The consumer goods Killer App -KILLED

A consumer goods bar code scannerFinally a real KILLER APP. A free iPhone application called the Good Guide lets you scan the barcodes of (eventually) every consumer good to learn immediately its goodness rating on a scale of 0-10. No more Consumer Report printouts, mental notes or improvisational evaluation. The Good Guide score is the synthesis of three criteria, the ratings for which are also shown: health, environment and social. How healthy is this item? How environmentally friendly? And how socially-responsible is the producer? Notably missing is a ranking for price, sidestepping the inescapable real world cost vs. benefit compromise.

UPDATE: FALSE HOPE ALARM. So far the products itemized by the GoodGuide are the General Mills variety, all of them rank highly. There’s a sugared cinnamon cereal that gets a 10 for health. Hoho.

According to an article in Grist, GoodGuide emerged from a project called TAO IT, created by Dara O’Rourke, associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Management and Policy. Goodguide’s aim sounds like a watchdog function better administrated by a regulatory agency. I can already see industry lobbyists setting up offices to influence the GoodGuide analysts.

A lot will depend on the transparency of the GoodGuide benchmarks and the objective distance they can keep from market interests. For example, the PR budget of one conglomerate alone could create a faux ratings mechanism to usurp GoogGuide as consumers-aid du jour. A recent processed food industry Smart Choices badge comes to mind.

The GoodGuide evaluation policies do give a good impression.

GoodGuide aggregates and analyzes data on both product and company performance. We employ a range of scientific methods – health hazard assessment, environmental impact assessment, and social impact assessment – to identify major impacts to human health, the environment, and society. Each of these categories is then further analyzed within specific issue areas, such as climate change policies, labor concerns, and product toxicity. Currently, GoodGuide’s database has over 600 base criteria by which we evaluate products and companies.

Health Performance
As an example, for health performance, GoodGuide’s system takes into account both the impacts of a company’s operations on its workers and local communities, and the impacts of using a specific product on your health. Our team has gathered data on important health hazards such as:

• Cancer risks
• Reproductive health hazards
• Mutagenicity
• Endocrine disruption
• Respiratory hazards
• Skin and eye irritation

Our research currently uses a simplified health hazard assessment process that allows us to rate thousands of products along standard criteria. It should be noted that while these ratings are not risk assessments of products or chemicals, they do highlight potential hazards associated with the use of these products.

Environmental Performance
For environmental performance, GoodGuide is aggregating data on the life-cycle impacts of products, from manufacturing to transportation to use to final disposal. For companies, impact categories include:

• Environmental emissions and their impacts on air, water, land, and climate
• Natural resource impacts
• Environmental management programs

GoodGuide uses these categories to generate overall environmental performance ratings for companies.

Social Performance
For social issues, GoodGuide aggregates data on the social impacts companies have on their employees:

• Compensation
• Labor and human rights practices
• Diversity policies
• Working conditions

In addition to impacts on employees, Social Performance ratings consider impact on consumers and communities. The social scoring system also brings together information on corporate governance, disclosure policies, and overall practices.


Types of Information
Different types of information flow into GoodGuide’s system: absolute measures, relative measures, and binary measures. Absolute measures describe measurable activities of a company or product. For example, the pounds of toxic air emissions released per year, the CEO’s salary, or the amount of money a company donated to charity. Relative measures are scores, such as a numerical grade of “6.5 out of 10” or a textual grade of “bad” to “excellent.” Binary (or Yes/No) measures indicate whether a product or company does or does not have specific characteristics. For example, a product may or may not have earned an environmental certification, or a company may or may not test its products on animals.

The GoodGuide Rating
These measures are then used to create GoodGuide’s ratings. To calculate a single rating for a product or company, we convert all of the existing measures into a 0 to 10 score. In GoodGuide’s system, a score of 10 is the best and a score of 0 is the worst. Products and companies are rated relative to the performance of similar products or companies in the same industry.

The initial ratings are based on a set of selected criteria from a broad pool of data available within the GoodGuide database. We think these criteria are some of the most representative and understandable. As this is the first time all of this data has ever been aggregated in the same place, we are currently working to assess the consistency and comparability of measures across our many data sources. We would love to hear your suggestions on the relative importance of these various measures of product and company performance.

GoodGuide recognizes that even the most quantitative assessment of environmental, health, or social issues requires value judgments about the relative importance of various issues. For example, rational people can disagree over the relative importance of animal testing in evaluating a product or company. We have used our best scientific judgment in building our current ratings, and in future versions we will flag issues where personal values and preferences are particularly relevant. We will then enable people to create personalized ratings based on their own concerns.

In order to facilitate your ability to assess the data, we will also be providing an assessment of data uncertainty, completeness, and quality. These assessments can be used to weight the existing data within the GoodGuide database.

Incomplete Data
In some cases data is unavailable for a company or a product. This may be because we have not yet identified a credible data source for a given issue or topic. It may also be that the data is not publicly available because companies have not disclosed critical information. One goal of this project is to work collaboratively with key stakeholders around the world, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, private research firms, and companies to promote the quantity and quality of disclosure of important data to the public.

Learn more about GoodGuide’s methodology.

Our prison system

Returning home from Aspen recently, I drove by the state correctional facility in Buena Vista. My blood sugar was a bit low at the time and I had an epiphany of epic proportions. The individuals incarcerated in those ugly buildings aren’t criminals. No, not at all. They are simply victims of POOR NUTRITION! Show me a man who ate lots of Wonder Bread as a kid and I’ll show you a serial killer. Too much soda pop and Mike and Ike’s? A bank robber. Not enough cruciferous vegetables? Most likely a white collar criminal. Show me a young girl who doesn’t get her full complement of leafy greens and I’ll show you a young girl who has a lot of speeding tickets. And cake eaters? Well, I haven’t been able to discover a direct crime link but I think we all agree that they are, by and large, angry and annoying people.

WHAT? Yes! Trust me on this. It’s all about brain chemistry. It’s about neurotransmitters, chemical substances that cause our brains and our bodies to feel good and function normally. It’s about serotonin and epinephrine and dopamine and adrenaline. They regulate our moods, our thoughts, our sleep, our impulses. When certain substances are in short supply or are overabundant, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be a decent human being. Frequently, those that we lock up are drug addicts and alcoholics. Why? They are self-medicating! They know that they don’t feel quite right, and they are trying to fix the problem. But it’s not the right solution.

So how DO we stay healthy and happy? PROPER NUTRITION AND EXERCISE! This leads me to my proposal. Instead of incarcerating individuals who perpetuate wrongs on the American public, let’s send them to nutritional camps. They can eat the proper foods, get moderate cardiovascular exercise, lots of quality sleep. . .maybe we’ll even throw in a couple days of weight training. As a special treat, probably on Sundays, we’ll bring in a cute Pilates instructor so they can work on their core strength and develop flexibility.

Of course, the retards at the FDA can’t be in charge of my revolutionary program. They, after all, are the douche bags that gave us the food pyramid. Nor can any nutritionist who graduated from the General Mills College of Bullshit (it’s everyone’s alma mater. . .ask ’em). No. I’m going to call my friends, Dr. Julian Whitaker and Dr. David Williams, the most awesome health gurus in the country. They can come up with a diet that includes freshly-milled whole grain products, raw organic produce, hormone-free lean proteins, and lots of distilled water. I’ll call Kathy Smith to put together an exercise program. THE FIRM can be in charge of the weight training. We’ll get these “criminals” put back together in no time flat! We’ll educate the heck out of them and when they’ve completed the program we’ll drop them off at the local Whole Foods market with a couple of crisp $20s. The 400 employees of the prison (a career choice, by the way, which is also closely related to a paucity of necessary neurotransmitters) can run the program, under close supervision.

If you really think about it, you know I’m right. You know that certain foods make you feel great, others not so much. You know that a lack of sleep can leave you unable to cope with the stresses of the day. A nice hike on a beautiful afternoon is a fantastic tension buster. Shouldn’t we give these people a chance to experience all that life has to offer? Is it really their fault that no one taught them how to stay sane and healthy? I think not. I think they are victims.

Most days I’m just one Hostess HoHo away from committing an unthinkable act. There, but by the grace of God, and the power of sensible nutrition and moderate exercise, go I.