On several trips to and an internship inside the Amazon rainforests in her native country of Brazil, Valentina Vaney found herself inspired by the beauty, biological diversity, history and ecological significance of her surroundings.
Valentina, a tech-savvy senior at the Ross School who now lives in Sag Harbor, harnessed her passion for the rainforests into a mobile app that can help people take small steps toward protecting the environment by tracking their own carbon footprints.
“It is absolutely the most beautiful place on earth,” she said. “You go there and you fall in love with it. Every part of it is just perfect. But something like 20 percent is deforested, so I really want to work toward saving it.”
Valentina’s app measures people’s carbon footprint through the food they take in. Each food, from proteins to processed foods to vegetables and fruits, has a certain carbon emission associated with it. She researched those specific carbon emissions and built the app’s functionality to be able to add up quantities of foods purchased in a typical grocery store trip, ultimately defining overall carbon footprint ratings of “bad,” “okay, “good” and “excellent.”
Valentina taught herself how to code an iPhone app, which she named “Food Print,” then tested it and uploaded it to the iOS App Store for review. It is now available free of charge to download. She completed it as part of her senior project, a rigorous part of the curriculum for all Ross School students in their final years at the school.
“It definitely puts your brain to work and reveals things about yourself that you didn’t know,” she said of the senior project requirement.
Along the way, Valentina received advice from Rodnei Couto, an expert coder in Brazil, from Greg Wilson, the director of the Innovation Lab program at Ross, and from Kim Borsack, her mentor.
“I’m so proud of her dedication and her willingness to step out of her comfort zone and try something new,” Ms. Borsack said of Valentina. “And to have such invaluable information right on a smart phone, which much of the human population carries with them everywhere, well, that’s the kind of thing that could actually bring about real environmental change.”
Valentina said she hopes people learn that eating meat-based diets tends to lead to higher carbon footprints, as her research showed. She has even started eating less meat as a result.
“On my internship in the Amazon, I saw how much cattle ranching decimated the trees,” she said. “You can go in a plane and see huge squares of yellow because of soil erosion. It also alters rain patterns. It’s not only the Amazon being affected — it’s all of Brazil.”
College is up next for Valentina, who said she wants a career that combines her love of technology, her passion for conservation and agriculture and her desire to help people become more aware of what they’re eating.
“I had a goal and I achieved this goal,” she said of her app. “It feels amazing. … I definitely feel like technology, sustainability and economics are the future.”