I dutifully sort my recycling, shun Styrofoam, and buy biodegradable detergent. And while I wouldn’t consider doing otherwise, sometimes these efforts feel like casting a vote in the 2000 presidential election: for naught. I might have a different outlook if I could see the aggregated impact of these small gestures over time—how many trees I’ve saved, for instance, by recycling the Sunday paper (or by switching to a digital subscription).
That’s the logic behind a brilliant conceptual project by Artefact’s director of industrial design, Fernd Van Engelen, who wanted to quantify the impact of using a reusable water bottle: How much money did he save? How many plastic bottles didn’t end up in a landfill as a result of his choice? "I tried to do the mental math," Van Engelen writes. "And of course, I wasn’t quite able to put a number to it."So he developed a concept for a reusable water bottle, dubbed 999bottles, that would help keep track of non-consumption with a built-in three-dial counter system. Every time the user refilled her bottle, she’d advance the dial one notch. A companion app would allow her to visualize her impact: At eight bottles, she will have amortized her initial purchase. At 147, she has saved $326 and seven gallons of oil; stacked lengthwise, they’d reach the height of a 15-story building. Social media, Engelen suggests, could provide additional encouragement, with friends competing against one another or joining forces to measure their collective impact.
Van Engelen chose to quantify plastic bottles, but the same principle could be applied to measuring the impact of other activities, such as the fuel one saves by biking or taking public transportation to work, or even the healthful benefits of drinking water as opposed to soda. Our question to Van Engelen: How much money would you need to bring this concept to reality? We’re ready.