Carbon Widget Reaches 1 Million

You can thank this blog post for even more carbon emissions in the atmosphere. That’s because web hosting is largely powered by fossil fuel power plants and computers run on electricity. To help bring a little carbon transparency to web sites, including those in our good ol’ blogosphere, two student entrepreneurs — Alex Wissner-Gross at Harvard and Tim Sullivan at Yale — have developed the CO2 Stats Project, a widget that tracks visitors to web sites, calculates the sites’ carbon emissions and offsets the lot. Wissner-Gross and Sullivan tell us that their widget, launched at the end of October, has grown to more than 1 million unique visitors viewing it each month across about 700 sites.

While those 1 million uniques are coming off the back of the web sites, getting 700 sites to sign up is pretty impressive, and Wissner-Gross and Sullivan say the reach of their widget is growing at 2 percent a day. The widget itself is very simple — it tracks visitors and the corresponding electricity usage, and doesn’t take into consideration if the electricity is powered by renewable sources. The business model itself is more interesting.

It’s free for any web site to embed the code and have its visitors feel better about their carbon-emitting web use. The project aims to pay for the offsets by signing up advertisers. While the team doesn’t currently have any advertisers signed up, they say they are in talks with several. Right now they are spending thousands of their own dollars on offsetting through Sustainable Travel International.

The entrepreneurs think that the growth in green-themed advertising and marketing will soon fill in for their own pocketbook. As Wissner-Gross puts it: “Companies are spending millions every year to advertise their eco-friendliness, why not put that towards making a difference?” Spoken like a true, savvy green marketing exec.

While the CO2 Stats Project is getting some traction on the interwebs, there are other entrepreneurs out there with similar goals in mind. Greenbook, an application on Facebook, uses sponsorship funds to purchase CO2 offsets, and then doles those out in fractional amounts to anyone who’s added the app. Greenbook has 640,000 installs and is betting that the group mentality can provoke personal offsets.

Other companies are trying to get web site builders to spend a premium on web hosting services powered by renewables; AISO and startup GreenestHost are just two names in this growing market. Taken together, there are lots of options for those of us looking out from behind our computer screens for ways to make the Internet a little greener.