Let’s face it, no matter how much you try to investigate where your products — be they shampoo, gadgets or processed food — come from, or what they’re made of, you never really know the whole story. While some web sites, like Jimmy Wale’s new Green Wikia, try to use crowd-sourcing to unearth the most accurate information, UC Berkeley professor Dara O’Rourke has decided to take a more academic and authoritative approach with GoodGuide, which launched today.
First at MIT and now at UC Berkeley, O’Rourke has spent the last decade developing ways to compile info on global supply chains, and investigating the building blocks of the goods that consumers purchase. GoodGuide rates products based on data that falls into three categories: social, environmental (including carbon footprint) and health. Each rating is based on more than 140 pieces of such information, such as whether or not a product has been tested on animals, what its ingredients are — even whether or not its parent company has women or minorities on its board. Hello granular information.
And those ratings are intended to influence a consumer’s perspective of the product, O’Rourke tells us. He even envisions consumers checking out the site on their mobile phones as they browse the shopping center aisles. In three weeks GoodGuide plans to launch an iPhone app, and they already have a text messaging application that will SMS you the rating. That’s a powerful goal — to be the de facto standard on how “good” a product is and whether or not someone will buy it.
It will also be a difficult to achieve. Trusted authority is something developed and earned over time, and to lay that much stake in a young startup company will take a lot of quality ratings work. O’Rourke is slowly amassing the tools needed for that task. The data itself comes from hundreds of private and public sources, among them government, non-profits and private, third-party research firms. He’s been working on the consumer-facing GoodGuide site for the past two years and tells us he has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from New Enterprise Associates and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. And he currently has 12 full-time and 12 part-time employees working on compiling data and product info.
O’Rourke has also taken the more unusual step of classifying his company as a “for-benefit” company, which means that it has a social aim, and dedicates a certain amount of profits for social benefits. To get that status GoodGuide had to incorporate in New York State (instead of the usual Delaware route) and get all of its investors to sign on.
So why not just be a nonprofit? O’Rourke tells us that when it comes to doing deals with the likes of phone companies and raise funding from investors, a nonprofit has a tough time. Besides, the company is considering making money by supplying a business-to-business solution or licensing its solution.
From a purely consumer/user perspective, the team has developed a pretty sticky site. In addition to the easy-to-read ratings, it also has the latest product news (like recalls) and a discussion forum. We can tell you that as GoodGuide adds more and more products to its rankings database, we’ll be spending more and more time using it.