Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oh No! Not Another Product Review . . .

Going Green Today recently asked if I would write up a review of their site on the green elephant. I don’t typically write product reviews, but Going Green isn’t just a product; it’s a process. And I’m a process junky, I just couldn’t resist. I asked Lauren to participate as well; her added perspective is always better than my lonely opinion. And if there should be a process where we can both participate to transition our lives into the "green," why not have a jointly issued opinion? 

First thing first, the Going Green Today site self-prescribes as your "personal green coach." To start the process, they ask for some basic user information. Data solicitation is standard practice these days and it should not serve as a warning to their legitimacy, but I should caution you against giving away your information so freely. It’s your calculated risk: it comes down to how bad do you want their services?

A better question to ask: does Going Green site add any real value to your daily "green" lives?

That's the question we set out to answer: is Going Green Today just another "perceived value" site? or does it actually have some positive impact on our sustainable aspirations? 

In their introduction, Going Green had promised to help me save $2000, learn how to make effective choices, and set goals to accomplish living green on my own pace. The best part: I don’t have to move “to a cave” for my sustainable ambitions.I can do all of it in the comfort of my home.

Most of the things we had to disclose are about our living habits (how many pets, how many “plug-in” electronics, how often do we volunteer, how much resources we use daily, etc). I tried to follow the break downs of their categories, but I find their market incentive segmentation is very habitat centric. I happen to like it; it drills down to the details of my day-to-day routines, but their systemic thinking revolves around a single concept--the core habits we know to have impacts on the environment and people's lives. It counts the beads for us where it should; both Lauren and I agreed that we needed a "green" accountant.

In their survey, they've also included some elements of LEED standards. It forced me to go back to my outlines and look up a few numbers. I’d have to say it’s a good learning tool and I wish they had a follow-up “reminders” to facilitate that learning process.  But for someone who is not familiar with LEED, this process makes it simple for the user to at least gain some perspective of what LEED is trying to do.

For example: Going Green asked for the water flow rate (Gallons Per Minute – “GPM”) of my shower-head. We have hard water and our previous shower-head had been calcified to the point of no return. Lauren had put in our new shower-head recently and I will have to look on the box to see if our new one is a WaterSense certified. What I do know is that LEED considers standard shower-heads to have 2.5GPM at 80psi. EPA’s WaterSense shower-heads must meet a standard below 2.0GPM while the low-flow products on the market achieves 1.8GPM or lower. A 0.7 Gallons Per Minute difference does not seem much water to be saving, but at a 20-minute hot shower, it’s 14 gallons water circulating down the drain daily that we could’ve saved. 14 gallons is a lot of water that could be used in better ways.

At the end of a long and soul-searching survey, I learned that I have 24 lifestyle actions to take and I can save $2914 per year and 5790 pounds of carbon emission. I can change my daily habits by another 19 actionable items to save an additional $522 per year and 5155 pounds of carbon emission. I can perform another 17 tasks in my transportation choices to save another $3329 per year and 19100 pounds of carbon emission. (I wonder if they adjust for gas prices going up ad down?)

Amongst other things, I can also change 29 things about my house and save $3007 per year and save another 44484 pounds of carbon. At the end of my shameful report, reminding me of my first world bad habits, Going Green asked me to start with one task today.

My first task was checking for drafts by using a burning incense to seek out places where energy is escaping. If there is a draft, the smoke will tell you where it is. I performed accordingly, but couldn’t find any particular spots I felt sure the smoke had been leading me to the right direction. Or else I may have been seeing things.

Aside from my user error, I presume Going Green is doing some sort of best management and best technology-available assessments in the background. With all the data you have provided in the initial survey, I venture to guess they are able to perform some reasonable analysis about how you can engage in the best management or technology possible. But I can’t be sure how in-depth is their data collection and how accurate is their analysis. Both my wife and I saw a few questions that did not apply to us and a few questions where the options were limited. We were also given certain tasks (reusing our utensils during lunch or reusing lunch bags for example) we already perform.

But the 30 minutes I had spent answering their survey did provide me with a reasonable starting point. For that, I am thankful.

One complaint I have is that the whole process is not as customized as I’d like them to be. Either as my "green coach" or my "green accountant" I felt Going Green fell short of giving me a customized experience. My preference would be to have someone actually assigned to help motivate me, but I know that may be very cost prohibitive for their operations. But an easy solution may be someone close by—my wife for example. If I had the opportunity to engage my wife on this whole process from the beginning, it would put some privacy in the experience, help motivate me, and customize it to a degree without sacrificing too much total man-hours invested from the company’s operational expenses. This could also potentially double their user population, a win-win for the service provider and the user. But that comes with a delicate balance for user’s trust, protecting their privacy, with the need to use public social web services to facilitate the process itself. Going Green will have to put some serious thoughts into that co-venture process if they want it to succeed. 

Another complaint: they do deliver daily emails to my inbox. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don’t. My inbox is clogged already. . . like the shower drain we just cleaned out to help with water efficiency. It’s usually not much of an annoyance. Again, if my wife had been the one sending me the message, it would be more effective—it would account for the contours of our busy lives. Otherwise, the daily emails are at minimum a bit intrusive.

So the final question I had to ask is if their site, to which I provided some very detailed information about my life, is worth my time?

Does it really add value to the whole sustainability transition of my personal life?

Here are my thoughts:

They have focused on using a process improvement method. I’m partial to that, as always. But I should caution: using too much automated services might kill the process before we even began. This is not the company’s fault; it’s our inherent problem, our short attention span. This is one systemic issue I have yet to think of a solution to.

If you are worried about giving away private information, you can be rest assured. With the detailed information you will give to Going Green, you receive a somewhat equally detailed report on how you can improve your life. This is a task I would’ve spent month in researching and organization. Time is valuable; I’d rather waste my time on other frivolous things of suffering. I’m glad someone offered a FREE way for me to do this in less than an hour, so I’d say the transaction Going Green is offering is very fair.

To conclude, I would recommend they put a bit more emphasis on people, not automation; I would include human rights causes they can support (potential petitions and letter campaigns) as suggested activities. These could be a much broader than just writing letter and signing petitions; it could be a “creative” reminder: reminding the user to exercise their creativity and capture a moment in art to reflect on the things they can change about their lives towards sustainability. This would make the whole process more meaningful. This engages the users and creates more value. The users are more likely to return on loyalty basis.

I do enjoy their simplistic design choices. The whole experience is very aesthetic; less cluttered by the nuances of what we see in other social media sites. As I suggested before, perhaps some carefully chosen art work would add to their overall appeal? Art that would inspire my systemic changes towards a sustainable personal live?Art that comes from their users and would inspire a community?

"Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing-the result" -Vince Lombardi

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