Getting Your Green Degree: Evaluating Sources

January 17, 2008

After getting a comments about EarthLab (thanks Alex) and questions about other carbon calculators I realized it’s sometimes difficult to evaluate the legitimacy of the sustainable “facts” you see online.  Whenever I visit a website for research purposes (for this blog or my own knowledge) here’s what I look for:

Google Rank- If it’s the first or second result on your google search then it’s a very popular site and that can typically attest to a website’s legitimacy.  However, this also can give very commercialized sites so google rank should never be your sole indicator.

Page Design- Nearly every website of worth can afford to have decent to good typography, graphics, and general layout.  The exception to this is the government, but they have their own credibility.

Sponsoring Organization- This is a big one.  Personally I favor using U.S. governmental organizations websites for information, especially the USGS and DOE.  While conspiracy theorists may disagree, there is a rigor and standard to the research presented on these sites, and usually the information is extensive.  Otherwise your next best bet is probably a non-profit organization.  Since they’re not trying to make money off you, the only thing they’re selling is their ideals.  Look for broader or nationally known affiliations when evaluating the reliability of a non-profit’s information.  The USGBC is probably more reliable than John Doe’s Corncob Building Association.

Bias- Once I get past the above three, I start really looking at the information/advice a site is presenting.  Usually every site has some bias, but does that bias affect the truthfulness of their information?  A bit of reading and critical thinking can differentiate between a passionate but scientific source and extremists who would say anything to prove their point.

Is there anything else that you look for when determining the validity of a site?  Next post I’ll focus on just carbon calculators and where to go for reliable estimates.


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