When you shop on Amazon, you might look around the site for the best price, or read a product’s reviews to see if it’s really worth buying. With a new browser extension called Neutral, you can also check the carbon footprint of that item and weigh whether that purchase is worth the environmental cost.
Neutral, which is available for Chrome and Firefox, shows the emissions for a product over its entire life span, from its creation to transport to eventual disposal. That information appears right on Amazon, and includes some comparisons to explain the impact of all those emissions. A set of 10 reusable freezer bags, for example, has a carbon footprint of 6.6 kilograms of CO2, equivalent to 26.2 kilometers (about 16 miles) of driving emissions, or 98.7 kilograms of glacial ice melted, according to Neutral. The carbon footprint of a robot vacuum is 97.8 kilograms of CO2, equal to 389.6 kilometers (242 miles) of driving or 1,466.9 kilograms of glacial ice melted.
Neutral was created by a group of university students from the Toronto area who premiered the browser extension at Stanford’s TreeHacks 2020 hackathon. They then applied to and became a part of Mozilla’s MVP Lab under its Fix-The-Internet Incubator, a program for companies working on sustainable solutions to online-focused issues. To Cem Torun, one of the cofounders, Neutral was a natural fit: Online shopping is convenient, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but comes with a big environmental impact, and they aim to make online shopping more sustainable.
Currently, Neutral only shows the carbon footprint for products on Amazon (that information comes from CarbonScopeData, a database from CleanMetrics), but Torun says they hope to expand to other e-commerce sites, and even suggest more sustainable alternatives to something you might have in your digital cart. They focused on Amazon to start because that’s where the bulk online shopping happens; Amazon has nearly 50% of e-commerce trade, and the company’s worldwide sales are expected to grow 20.2% this year as the pandemic pushes more people to shop online.
Neutral’s founders do hope their extension helps people reconsider their online purchases, but, knowing people may still buy something even after seeing that carbon footprint, the tool also lets you offset your internet shopping. After uploading money to a digital wallet with Neutral, you can purchase offsets sourced by the startup at the same time you make your Amazon purchase. So far, Neutral has helped offset more than 53,000 kilograms, or more than 116,800 pounds, of CO2.
“For many people, they might not be doing that many sustainable actions because it’s not convenient. It’s something that they care about, but not necessarily a primary focus,” Torun says. “We want to make it so that when you’re considering products on Amazon, you look at the size, the quality, the brand, of course the cost, but we also want you to look at the environmental cost.”