Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Apply These Product Ratings Generously

Apply These Product Ratings Generously

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times





GoodGuide.com is one of the first Web sites that rates products on potential environmental, health and social effects.

By Julie Scelfo
Published: May 20, 2009


Many Web sites provide information on choosing products that are “green” or “nontoxic” or “cruelty free,” but GoodGuide.com is one of the first that rates products on potential environmental, health and social effects. The site, which is still in beta test mode but has already had more than a million visitors, is the brainchild of Dara O’Rourke, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies global supply chains and who started the project with grants from nonprofit foundations.


Why did you start GoodGuide.com?


I have a daughter who is 6, and a few years ago I was putting sunscreen on her face and stopped myself. I just didn’t know what was in there. So I brought it to campus for testing and turns out there was a suspected endocrine disrupter and a photocarcinogen — a chemical that, when exposed to sunlight, has a carcinogenic potential to it. That set me on the path of researching basically every single product in our household. From her products to our products to food products to electronics, I found chemicals that had been banned in Europe, or are being phased out in Japan, Australia, Canada.



Meanwhile, every time I gave a lecture about global supply chains, people would come up and say, “Look, can you just tell me what to buy?” It made me realize I need to translate all this academic and scientific research to make it useful to the public.


So how does the site work?


This is going to sound geeky, but we developed something called “product ontology,” which is basically a process to determine what matters scientifically in evaluating a product. You see products that say they are ozone-friendly or don’t contain CFCs, but the real impact is somewhere else in the life chain, like in the manufacturing step or end-of-life disposal. So we have a team of scientists who figure out what matters most in a product category. Then, we flow data about the product into a system that uses an algorithm to weight all the variables and turn the data into a rating.




Is the site useful to someone who cares about global warming but not about, say, animal welfare?
We’re not trying to tell you how to live your life or what social issue we think you should live by. We want you to make choices that better match your values or your concerns, so you can personalize the information using several filters.


What types of products do you rate?


So far we have personal care products, household chemicals, food products and toys. We asked our users what do you want next. They said pet food. We’re adding products gradually and also plan to do electronics, household furnishings, paper products and apparel.


No comments:

Custom Search