Imagine scanning the barcode of a product you were thinking about buying with your internet-enabled phone and immediately finding out how that product could impact your health and how socially and environmentally responsible its manufacturing company is.

This technology already exists.

Currently in its beta version, the GoodGuide is a customer-oriented, product-focused rating system (also available as an iPhone app) that incorporates user reviews.  The GoodGuide provides ratings for over 65,000 food, toy, personal care, and household products, and users can save a list of their favorites.

According to their website,

“GoodGuide is in business to provide authoritative information about the health, environmental and social performance of products and companies.  Our mission is to help consumers make purchasing decisions that reflect their preferences and values.  We believe that better information can transform the marketplace: as more consumers buy better products, retailers and manufacturers face compelling incentives to make products that are safe, environmentally sustainable and produced using ethical sourcing of raw materials and labor.”

But where does the GoodGuide get its information?

Its website claims that the GoodGuide crew gathers data from over 1,000 sources, including scientific institutions, governmental agencies, socially responsible investment rating agencies, non-governmental organizations, the media and companies that manufacture the products rated.  You can find the specific sources used for each product rating by clicking on ‘full rating details’.

Here’s how it Works:

Search for a product, any product (or scan one using the GoodGuide iPhone App).  When you find the one you’re looking for, the GoodGuide will show you a rating that it has generated, incorporating the health aspects of the product itself, and the environmental and social performance of the company that made it.

From any product or company rating page, the ‘full rating details’ link takes you to a list of every indicator and data source used to generate the rating.

How GoodGuide rates each indicator:

The single ‘summary’ rating for each product is a composite of a product’s health rating and its manufacturer’s environmental and social ratings.  Each health, environmental and social rating is weighted equally and combined for an overall score of 0 to 10 (poor to best performance), giving consumers a simple metric for understanding the general impact of any given product.

When rating the different aspects of products that go into the health, social and environmental scores, all performance attributes and indicators are not equal.  Certain characteristics, such as potential health hazards of ingredients or the lack of toxic ingredients of concern, can drive the score over, say, the regulatory status of a specific ingredient.

GoodGuide applies weights to different types of data or utilizes aggregation algorithms to accurately reflect the relative importance of various attributes or indicators.  Accordingly, it provides a brief summary of the main characteristics driving each score.

They assess the following attributes when determining scores for the health, environmental and social performance ratings:

  • Product health performance is assessed based on two main attributes:  product management and human health impacts. (Learn More)
  • Company environmental performance is assessed based on three main attributes:  environmental management, resource management and environmental impacts. (Learn More)
  • Company social performance is assessed based on four main attributes: corporate governance, society, consumers and workers. (Learn More)

Moving forward:

Since collapsing dozens of data points into a single number could be seen as a credibility concern, GoodGuide intends to provide additional data to support its findings as the site develops further.