Currently, there are no well-known formal consumer education campaigns that provide direct instruction on shopping green, but there are numerous educational tools of the free-choice or self-directed variety. These tools can be split into two categories: pre-purchase, which are tools that must be consulted before a consumer shops, and point-of-purchase, which are tools that can be consulted at the moment a consumer decides to buy a particular product. One recent trend in point-of purchase consumer education is the use of smart phone applications. These types of point-of-purchase tools can be especially effective because they do not require planning and pre-conceived concern about the environment on part of the consumer. The following provides a brief overview of four notable apps that seek to inspire green consumerism.
The Good Guide is perhaps the most developed and advanced of the current offerings (http://www.goodguide.com/about/mobile). The Good Guide uses a cell phone’s camera to scan the bar code of a product and then provides an overall product rating that is comprised of three sub-scores based on health, environment, and society. Users can establish filters that customize ratings based on issues that are most important to them such as climate change or worker’s rights.
The recently launched Ingredients Inside app by Clorox is another tool that allows users to take pictures of barcodes (http://tinyurl.com/6vgzo7e). When consumers scan the bar code of any Clorox product, they are able to “ take a closer look at the fine print on the Clorox family of products”. The company launched the app to provide customers with the information necessary in choosing the cleaning products that are right for their families and homes.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://tinyurl.com/97v83m) and Blue Ocean Institute (http://www.blueocean.org/fishphone) have each developed their own apps that provide sustainable seafood and sushi rankings. The Seafood Watch App by Monterey Bay Aquarium enables GPS so users can share and find restaurants and retailers that sell sustainable seafood near them. Blue Ocean Institute’s app provides “wine pairings and recipes to inspire delicious ways for you to enjoy your ocean-friendly seafood”.
ConsumerReports launched an app last month that allows users to search through a directory of ecolabels (http://tinyurl.com/89gv2f3). The app offers a label “report card,” which provides clear guidance on the meaning and significance of any ecolabel in question. As the number of ecolabels on the market swells above 400 worldwide, this app will certainly prove useful.
These smart phone apps are groundbreaking new platforms for green consumer education, but they do have their limitations. Perhaps the most obvious is that only consumers that own a smart phone can access the tool at the point-of-purchase. This issue of accessibility remains a significant barrier to the wide-spread use of such smart phone applications. Moreover, research on the effectiveness of smart phone applications in promoting green consumerism needs to be done before any claims can be made about their success. How often do consumers use the apps after they are downloaded? How much influence do product scores have on consumers’ purchasing decisions? We will likely see more companies and organizations unveiling similar apps in coming months, despite this lack of data on their effectiveness in driving green consumerism.