environment by humans and the ethical treatment of humans are more important than personal expenditure and personal convenience.
On average, respondents view society as a whole, governments, and corporations as being more important in maintaining environmental and ethical standards than they themselves are. However, they view law enforcement as less important in maintaining environmental and ethical standards than they themselves are. The majority (~80%) agree that “protection of the environment” is an ethical matter.
On average, respondents show overall positive interest in apps focused on the environment and ethics, with generally more interest in environmentally focused apps than ethically focused ones. However, ~70% say they’ve never before used such apps, and ~80% say that currently they never use such apps! Also, contrary to the results of Question 1, the average user said they were far more likely to use such an app at least once a week if it saved them money, they felt or were sure it made a difference, reduced their energy use or ecological footprint, . And the average user was the most likely to never use an app if it were a paid app, contained advertising, promoted the ethical treatment of animals or humans, or required of them a fair amount of extra effort or change.
Approximately 55% were Android users, 30% iPhone users, 10% PC users, and 5% Mac/other.
Many participants took issue with the form of the first question, because it forced a relative ranking of the choices. During a trial run of the survey, this was not imposed and the surveyed were allowed to rank each choice independently. This resulted in the majority of participants simply ranking all choices “very important,” which did not allow for a meaningful comparison between the choices. So I chose to force the relative ranking structure, and felt justified in doing so, as in reality people make many of these same choices everyday. Perhaps the fact that so many people mentioned their annoyance at this says something interesting in itself about the cognitive dissonance between what people self reported as believing (Q.1) and doing (Q.5 and Q.6)?
Anywho, it’s clear that people genuinely do feel environmentally and ethically mindedness is important (Q.1), however it’s less clear what the reason is for their general lack of corresponding action (Q.5.). One explanation is that there simply aren’t enough such apps in stores, or they’re not being as well promoted as other types. Another explanation, which appears to be supported by the results of Q.6, is that there is a general disconnect from what people say they value and what they actually value as shown in their actions (cognitive dissonance). A likely contributing factor to this discrepancy could be that people tend to view their own actions as less important than those of government, corporations, and society in general (aka other people; Q.2). Perhaps there aren’t so many enviro-ethical apps in stores because users aren’t truly interested enough in using them and thus there’s little pay off for developers? Or maybe the existing apps aren’t offering the right pay offs for their would be users?
Whatever the case, what seems fairly clear from this study is that
1) most respondents said they value the environment and ethical treatment of animals and other humans above personal convenience and personal expenditure
2) they reported that they’ve in large part never used environmental or ethical apps
3) they also said they’re generally indifferent to using ethical apps but are interested in using environmental apps – so long as doing so doesn’t require any personal expenditure, little personal inconvenience or change in behavior, and they are monetarily rewarded for doing so.
Hmmm… well at least these conclusions seem to agree rather well with the well known problems we face when trying to get everyone (including ourselves) to stop trashing the planet. And if these interpretations of the data are accurate, it could mean there is substantial opportunity for developers to create successful new “green” apps – so long as they build in the right incentive systems.
Let me be upfront by saying I am by no means a statistician, sociologist, economist, (haven’t taken the time to calculate if the sample size is statistically significant, doubt it is, but might be close) but have otherwise done my best to conduct an unbiased and statistically meaningful survey (please comment below if you have suggestions for an improved follow up survey).
Where possible, question order was randomized to minimize the role of possible “leading questions.” In an attempt to limit the spam factor, the survey was restricted to certain subreddit communities which certainly had the potential to introduce certain biases. In order to minimize, and isolate such effects if any, respondents (67 participants) were divided into three groups:
- Average internet/app users (9 participants)
- Sources: Facebook, toadlybroodle.ca, r/mildlyinteresting, r/dataisbeautiful
- Those with an active interest in apps (38 participants)
- Sources: r/apps, r/Android, r/androidapps, r/iOS, r/iPhone, r/iPad, r/coolgithubprojects, r/opensource, r/software, r/programming, r/technology
- People with an active interest in environmental protection and (perhaps to a lesser extent) ethics (20 participants)
- r/environment, r/Green, r/RenewableEnergy, r/sustainability, r/ethical_living
Note: “r/…” sources refer to subreddit groups, i.e http://reddit.com/r/…
All three groups displayed very similar trends in their answers, with the group 3 showing marginally more use of environmental and ethical apps than the other groups, though they also report often having never used such apps (~40% have never used them, and ~60% do not currently use them).