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Smartphone apps put green living practices in the palm of your hand

Array of guides from Hong Kong organisations and others offer information on sustainable seafood, recycling points, water dispensers, energy efficiency and air quality

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 9:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:33pm

Saving paper, conserving water and separating recyclables from trash have become second nature in these environmentally-enlightened times. Now, technology is stepping in to lend a hand, with a slew of smartphone apps that allow greener choices in everyday actions and shopping decisions, putting “conscious consumption” in the palm of your hand.

Say you’re at the market choosing fish to cook for dinner. The piece that catches your eye looks fresh and inviting, but how do you know if it’s an endangered species or has been sustainably caught? There might also be a choice of fished or farmed prawns or salmon – but which is better for the health of our oceans? Just whip out your smartphone and use WWF Hong Kong’s new mobile Seafood Guide to check sustainability information on more than 70 popular seafood species available in the city.

Stephanie Cheung, WWF Hong Kong’s programme officer for sustainable seafood, says studies have shown that while most people in Hong Kong – Asia’s second-largest per capita consumer of seafood – are aware of the issues facing our oceans, 59 per cent indicated that they were not sure where to buy or consume sustainable seafood products. “The results [of our research] clearly indicate that consumers are willing to act more responsibly given that sufficient information is made available to them when they make a purchase,” she says.

Your smartphone can also help you to cut down on household waste with Waste Less, an Environmental Protection Department app that locates and provides information on recyclable collection points at public places all over Hong Kong. The app is a forum for knowledge sharing about waste reduction and recovery, and is embedded with interactive features to make the practice more fun.

Get a reusable water bottle and download Water for Free, an app that shows the locations of public water fountains and dispensers throughout Hong Kong. You’ll be doing your bit to reduce the mountain of plastic waste that gets dumped in our landfills every day, most of it from single-use beverage bottles. The app was created by Go Green Hong Kong, a community initiative promoting sustainable living.

Keep tabs on your energy use through the CLP Hong Kong app, a “powerhouse of green living ideas”. It includes tips on purchasing energy-efficient home appliances, the location of the nearest electric vehicle charging station, and a portable “Green Walker” tool guiding the way towards a life with less carbon emissions.

With pollution becoming a growing concern, the iAirQuality app is a must-have. It measures and forecasts pollution in more than 5,000 cities worldwide, including Hong Kong and many mainland locations, using an easy-to-read colour code. The app will remember all the cities that you’re tracking and pull details such as air quality information from the various environmental protection departments.

US company Oroeco has developed an app that can track an individual’s carbon footprint and compare it to those of their Facebook friends. The app places a carbon value on most of our everyday decisions – including retail purchases, food options, energy consumption and travel – using data from its partnership with the University of California at Berkeley’s CoolClimate Network. Its “name and shame” function is, of course, aimed at the greater good, nudging the masses to curb wasteful habits. It also gives personalised tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint and save money in the process.

Hong Kong-born Lily Tse navigates shoppers towards safer and greener cosmetics and personal care products through her app, Think Dirty. Tse, who now lives in Canada, says: “Just scan the product barcode, and Think Dirty will give you easy-to-understand information on the product, its ingredients and cleaner options.” The free app is the first on the market that “gameifies” the education of cosmetic product labelling, she adds.

Even the local tradition of market shopping is being revolutionised in the digital era.  Wong Yuwing, a former businessman who quit his office job to farm organic produce in Yuen Long, wanted to grow food that was safer and healthier – but he also knew that relying on the old ways of phone sales or market stalls would not be enough to sustain the business. Through social media, his Facebook page, a website and now a mobile app, Au Law Organic Farm, customers can search food products and prices, receive special offers and have fresh, locally-grown organic produce delivered to their door.

The array of green living apps to choose from can be daunting. British-based consultancy WSP Global (www.wspgroup.com) has helpfully compared and rated 20 popular smartphone apps that support sustainable living, but you’ll have to scroll through their website to access it – there’s not an app for that yet.