Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saturday Short Subjects: A New App for the Ethical Shopper

Do you use a Smartphone?

Do you care passionately about GMO labeling, or Gay Rights, or the Environment, or …?

If you can answer “yes” to both questions, I have just the app for you!

Buycott is a recently-released, free app developed over a period of 16 months by Ivan Pardo, a 26-year-old, free-lance programmer working in Los Angeles. It is available as a download for both Android and iPhone.

Buycott’s home page states, “A buycott is the opposite of a boycott. Buycott helps you to organize your everyday consumer spending so that it reflects your principles.”

Here is how it works. 

One you have installed the app, enroll in at least one of the user-created campaigns listed in the app by description and number of members. 

Then, scan the barcode of any product you have in your cupboard or are considering purchasing in a store. Buycott will try to determine what the product is and what company owns it. If it is in the system, Buycott will trace the product’s ownership and immediately tell you whether or not this product is in conflict with any of the campaigns you have joined.

I joined the Demand GMO Labeling campaign with 59,100+ members (currently the top campaign). A number of companies have been pumping massive amounts of money to fighting GMO labeling legislation; this campaign starts with a list of all companies that donated more than $150,000 to oppose California’s Prop 37, which, if enacted, would have required labeling of GMO food in that state.

By scanning their barcodes, I learned that two of the three cereal brands in my house – Kashi and Cascadian Farms were in conflict, while the third, Nature’s Path, was not. I was happy to discover that Annie’s Mac & Cheese, my quick-fix guilty pleasure, was also conflict-free. 

“Family Tree” illustrates the corporate lineage of your scanned product all the way up to its parent company. With this tool, I learned that Cascadian Farms is a subsidiary of Small Planet Food, which is in turn owned by General Mills, and that General Mills donated $1,135,300 to the “No on Prop 37 Campaign.” That is why buying my favorite Cascadian Farms granola now poses an ethical dilemma for me.

Buycott is an awesome app. For each of the companies whose barcodes are in the database, crowdsourced contact info (phone number, URL, corporate Facebook page, and Twitter handle), Wikipedia entry, and location map are listed, making it easy for you to let your voice heard. By simply hitting the Share button, you can tell all your friends what you have found out. 

Your timeline stores your campaigns and any barcodes you have scanned.

This is a participatory app. Users are asked to submit the names of products the app does not recognize. Any user who cannot find a campaign to suit her interests is encouraged to start her own.

Developer Pardo was quoted in Forbes, “I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” said Pardo. “For me, it was critical to allow users to create campaigns because I don’t think it’s Buycott’s role to tell people what to buy. We simply want to provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions.”

Buycott is an exciting tool for the socially-responsible consumer who wants to vote with her wallet. And, it's free. 

Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall  being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).

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