CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
India's first carbon footprint calculation mobile application may fall short of giving you an accurate insight of your individual carbon emissionsBI India
  • India’s new CarbonWatch mobile app helps users calculate their individual carbon footprint but still leaves a lot to be desired.
  • The primary issue is that it does not account for people who may be renting an individual room or only a part of the house.
  • In effect, the overall carbon footprint score it provides is for the entire household, not for individual consumption.
CarbonWatch is India’s first mobile application to help users understand their individual carbon footprint. It takes in details like water consumption, energy use, waste segregation, and transport to tell you the extent of your carbon emissions.

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
Start up screen of CarbonWatch mobile applicationBI India

The application can be used by anyone across the country, but the data offered up by the residents of Chandigarh will be used to compile a study assessing consumption. The results of the study will help the Union Territory (UT) formulate targeted programs that will address the sensitisation of residents to climate changes and mitigation strategies, claims the application.

Once you have shared your details, like the amount of water you consume per month, it gives you a score of between 0 to 10 — your carbon footprint. This is the amount of carbon dioxide you are likely to have released into the atmosphere as a result of your activities.
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While one can understand the appeal of self-assessment, there are limitations within the app that could misrepresent your actual carbon score.

How does the CarbonWatch mobile application work?
You can download CarbonWatch from the Google Play Store. Apple users will have to wait a little longer for it to be available on iOS.

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
CarbonWatch is only available for download on the Google Play Store, not on the iOS App StoreBI India

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While signing up, you will have to provide your phone number and your email address. The one-time-password to verify your identity, however, will only be delivered on your email ID.

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
While signing up for CarbonWatch it is necessary to include both your phone number and email addressBI India

Once you have been verified, you can login and start to calculate your carbon footprint.

The app will ask you for the following details:
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1. The average units of fresh water billed per month and whether or not you have your own borewell.

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
For water consumption, CarbonWatch asks for the average kilolitres of fresh water consumed per monthBI India

2. The monthly billing average of electricity units and what kind of cooking connection you use .

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
CarbonWatch asks for monthly average of electricity used but does not account for the fact there may be multiple members living in one householdBI India

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3. The monthly distance travelled by bus, monthly distance travelled by train, monthly distance travelled by autorickshaw and annual travel by flight in hours.
4. If you drive a car — the type of fuel you use, the year of manufacturing, mileage, the average distance travelled in a month and whether or not you carpool.
5. If you ride a two-wheeler — the type of fuel you use, the year of manufacturing, mileage, the average distance travelled in a month and if someone rides pillion with you

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
CarbonWatch accounts for all modes of transportBI India

6. Whether or not you segregate your household waste
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CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
While CarbonWatch asks whether or not an individual segregates their waste, it does not ask for the amount of waste generatedBI India

Once all those details are in, the app will calculate your final carbon footprint. In this case — with about 20 hours of air travel, monthly power consumption of 350 units, 135 kilolitres of water, and very little local travel— we got a score of 6.61 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person per year.

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
BI India's carbon footprint score on CarbonWatchBI India

Issues we faced while using CarbonWatch
For starters, there was a server issue that did not let us sign up for an account in the first place. After reaching out to Sparrow Analytics, the mobile app publisher, we were informed that it was a ‘server issue’ which was fixed shortly after.
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Also, the function of providing your mobile number if the one-time password (OTP) will be sent on the email ID seems redundant. Users should have the option of providing one or the other. Necessitating both seems like an unnecessary load on data collection.

The limitations of CarbonWatch
While obviously helping a person gauge their carbon footprint and how their activities affect the environment around them, the CarbonWatch mobile app is not the most user-friendly — not in terms of the user interface, but the calculations.

For instance, the carbon footprint score does not change even when you adjust the number of family members in a single household. This means the details of water consumption, electricity use, and gas consumption are not averaged out. The overall score is not for an individual, but the entire household.
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The app also only shows the latest recorded emission score. There is no historical data or a way to keep track of whether your emission score has gone up or down if you’ve changed the input values. Comparative charts and the ability to export data would go a long way in helping people track their progress.

CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
CarbonWatch only displays the most recently recorded carbon emission scoreBI India

For instance, your electricity and water consumption is likely to be higher during the summer than during the winter months — but there is no way for me, as an individual, to track that change and the resulting effect on my carbon footprint within the app.

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The app also does not let you take screenshots. This means the only way for you to track the changes in your carbon footprint is to note down the score manually or take pictures using secondary devices.

Now, about the actual inputs. CarbonWatch asks users for their average units of freshwater billed per month in kilolitres. That means you need to have your utility bill on hand. There are no comparative guidelines on how you may be able to gauge your consumption based on how many buckets of water you use per month.

The reason this is important is because not everyone rents an entire house, especially students or bachelors. They usually have a single room or only a part of the house for use. Hence, they may not necessarily have access to the utility bill. And, even if they do have access to it, the entire consumption of water does not rest on their shoulders.

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The same applies to the consumption of electricity. It would be easier if the app asked users what kind of lights they use (LED, CFL or other ordinary bulbs), how many are in the room or house, and how many hours, on average, they are switched on for.

And, while it is useful to ask whether or not a user is segregating their waste, the app doesn’t ask for an estimate of how much waste is being produced in the first place.

A score of 6.61 fairly high. And, the only basis of comparison is worldwide averages. In our case, it was much higher than India’s average of 1.81 or even the global average of 4.74 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

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CarbonWatch — India’s first mobile app to calculate your carbon footprint falls short of its promises
Carbon footprint score is only compared to global averagesBI India

While helpful, it would be better if the consumption could be compared according to the locality you live in. It would help you gauge if others in your area have a similar carbon footprint or not. If not, it would be more insightful to know what other households are doing differently than have general guidelines thrown up on the screen.

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