Mobile phones have quickly become the most ubiquitous personal device on the planet. More than 3 billion people now carry them, many of whom live in remote areas with threatened environments.

So can all those phones be put to good use, to make a big collective change for the better? Marketing research firm MobileActive thinks so. Based on a recent report, mobile phones are far more effective in spurring individuals to take action that other means. A typical response rate on a mobile campaign is commonly 20 percent. Compare that to an effective email campaign (perhaps 1-2 percent).

Based on the number of new environmental applications developed for mobile phones, it seems this little device may turn out to be one of the planet's biggest allies. Below is my pick for the Top 5 environmental applications, culled from Planet Green's excellent mobile guide to "green activism."

1. Text message from an elephant

In Kenya, where elephants and humans often clash (resulting in both animal deaths and ruined farmland), Save the Elephants has placed GPS collars on the beasts, alerting local farmers via SMS of the whereabouts of the herd so they can head them off before they damage valuable crops or preserves.

2. Barcode an old growth tree

In areas where illegal logging is a problem, select trees (which can be felled) are barcoded. The barcodes are uploaded via a hand-held device and the data is sent to the nearby mills. Any tree that comes in without a certified barcode is illegal and the loggers are caught red-handed. Check it out:

3. Organize a mobile petition

Argentina's first federal law protecting forests called The Forest Law, was passed in 2007 in large measure to mobile activism. Thousands of petitions were signed and sent via SMS, and Greenpeace Argentina used the mobile network to ask 350,000 to call their legislators.

4. Encourage your friends to go carbon-neutral

The Ecorio app (now only available on Android) tracks your travel real-time (using the accelerometer) and tallies that up with your overall carbon footprint. It offers a way to offset your footprint and to encourage your friends to do the same.

5. Learn how to shop green

There are several green shopping apps now available that help you find green businesses in your area (like 3rdWhale and Greenopia) and to scan an item in the grocery story to see just how healthy it is (GoodGuide).

There are dozens more listed on the PlanetGreen/TreeHugger guide to green apps. And here are some of my own posts on the subject:


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