Product transparency was a popular theme in the twelfth and last session of TechCrunch50, Research and Recommendations, with two companies in particular helping consumers make better purchasing decisions. The first, GoodGuide, was met with unanimous acclaim from the expert panel for its efforts to inform consumers of the social, environmental and health “goodness” of personal care products and the companies that produce them.
The GoodGuide founders claim that 60 million Americans wish they had more information available to them about the products they buy. So they put together a team of scientists and technologists, and compiled product information from hundreds of sources, that could be used to shed light on the lesser known aspects of products and how they’re made.
To find more information about a product, all you have to do is enter its name into a search box and click on its result. The product profile page delivers three scores, each on a 1-10 scale, that cover the topics Health, Environment, and Social Performance. Each of these scores breaks down into topics such as Cancer Effects, Toxic/Hazard, Climate Change, Philanthropy, and Employment Standards. And overall, they are combined into a total score that conveys responsibility of the product as a whole.
Much of the information incorporated by GoodGuide would get overlooked if it were used only to generate the scores. So the profiles also display news items about recalls and other scandals related to the products. They also suggest lists of top products that would serve well as replacements because of their higher scores in the three main areas. If the product has been banned elsewhere in the world, such as in Europe, that will show up as well.
GoodGuide has collected information about 60,000 personal care products. The company plans to include not only more products but different types as well. In three weeks, it will release an iPhone application that can be used to retrieve information while on the go. You can also text message the UPC of a product to GoodGuide and it will text you information about it back.
While the expert panelists lavished GoodGuide with praise, they did also ask about the quality of the site’s information, especially in light of the attempts corporations might make to skew the data in their favor. The founders responded by insisting that science and factual reports will trump any user contributions and feedback about the products.
Sean Parker and Don Dodge also inquired about what should happen if GoodGuide inaccurately published negative information about companies, or when it published information about a responsible company that had made an honest mistake. The founders seemed receptive to the idea of informing companies gently about their environmental, health and social issues before making a big deal out of them on the site.
When asked why this hadn’t been done before, the founders insisted that perhaps they were the only ones crazy enough to do it. And everyone in the room was glad that they were, since this is a site that everyone seemed to agree should just exist.