People making a difference: Dara O'Rourke
This consumer advocate teams up with analysts and rates products to make shoppers smarter.
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An item might receive a high health score but an average environmental rating. For instance, Burt's Bees Medicated Lip Balm scored a perfect 10 in health but 7.6 in environmental impact for an overall score of 8.6. Consumers can decide which categories they value most.Skip to next paragraph
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GoodGuide has arrived at a time of growing consumer consciousness about the health and environmental effects of consumer goods. It also comes as more and more companies are marketing their products as being "green" – organic, ecofriendly, natural, or nontoxic. Part of the role of GoodGuide is to be a fact checker for consumers and ensure that advertisers and manufacturers aren't "greenwashing" their wares.
"It is currently virtually impossible for an average consumer to access the information they need to evaluate if a product is truly green or healthy," O'Rourke recently told a congressional panel looking into "green" marketing.
Consumer advocates are calling for new federal green-marketing standards – similar to guidelines the United States Department of Agriculture uses for organic certification. While the Federal Trade Commission has gone after companies for falsely marketing products as green and has said it will issue new guidelines for environmental marketing, critics say that the FTC isn't moving fast enough.
Kevin Tuerff, president of the environmental-marketing agency Enviromedia, says the government could offer a "green seal" that would verify a product's environmental claims. "If you can make green purchasing easy, then I think more and more people will do it," he says.
That's where GoodGuide's iPhone app comes in handy, O'Rourke says. He is in talks with several grocery retailers to sync their inventory with his database to allow GoodGuide users to quickly find the products they care about. He envisions GoodGuide users walking into a market and their iPhone's location-tracking software recognizing that they just entered the store. From there, the phone tells them which aisle has highly rated organic pasta or an ecofriendly bottle of shampoo.
"We want to help people find the products that match their values," O'Rourke says.
Companies are beginning to see that a world of "radical transparency" about their products is coming, O'Rourke says.
"Product-ratings tools like the GoodGuide are creating awareness for consumers...," Drummond Lawson, environmental strategist of the San Francisco-based home care and personal products company Method, said in an e-mail response to questions. "In March of 2009, we published the technical names on our website product pages. This was part of a strategy to empower consumers to better validate the health and environmental effects of the products they purchase."
"There's a whole world asking for this information," O'Rourke says, and GoodGuide is trying to keep up with the demand. It will keep reviewing new products, tweaking its website, and improving its iPhone app – all in an effort to help people become smarter shoppers.