Being SustainAPPle with a smartphone by Alice Larsson, Volunteer

Smartphone users are everywhere and it’s time we harnessed that screen time to make it count for the environment. There are more ways than you think that can help you make a difference in the palm of your hand, check out these four (free) pioneering apps:


Good On You

It sounds like an app we’ve been needing for a while - what do you do when you’re on the high street in need of something, but questioning how environmentally friendly the retailer actually is? For a lot of people buying clothes second hand is the solution, but it isn’t always convenient and it can be better to invest in new, eco-friendly options - if you know what they are. Good On You categorizes retailers into lists from hosiery to watches in which each retailer is given an average ethical rating, based on their ratings in 3 criteria: Labour, Environment and Animal. It’s easy to access a breakdown of how each of these are considered, for example the labour rating involves looking at ‘the impact on workers across the supply chain’. If you want to find an option for a pair of say, sunglasses on the go, the home page has a search engine where they will give you options which you can refine further by style, gender, ethical rating, price and even distance, or whether you are looking to buy online.

Since the app appears to be more American centric it may not apply to UK high streets in the same way, but big retailers like H&M, Primark, Uniqlo and Muji are included and the brands are updated regularly. They are in need of reconsidering the distance filter on the search engine however, as the majority of brands are online retailers and those that have both online and physical shops will only show the online option - I’m sure there are a lot of shoppers weighing up the implications of online vs high street purchases on the environment that would like more clarity there. Good On You also have a section showing ‘offers’ that are currently happening on certain brands, which admittedly isn’t extensive, but I suspect with more users an app like this could overcome these teething problems quite easily.

What’s more interesting is their blog posts on the home page, addressing the ethical nature of specific brands and how people around the world are making fashion more sustainable, by looking at for example ‘3 More Reasons To Ditch Fast Fashion'. This feels contradictory when not all the brands featured can have their highest ethical rating ‘Great’ so fast fashion is inevitably present, but that includes a brand like Primark (surprisingly their rating is ‘It’s a start’ a 3 out of 5 rating). If any brand encapsulated what was wrong with fast fashion for me, it would be Primark with their terrible ethical reputation in previous years - has no one remembered Primark employing children in sweat shops to make their clothes? If anything, this app makes you think twice about where you’re shopping, and maybe not in the ways you would expect.

Available to Android and Apple users.




For a lot of people switching browser can take a bit of getting used to, and the stripped back nature of Ecosia can initially lead to suspicions about how good the search engine actually is. But let me just preface with a few reasons why using Google search might not be ideal to use in the first place. Anything on your phone is likely to be being monitored and that is quite easy to forget when living with the convenience of a connected browser like Google if you have Gmail and use that to log in to other apps and accounts.

But is there any actual benefit to using Google when a) it’s on your phone, so you’re unlikely to be using it in the same way you do on a laptop or computer, selecting from their drop down menu of google maps, calendar or drive b) it’s a massive corporation that don’t do very much for the planet. Ecosia will use the profits from their users searches to plant trees for various projects around the world (it takes roughly 45 searches to plant one tree) and their transparency about that process is built in to the app, with a section about projects they’re supporting and another about stories from these and the environment in general. One such story literally explains: ‘we want trees, not your data. Here’s how we protect your privacy’ - bye Google!

Available to Android and Apple users.



I had my reservations about encouraging people to be competitive about their sustainability but I think more than anything, this app would be perfect for someone who feels a bit alone in their sustainability opinions -seeing how others are able to keep up their little actions every day to make a bigger difference for the environment. It’s a strangely encouraging and heartwarming feeling to be able to scroll through pictures of other people’s walks to work, reusable coffee mugs and carpools. At the very least, you could use the app to find useful tips on what small changes you can make, such as turning off ‘heat dry’ on the dishwasher and instead opening the dishwasher door to let them dry naturally. The app works by setting up sustainable actions which you can ‘buzz’ and each buzz earns you points. Every time you repeat an action your points can go toward badges and medals and those with the most end up on the leaderboard of users around the world. The first buzz action you’re encouraged to complete is watch their sort of 'joining up' video, showing users what life could be like when using the app well - there are people cycling, recycling, refusing straws and disposable cups, drinking local beer and carpooling. It’s your usual idyllic 'everyone’s happy and motivated’ scene apart from the awkward absence of any ethnic minorities, which it appears Joulebug doesn’t think are interested in sustainability.

Of course this quantifying of sustainable actions could lead to a smugness between friends who compete in the app, but I think the app is designed well enough that you don’t have to use it in such a way, it can just be for you to see on your profile how many kilos of CO2 you’ve saved, kilos of waste you’ve diverted and how many litres of water you’ve saved. Joulebug is more American-centric but there are inevitable difficulties with any sustainability tracking app like this, as the opportunities to complete actions such as safely disposing of hazardous materials or installing a laundry to landscape greywater system aren’t the same around the world. It does appear that the app makers are aware of this however, as most of the actions are accessible and encourage users to save money rather than spend it and users are encouraged to send in their own actions that they can’t see in any of the categories.

Available to Android and Apple users.





The forerunner in this country in terms of food sharing apps, Olio connects individuals in a local area who have or are looking for food that is not being used - it can be left over flour and butter from someone baking a cake, some apples that just aren’t going to be eaten before someone goes on holiday, or a wrap that someone just decided not to eat - and the best part is it’s all free! Other apps like TooGoodToGo will rarely if ever, have free food posted, but they are directly connected with local businesses, so though not free, they will be at discount price. Olio now also have a ‘non-food’ section. Despite this potentially putting it in direct competition with the buy and sell apps like Schpock, Olio is able to draw a more specific group of users that allows it to foster a better community, as shown in the ‘community’ section of the app, where users share tips on other places where those in need can access free food, mentioning local charities, food banks and events as well as news articles on wastefulness in general (which has led to some businesses and brands now distributing through the app, such as Pret a Manger and Planet Organic). The items are of course random at times (single vacuum cleaner filter anyone?) but the majority are free and (at least in my area) encourage users to be more environmentally friendly, like glass jars, water bottles and cardboard boxes. I think this app’s ’non-food’ section would be ideal for anyone in the process of moving house, as most of the items posted are domestic homeware like toothbrush holders, knife blocks and chests of drawers. 

Available to Android and Apple users.



As you can see, your mobile can become a great tool for making more environmentally friendly decisions, but are you using it in a sustainable way too? Ideally, you would just use your phone less, but we have them for a reason so when you’re out and about and worried about your battery life, you can do some of these things to make it last longer:

Dim the lights! Turn the back light down on your phone, this wastes lots of battery and it strains your eyes in darker spaces. 

On apple devices there is a ‘low power mode’ that is automatically engaged when you hit 20% battery, but you can switch this mode on manually before it reaches 20%. Do this earlier in the day and you won’t see that battery bar disappearing quite so quickly.

 If you’re travelling and you know you’ll be using a mode of travel that could leave you with minimal signal, cut out the middle man and switch to aeroplane mode until you know you’ll reach signal again. There’s no point having access on if you don’t have any access and aeroplane mode saves lots of battery.

 Another travelling tip - if you use a travel app to map your journeys, instead of accessing it every time you need to remember what you’re doing next (if it’s that complicated), screenshot the app’s journey so you don’t need signal , every time you need a reminder on where to go. Then, when you’re done, delete the screenshot. This way, you can check your journey while underground or in the midst of a rush of commuters with less hassle and using less battery. 

 If it is getting desperate, in London a charging network has recently started called ChargedUp. Using their app shows you a map of the city’s ChargedUp charging points which can be found in popular venues. Unfortunately, these charging points aren’t free, but 50p or £3 in a desperate situation is worth it, especially because all of them are operated using green energy! Hopefully we’ll be seeing similar schemes in cities across the country.