While San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (now candidate for California Governor) let slip that San Francisco was working on an environment-focused map at our Green:Net conference last month, the project is officially being announced today (yup, Earth Day). Developed by Cisco and San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, the “Urban EcoMap” is a web-based free mapping tool that will enable users to plug in their zip codes and visualize climate change information, like emissions from transportation, energy and waste. San Francisco is the first city to collaborate on the Cisco map, though it won’t go live in San Francisco until May 21. Seoul and Amsterdam are planning to launch their own versions later this year.
Visualizing greenhouse gas emissions in the context of geographical data, can help both city planners and policy makers as well as local residents make decisions and purchases around development and transportation. In particular, San Francisco is attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2012, so the city can see, for example, which neighborhoods are power hogs and need to reduce energy, or which geographic zones have the most clean vehicles.
Beyond providing tools to visualize the data, the map will enable communities to update their progress in reducing their environmental impact. It can track the number of alternative-fuel cars people buy, for example, as well as recycling rates and energy consumption. Residents are encouraged to choose different actions (organized by effort, cost or environmental impact) to help decrease the carbon footprint of their zip code and city. Cisco says the service will allow people “to contribute and to share eco-data in a public forum via any application or device, just as they would contribute the publishing of data on the Internet.” In that sense it’s like a personal carbon calculator for city residents on the backdrop of a web map.
Using information technology — social networks, mobile tools, online mapping data — can help spur collaboration, active engagement and hopefully lead to behavior changes. We’d like to see automatic data (secure and anonymous) being entered into the map eventually, like airline travel or credit card purchase data. And because it’s an open platform, there can be a lot of applications built on top of the map and opportunities for third party collaboration.
The EcoMap comes out of Cisco’s Connected Urban Development (CUD) business, which it created in 2006 through a collaboration with the Clinton Global Initiative, and which focuses on using information technology to help cities fight climate change. Cisco points out that 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from cities, so there’s a real need for urban residents to manage their carbon footprints collectively.