Tree Canada helps calculate the cost of your online footprint

A Chrome extension shows just how much carbon your internet use produces (and lets you offset it with a donation).
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Users may not think too much of it, but streaming multiple seasons of Better Call Saul can have cumulative negative carbon effects.

While seldom mentioned in the same breath as cars or air travel, internet usage is actually a larger polluter, and that’s the impetus for Offset Mode, a Chrome extension that’s also an awareness-raiser and small donor campaign for Tree Canada, the leading national tree planting charity.

Conceived by Rethink and created in partnership with Toronto-based digital agency Apply Digital, Offset Mode is a tool that makes users aware of the impact of their online activity in real-time. Using data from carbonfootprint.org and the International Energy Agency, the tool can assess the damage from all those “Idiots in Cars” YouTube videos you’ve been watching and tell you exactly how much offsetting it would cost – and enables them to do so through a donation to Tree Canada.

Available anywhere in the world, the extension also takes into account the fact that the cost to offset is different depending on where someone lives and their energy comes from things like coal or greener sources like wind, hydro or solar. For example, streaming a 3 GB movie costs about 11 cents in Alberta, but 0.25 cents in Prince Edward Island.

“Everyone rails against the airline industry, and yet no one is really talking about internet usage, which is always on the rise,” says Sean O’Connor, CD for Rethink. He says that quantifying it for the end user was an interesting facet of the campaign.

It’s about making the invisible and hard to conceive climate impacts of everyday actions make sense to people, regardless of where they are in the world.

Rethink has worked on a couple of campaigns with Tree Canada in the past, as well as adjacently through work with other clients. Last year with fellow client Shaw, for example, Rethink helped get gamers to plant trees through “Tree Sprees”.

Tree Canada does a lot of work with corporate sponsors to help their own environmental contribution, but this is a different avenue focused on individuals and their actions, especially with more of us hunkered down and working from home.

Launched ahead of Earth Day next week, there is supplemental video content promoting the extension, though it is largely driven by earned media, working with partners Tree Canada has previously worked with, like Harvey’s, to draw attention.

The spend is small, but for a nonprofit that doesn’t do a lot of brand building work, it’s putting a bit behind it, O’Connor says. Mediaplus did the buy.