As you take steps to live more sustainably, you may wonder which Practically Green actions have the most impact. How does using natural shampoo compare to recycling your old sneakers or signing up for green power? To show you, we’ve developed a proprietary methodology for translating everything from scientific literature and life cycle impact assessments to greenhouse gas emissions and chemical toxicology into an accessible point system.
Simply put, our scientists carefully analyze the impacts of each action to calculate its points or score. The greater the impact, the higher the score.
We score our actions and award points in four categories: Water, Energy, Stuff, and Health. The first three categories are about reducing consumption and preventing waste. The fourth is about lowering our exposures to harmful substances.
For our Water, Energy, and Stuff categories, we measure the impacts of each action in six potential areas: the energy and/or fuel saved, the emissions prevented, the water conserved, the waste prevented, and the trees left standing. For our Health category, we look at the toxicity of the chemicals involved and the degree to which the action reduces your exposure.
Impacts are calculated relative to a conventional alternative. For example, the score for taking public transportation to work is based on the difference in per-person fuel consumption between taking mass transit and driving a car. In these cases, we use averages—here it’s the average fuel economy and the average distance to work.
Our data comes from reliable third-party academic, government, and nongovernmental sources. These include peer-reviewed journals, Energy Information Administration data, and reports from organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists. When such data is unavailable, we may look to other sources or make educated assumptions (for example, the amount of coffee filters an office uses).
We include life cycle analyses (complete assessments of all of the eco-impacts of a given action, service, or product, from start to finish) when they’re readily available or when they constitute a significant portion of an action’s impacts. Much of the impact of reducing your meat consumption, for example, comes from saving the energy it takes to grow livestock feed. So when it comes to your favorite steak, we make sure to include this life cycle data.
Most actions earn points in only one category, but when there are substantial impacts across multiple categories, we’ll award points in others. Using a low-flow shower head, for example, saves lots of energy by using less hot water and therefore earns points for both Water and Energy. The exception to this rule is in the Stuff category. Due to the fact that there are energy savings associated with nearly every action that reduces waste, we incorporate these into the Stuff scores and don’t award separate points.
The maximum number of points an action can receive in any one category is 150. Very rarely an action can earn as many as 600 by maxing out in every category. Most actions with measurable impacts earn a minimum of 10 points. If an action has no measurable impacts, but is educational or influential, like calculating your carbon footprint, we’ll give it 5 points.
All users start as a level one. As users check off actions, they earn points and can move up levels from Barely Green (1) to Superbly Green (10). The more actions you take and points you accumulate, the higher your level. As you get further along, it takes more points to move up a level. To go from level 1 to 2 only requires a few hundred points, but to go from a 9 to 10 takes a few thousand. Becoming Superbly Green is not easy, but it is very impactful! You can always check your Dashboard to see how many points are needed to make it to the next level.
You can track the total impact of any group you belong to on the Groups page. Here, the monthly tally represents the cumulative impact of all of the actions everyone in your group has taken for the last 30 days. Actions that you and your group-mates perform on a regular basis and/or ones that have ongoing impacts (like weatherstripping windows) are included in every month’s tally. One-time actions (like a staycation) count toward your group’s monthly impact for just 30 days, but will always be part of its cumulative impact.
We use the honor system. Actions that are clearly habitual shouldn’t be marked as complete unless you do them regularly. For example, if you once picked up a candy wrapper, that doesn’t count as picking up litter when you see it.
Similarly, if you used to do an action all the time, but don’t anymore (say you moved to a new house and no longer have a dual-flush toilet), please uncheck that action.
There may also be times when you can mark an action as complete even though it doesn’t apply to you. If, for example, you don’t belong to a gym or don’t exercise, you can get points for unplugging your exercise routine. On the other hand, if you’re a renter with no control over turning down your water heater, you shouldn’t mark this action as complete until you convince your landlord to turn it down!
We’re constantly fine-tuning our calculations as new data becomes available and occasionally this changes an action’s score.
Have any thoughts or questions about our methodology? Drop us a line!