Could smartphone apps cut through maze of eco-labels?

Could personalised smartphone apps start displacing the maze of eco-labels consumers have to negotiate every time they go shopping?

That’s the intriguing suggestion being made by analysts Organic Monitor.

The London based company acknowledges the important role that eco-labels play in signposting sustainable products across a range of products from food to household cleaning products, cosmetics to toys. But it says some consumers are becoming disillusioned with eco-labels because of the shortcomings of many standards and lack of transparency. And it argues that the proliferation in food eco-labels means that many consumers can’t distinguish between organic, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and other eco-labels.

As a result a growing number of consumers are now turning to mobile technology applications to meet their informational needs.

Mobile devices enable consumers to get a wealth of information on products from their Quick Response (QR) barcodes. Consumers seeking sustainable products can get details on the product’s environmental, social and even economic footprint whilst shopping. Some brands allow consumers to use the barcodes to ‘track and tell’ the product origins. On food staples such as  fruit and vegetables the technology even allows the consumers to ‘meet’ the growers.

Organic Monitor sees US-based GoodGuide as a frontrunner in mobile technology applications. By downloading the smart application on their mobile phones, consumers can get details on various health, environment and society parameters of their products. The GoodGuide gives ratings for almost 100,000 consumer products and companies. Sometimes the ratings throw up surprises, with mainstream brands rated as less toxic, or more environment friendly than natural or organic brands.

Organic Monitor believes that the major advantage of mobile technology is that it can give a “holistic picture of a product’s sustainability credentials”. The  shortcoming of most eco-labels, it says, is that they look at some ethical and  ecological aspects in isolation. By ‘naming and shaming’ brands, product rating systems like those of the GoodGuide play an active role in encouraging companies to develop more sustainable products.

• The growing use of mobile technology for sustainable food products will be featured in the upcoming Sustainable Foods Summit, taking place in San Francisco on 17-18th January.  Organized by Organic Monitor, the aim of the Sustainable Foods Summit is to explore new horizons for eco-labels and sustainability in the food industry by discussing key industry issues in a high level forum. More information is available from