Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Good Guide Scanner Makes Healthy Shopping Point and Click

Want a new tool that makes conscious shopping a lot easier?  GoodGuide has launched a new application that allows shopping iPhone users to scan a product's bar code to learn whether it's a sustainable choice -- both environmentally and personally.

As Grist reports:

Click on “scan,” point the iPhone at, say, a bottle of organic chocolate sauce, and the app uses the iPhone’s camera to read the barcode and deliver instant feedback on the product’s “health performance,” “environmental performance” as well its its maker’s “social performance.

“Barcode scanning is critical for us,” (Dara) O’Rourke, associate professor at Cal’s Department of Environmental Science, Management and Policy, told me in an email. “This moves us closer to our goal of providing full environmental, social, and health information to consumers right at the moment they make purchasing decisions.”

GoodGuide to date has rated 63,000 products—from food and household chemicals to personal care items to toys—according to various criteria, including how transparent a company is about disclosing information. GoodGuide’s scientists, based in San Francisco, employ a extensive methodology to devise the ratings, which is detailed here.

This is certainly exciting, though how much it catches on with lazy light green and non-green consumers remains to be seen.  The good news is that it's OUTSIDE eco-friendly meccas like Berkeley where GoodGuide's technology has the most potential to help people become more conscious shoppers -- benefiting both their own health and the health of our environment.

My own whirls around GoodGuide find that there's still plenty of room for improvement in key areas where conscious choices make a big difference.

For example, under the beef category, the high carbon footprint of livestock feed is mentioned as a problem even for grass-fed beef.  However, the site's little educational notes say nothing of the devastating impacts of livestock grazing on the health of ecosystems and biodiversity.  Livestock grazing is, after all, the number one cause of species endangerment in the Western U.S., and overgrazing is a major cause of noxious weed invasions.  That's something that a system like this should really help educate shoppers in.

Additionally, when I wanted to find out about non-toxic furniture that doesn't contain nasty flame retardants, I couldn't find any information on this category just yet.

Regardless of these types of shortcomings, I love what GoodGuide is trying to do here, and look forward to following its growth. 

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