EPA showcases new environmental apps

The Light Bulb Finder, a mobile phone application that helps users pick more energy-efficient bulbs for their homes, was the overall winner of the Environmental Protection Agency's Apps for the Environment challenge.

The second-place finisher, showcased during an EPA event in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday, was Hootroot, an app that lets users calculate the carbon footprint of a trip using different modes of transportation. The app tacks onto Google Maps' database and looks similar to the standard directions app in Apple iOS devices.

EPA launched Apps for the Environment in June, challenging contestants to use agency data to build a tool that addressed one of seven priorities Administrator Lisa Jackson set, including reducing the effects of climate change, improving air and water quality, and making environmental equality a larger part of the social justice debate.

The agency chose five winning apps from 38 submissions. In lieu of prize money, the winners' apps will be promoted on EPA's website and they can sell the tool in other venues.

The Light Bulb Finder takes users through a step-by-step process to choose more efficient options for their home. Users can keep the list of new bulbs as a grocery list, email it to themselves or order the bulbs directly through the app.

The list of new bulbs includes a chart showing how much they will save annually, how long it will take the bulbs to pay for themselves and how much users will reduce their carbon footprints.

The popular choice award, voted by visitors to the Apps for the Environment website was CGSearch, which allows users to compare the air quality in various U.S. cities.

The winning student app was Earthfriend, a collection of games that teach students about the environment. The runner-up was Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping, which plots biohazards on the Navajo Nation, which covers parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The app includes a crowdsourcing feature that allows users to add new potential hazards.

Apps for the Environment is part of a governmentwide push to farm out government-generated data to the public where entrepreneurial developers can use it to create nonprofit or profit making software, mobile apps and other tools. The repository Data.gov has uploaded 1,575 data sets in the past year.

Government data have been used to build successful apps for the insurance and financial industries among others. Federal agencies also have built many of their own apps in the past two years.