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You're as green as your friends, maybe greener. You carry a canvas shopping bag. Funny-looking light bulbs stick out of your fixtures. And last year, when you discovered you had left the iron on for a week while on vacation, you were haunted by images of your grandchildren damned to the inferno of global warming.

So what do you have to learn about walking softly on the Earth?

Quite a bit, thinks entrepreneur Don Lotter. And he's got $30,000 of credit card debt riding on whether you will pay him to teach you.

Lotter may be no genius at personal finance, but he knows his stuff when it comes to earthly affairs. His EnviroAccount computer program will tell you exactly how much your lifestyle hurts - or helps - Mother Nature. It will tell you what to change. And it will track your progress over the years.

Drive too much? Penalty points. Shop at yard sales? Extra credit. Toss paint thinner in the dumpster? Big booby prizes. Invest in "clean" businesses? Bonus points. Add it all up, and you've got a green score that you can watch over time and compare with friends' scores.

Lotter is not our typical entrepreneur. At 40, he's still in grad school, inching toward a Ph.D. in ecology that he started "about a decade ago" and living on a student's budget. Even the origins of his brainchild are somewhat unorthodox.

"I teach a course on Western forms of environmental consciousness," Lotter reports. "Three years ago, I realized that the way we're linked to the biosphere is invisible. We can't look around and see it. It's mostly through our consumption.

That's probably the main reason we run roughshod over the environment, Lotter concluded, theorizing that if there were a way to make personal impacts tangible, raising environmental consciousness would be much simpler. Lotter dreamed of ecological bookkeeping, software that would let people watch their impact the way they watch their weight, a sort of calorie counter for environmental enthusiasts.

Lotter poked around for a means of personal environmental accounting, but his search of thousands of software programs uncovered nothing useful. So he decided to create his own. "I thought it was going to be a six-month project," says Lotter.

Three years later, EnviroAccount was finished. Environmental accounting, it turned out, was confoundedly difficult, requiring a battery of 120 questions, some of them stumpers: What share by weight of the manufactured goods you have purchased new in the last 10 years are constructed from steel, aluminum, and plastic? What share of your clothes are made from synthetic fabrics? What share of your laundry is washed with phosphate-free detergents?

Lotter worked hard to keep things manageable. He included a projected average-American answer for each question as a fallback and inserted various shortcuts for those too pressed to weigh their trash and inventory their household possessions. Still, completing the survey the first time through takes "a minimum of 90 minutes," Lotter says, emphasizing minimum.

At the session's end, you will have an assessment of your earthly impact, both positive and negative, with scores in six categories: household energy and water, transportation, consumerism, waste, land use and demographics, and advocacy. You will also earn a total score and, with it, a label: Eco-Titan, Eco-Yeoman, Yuppie-Wanna-Be, or Jabba-the-Hut.

Whatever your score, Lotter hastens to assure you not to worry. EnviroAccount declares at the very beginning, "This program does not judge your self-worth, so please do not take it personally." The idea is to learn and to set priorities for change.

The learning comes in commentary that is sprinkled throughout the program: "Your car air conditioner leaks CFCs whether you use it or not." "Your refrigerator is the biggest user of electricity in your home." "Adopted children need not be counted in questions on population growth."

Of course, any such point system has its pitfalls. Because it mixes so many forms of ecological harm, it can never be strictly scientific. Still, Lotter based his scale on three critical variables. An action is bad, he asserts, if it depletes natural resources, pollutes the environment, or degrades habitats.

One can quibble over the details of EnviroAccount's point scale - aluminum consumption may be undervalued relative to steel and glass, five bonus points for each letter written to government officials may be too few, and so on - but he has all the basics right.

As a result, the big issues loom large in the scoring: driving, consumerism, home energy use, waste reduction, activism.

Lotter thinks big, guessing there are millions of people out there waiting for EnviroAccount. And in the long run, it could pass into popular culture. Just imagine, renters seeking roommates might advertise: "Apartment to share with non-smoking Eco-Yeowoman." Personal ads might read, "Mature woman ISO romance, companionship. No Jabbas." The possibilities are, well, possible.

Others agree we could use some guidance on how to spend our limited personal energy for planet care. "I think of thousands of people carefully snipping six-pack rings" but never pushing leaders to make the big changes the Earth needs, says author John Javna of Berkeley, California. Javna's best-selling book 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Save the Earth recommends, among other things, snipping six pack holders to protect sea birds and mammals, which sometimes get snared in the rings.

On one score Don Lotter has already succeeded with EnviroAccount. His personal green score hit the coveted Eco-Titan range in June after he cut his driving down to 3,000 miles a year. (It also surpassed the point total of your humble author, whose family's otherwise Titan lifestyle was heavily penalized for its thousands of jet miles logged visiting relatives in distant states.)

On another important score - sales - it's too early to say. EnviroAccount is "just getting out into the market," Lotter explains, and as of early 1993, was selling at a rate of about 50 a month. His credit card carriers undoubtedly wish him success in this other shade of green.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Worldwatch Institute
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Computer program
Author:Durning, Alan Thein
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Asleep on the job.
Next Article:Voices from the village.

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