How Has Vivergy Learned From The Anti-Tobacco Movement?

(This is part 3 of 5 of a new series called “The Vivergy Difference”, which will go into detail on how we decided to build Vivergy)

This week, we are going to talk about how we apply the lessons from the anti-tobacco movement in the Vivergy site. If you did not get a chance to check out our summary of the incredibly successful secondhand smoke movement in the 1970s and 1980s, you can learn more here. We believe that this success can be emulated through a new movement catered towards local air that is safer for children to breath.

So what are some key takeaways from the secondhand smoke movement?

-The interpersonal component is huge. In other words, the fact that people who do not smoke cigarettes are still affected by the choices of cigarette smokers tends to bother the strong sense of independence that many Americans hold dear (knowingly or unknowingly)

-Those who are not able to defend themselves are at risk. This includes groups like children and grandmothers. These two groups have lungs that are not as capable of protecting themselves.

-Parents are the key leaders. Parents want to take care of their kids, and for many parents, cigarette smoke interferes with that interest. This is also the path to mass interest- a value that many parents hold and can agree upon.

Let’s pose a similar scenario and see what you think.

Suppose you are drinking a soda, and I approach you and say, “Hey! You should not be drinking that soda. It can lead to all sorts of nasty stuff like diabetes”.

You might reply, “Well, I know it is unhealthy, but it is just one soda, it is not going to cause very much harm. Leave me alone.”

Let’s imagine we live in a slightly alternate reality. In this reality, when you drink a soda, your child automatically gets the harmful health effects rather than you.

In this reality, perhaps you might think twice about drinking a soda. Do I really need this? Can I go with water instead this time? Is it really fair for me to be putting my child at risk for a frivolous desire such as soda drinking?

(perhaps your reaction to this scenario might be a good determinant as to whether or not you would enjoy Vivergy!)

Let’s tie this back to Vivergy. We offer users statistics such as “Based on today’s air quality, living in your area will be equal to living three months of the year with a smoker”. This has a couple distinctions over a traditional environmental message. First, it is customized to every community across the United States, and updated hourly. We are not trying to ask individuals to consider a long-term, large-scale environmental phenomena, but rather, the air that their children are breathing right now. Second, it is meant to be a fundamentally human phenomenon. Air pollution causes asthma attacks, and you can actually witness an asthma attack. From an individual’s limited perspective, it is hard to determine when you are actually experiencing the impacts of an environmentally-harmful phenomena. If you want to know more about air pollution, let us know! Tweet @vivergy and email us at info (at)

-The Vivergy Team


Secrets of Vivergy Unveiled (Part 1)

(This is part 1 of 3 of a new series which will describe how to do your own air pollution to cigarettes calculations)

Here at Vivergy, we go out of our way to share what we know about air pollution, and help others understand how they might be able to better connect to such a complex scientific topic. We have really pushed to find ways to connect the data to each and every person across the United States, and avoid the trap of discussing the science in ways that are difficult to comprehend. We convey air pollution in three separate ways on the Vivergy platform: number of cigarettes inhaled per year, months of the year living with a smoker, and time spent in a sealed car with a smoker. Today, we want to let you know how to do your very own air pollution to cigarettes per year calculation. Using these methods, you can convert any air pollution data measured in fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Let’s do it!

In order to compare the two, we make a fundamental assumption that the particulate matter in air pollution has the same makeup as the particulate matter in cigarettes. Fine particulate matter is a general class of pollutant that encompasses any airborne particle less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. It is a standard measure of air pollution due to its harmful nature and its general application across all air systems. The smoke that one inhales when smoking a cigarette also falls under this class of particulate.

An individual inhales an average of 12 milligrams of particulates after smoking one cigarette. Since the concentration of outdoor air pollution is usually measured in micrograms per cubic meter, we must find the following to get to cigarettes per year:

How much air does a person breath every day?

What is the concentration of air pollution in that breath?

Based on studies in the field of human exposure science, we will assume that an individual inhales about 18 cubic meters of air per day. Let’s assume the person is breathing in air that has a PM2.5 concentration of 30 micrograms per cubic meter, relatively high for many places in the United States.

30 ug/m3 * 18 m3 per day *365 days per year= 197,100 micrograms per year

197,100 / 1000 = 197.1 milligrams per year / 12mg per cigarette= 16.4 cigarettes.

And there you have it! Inhaling an average of 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air pollution is just like inhaling 16 cigarettes over the course of the year. Now you have a cool trick to make friends at parties.

A couple more factors to think about- children not only inhale more air as a percent of their body mass, but their organs are also still developing. So those 16 cigarettes can have many more short and long term effects in lungs that are still growing that may not be able to defend themselves as easily.

-The Vivergy Team


C. Arden Pope, III, Richard T. Burnett, Michelle C. Turner, Aaron Cohen, Daniel Krewski, Michael Jerrett, Susan M. Gapstur, Michael J. Thun. Lung Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Associated with Ambient Air Pollution and Cigarette Smoke: Shape of the Exposure–Response Relationships. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 November; 119(11): 1616–1621. Published online 2011 July 19.

A Playbook for Facing Serious Societal Threats

(This is part 2 of 5 of a new series called “The Vivergy Difference”, which will go into detail on how we decided to build Vivergy)

Last week, we covered the challenges associated with current environmental messaging tactics. We then proposed a new, local health-oriented way of thinking about these issues. But what evidence do we have that this is a better approach? And, why hasn’t any major group tried it out yet? The stop-smoking movement faced many similar challenges in their decades-long fight against Big Tobacco, and struggled to find a way to change the cigarette smoking habits of Americans. But, in the early 1980s, public health messengers began to use a new tactic that would forever change the way Americans perceived cigarettes.

Beginning in the early 1920s, cigarette smoking began a sharp and steady increase in popularity that would continue through the 1960s. At the peak of the trend, around 42% of American adults were smokers. Simultaneously, scientists began to develop a body of research that proved that cigarettes caused lung cancer, and were therefore deadly. By the 1950s, scientists had collected a definitive body of proof that cigarettes were, indeed, cancer-causing and deadly. Big Tobacco responded with an anti-science campaign of epic proportions, meant mainly to confuse the issue and create skepticism among Americans. Tobacco companies even came together to promote other social and health issues to take the attention away from cigarettes. Sadly, there was no measurable decrease in smoking habits by the year 1980 compared to the mid 1950’s. But, by the early 80s, a new concept called “passive smoking” or “secondhand smoke” soon enveloped all non-smoking Americans in the fight against Big Tobacco.

Secondhand smoking was first mentioned as a concern by the Surgeon General in 1972, and smoking began a precipitous drop from there. Smoking receded from a popular public activity, to something done only in private, and then to quitting entirely. Secondhand smoke interfered with some fundamental American values, like the right to breath air that was not cancer-causing, and the ability to protect the well-being of innocent children. The cultural perception of cigarettes quickly shifted from a cool, popular activity, to one that made non-smokers uncomfortable. Cigarette companies tried a variety of campaigns to win back public perception and rally active cigarette smokers, but there was no going back.

After 20+ years of messages related to personal health and cancer prevention with proven science, cigarette smoking remained, resilient as ever. Within 10 years of secondhand smoke, cultural views towards cigarettes had changed rapidly. Current environmental communicators could learn a lot from this message. Smokers did not disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus or think that smoking was not cancer causing, but yet, they remained smokers. As soon as the cultural connotation of their actions changed, smokers quit en masse. Vivergy is trying to emulate the past success of public health messengers against cigarette use. Air pollution, which shares the same carcinogens and lung irritants as cigarette smoke, enters our atmosphere every time we use energy. It is this fact, much like secondhand smoke, that motivates us to push forwards towards a more concentrated effort against air pollution. We hope that you will join us!

–The Vivergy Team

Next week: How does Vivergy use this success story to make energy issues more relevant?

Further Reading:

Why talk about health when it comes to energy use?

(This is part 1 of 5 of a new series called “The Vivergy Difference”, which will go into detail on how we decided to build Vivergy)

It has been quite awhile since our last post! Don’t worry, we are about to get much more active in the blogging game. You might have already noticed that Vivergy explicitly focuses on the health of loved ones and community members, rather than traditional environmental metrics. Ever wonder why we decided to go down this route? Or what about the difference between our work and typical energy-oriented projects? This post is for you!

We were initially frustrated with trying to wrap our minds around current environmental topics. It was difficult for us to process large-scale, long-term environmental phenomena like fracking, plastic in the ocean and deforestation. We really care about these issues, but they always feel so distant, and hard to address through our own means. In addition, the units of measurement are huge! Tons of garbage, hectares of forest… these are hard to imagine from here in Ann Arbor. It turns out we are not the only ones that have a hard time translating our passion into meaningful action. In a phenomena known as the ‘value-action gap’, multiple studies have shown that pro-environmental attitudes may not have any impact on actual ecological footprints across a population(!!!!). To put that another way: people who care about environmental issues (there are a lot of them) may not actually be making any significant impact on their own environmental footprint. Yikes. This could be due to a few reasons: misinformation on current actions,  lack of information on more impactful actions or lack of interest in taking on more impactful actions. Regardless, we wanted to get to the bottom of this, so we started talking to parents. Lots of parents.

After over 100 conversations with parents with varying degrees of environmental interest, one truth emerged. Every single parent we spoke to expressed a greater passion for their child’s current health than any passion for environmental issues. Not exactly a surprise! In fact, many parents related to environmental issues by considering the future well-being of their child. But current well-being was always number one. For the reasons described above, we felt that it would be exceptionally difficult to connect the current way of thinking to current children’s well-being. So we took a different direction.

Air pollution is a little different. First of all, it tends to be local. For example, when you drive your car around, those pollutants will only go so far. Your decisions turn into your pollution. Second, the link to current health is much more direct. Particulate matter, the major air pollutant we consider, is also what makes up cigarette smoke. The clear path of this pollution into your body allows for people to easily grasp the current dangers. And finally, we have an awesome network of air quality monitors in the United States that puts out free air quality data every hour. And, next thing you know, we can serve every person in the United States localized air quality translated into cigarettes.

–The Vivergy Team

Next week: what other movements in the United States have used this strategy to their success?

Further Reading: