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DESIGN 21

Our commitment to improving life through social design has been with us since the beginning. This is who we are and why we’re here.

  • Offset or Change?

    Communication

    Picture_1-1_432_

    By Jennifer Leonard

    It’s been too long since my last post, and I apologize. In honor of St. Valentine, mid-February, I was planning to write about Cheat Neutral, a tongue-in-cheek initiative out of the UK that “helps you because you can’t help yourself.” It promises to offset the discretions of cheaters and pays those who are faithful to their partners for not cheating.

    Sample text from the site: “When you cheat on your partner you add to the heartbreak, pain and jealousy in the atmosphere. Cheat Neutral offsets your cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and NOT cheat. This neutralizes the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”

    I was drawn in by its sassy tone and potent missive directed not at the Romeos among us but at carbon offsetting offers that are all the rage of late. Although attractive on the surface, the big idea of carbon offsetting becomes quite shallow the deeper one investigates. I see it more as a short-term panacea, or Band-Aid solution, rather than a long-term preventative strategy in our shared global energy challenge. In other words, it sustains rather than changes unsustainable behavior by providing a means by which one can alleviate his or her sense of guilt about unsustainable behavior.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for forgiving mistakes and moving on, with compassion and learned lessons in tow. But what about taking a long, hard look at one’s own behavior patterns and circumventing repeat slip-ups by changing ways, for the better, altogether?

    It’s an ideal scenario. But that doesn’t mean it can’t come true. It comes down to the individual in question and his or her personal decision to change or not. A forest full of design innovations can offer and inspire, but until one makes the conscious decision to change, it’s all just potential energy awaiting a trigger to move in a new way.

    Right. So that’s that. And then along came Dopplr.

    I was recently in London and had the pleasure of chatting over Eggs Benny and coffee with Matt Jones, the creative mind and guts behind Dopplr, “the online service for intelligent business travelers.” It’s a travel-sharing platform for jetsetters that allows users to track their own comings and goings, as well as share trips with friends. Jones told me about a new partnership Dopplr was making with AMEE, “the world’s energy meter,” which would make visible and help measure members’ carbon footprints. AMEE (Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine) is a technology platform that is designed to be built upon. Like a “Wikipedia for data," it employs “open up methodologies with tight peer review that allows everyone to see exactly where the data comes from, and why.”

    The aim behind the Dopplr/AMEE joint project is not to preach. Nor is the point to offset, and sweep under the rug. The point is to spur provocative thought through transparency, so that choices around behavioral change can be made (or not) at one’s own discretion.

    In the words of AMEE’s founding director Gavin Starks, “We believe that the best approach to creating massive change is to reduce barriers for access to data, services and technology – and enable collaboration.” Together with Dopplr, for starters, a community of travelers can measure. In time, bottom-up solutions will point users towards information they need to understand and act on this data. Or not.

    The choice is ours.

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