It's Earth Day, So Make Sure To Try Out Some Green Vanity Apps

Earth Day is in full swing. Have you offset your carbon emissions yet? Well, there are plenty of apps and Websites out there ready to help you do just that and more. Green is the new black. Speaking of which, if you want to be green, you’d better avoid black cars and Websites with all-black backgrounds (like goth sites and sometimes even Google).

But don’t avoid us. We just decided to turn the background of TechCrunch black today in memory of Google’s noble effort last year, when its site went black in honor of “Earth Hour”. And don’t even think about printing out an e-mail (not that you would—unless it had really important information on it that you needed hard copy of like a contract or a map, in which case, be my guest).

Seriously, green apps are great and we fully support them here at TechCrunch. The first step to dealing with a problem is often to measure it. And there are plenty of Websites that let you measure your carbon footprint such as Co2Stats, (for Websites) and Zerofootprint (for people). But all too often these turn out to be nothing more than green vanity apps, designed to make you feel good about being green, but not really impacting the environment one way or the other.

For instance, consider a Facebook app just that launched called GoRecycle411 (developed by Jerry Kelly, the former VP of finance at Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment). You enter how many cans, bottles, newspapers, or office paper you’ve recycled and it tells you how much energy you saved and posts your achievement to all your friends via the Facebook News feed. It keeps a tally, and translates your energy into how many barrels of oil, trees, gallons of water, pounds of carbon dioxide, kilowatts of electricity, and cubic yards of garbage you save. It also keeps track of how much everyone using the application is saving.

The more you recycle, the more virtual points you get which you can spend on virtual gifts for friends like a polar bear, a windmill, or a tree. Of course, you can enter whatever numbers you want, and you still get all those good green karma points. All in all, it is better than a lot of other Facebook apps. Not only do you get to show off how green you are, but you get to shame your friends into recycling at the same time.

Another example is Greenbookings, a Dutch travel site that calculates the carbon emissions caused by your vacation and offsets that at the end of the year by investing in green energy projects. You pay nothing extra for the offsets, but you get to feel good about it and Greenbookings uses that as marketing lure to get you to book flights, hotels, and rental cars through its site. Why not, right? It is easier for one company to offset a years worth of travel-related carbon emissions than for each traveler to do so individually, and probably cheaper too. Except that who knows what Greenbookings is going to invest that offset money into. Last year, it put the money into a hydroelectric project in China. Water power is certainly cleaner than a coal plant, but isn’t China notorious for creating huge hydroelectric projects that wreak all sorts of other environmental and human havoc? I guess you just have to trust Greenbookings on that one

(Photo by Steve Jurvetson. Yes, the venture capitalist. Is it me, or is he channeling Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” in the image above?)