Jo Hand, co-founder of Giki, tells us about her passion for environmentally friendly choices and making sustainable shopping easier for everyone.
How much of the numerous different symbols on food packaging do you actually understand? How many do you THINK you understand? I for one, had always believed that the ‘Green Dot’ symbol meant that the packaging was recyclable, but that’s not the case, as Giki co-founder Jo Hand informed me. “All that means is that the company gives money to recycling charities, not that it’s recyclable” she said, making me question whether I was reading any of my store-bought products correctly. Luckily, that’s where Giki steps in to do the hard work for you.
Giki, the ‘sustainable shopping companion’, is a mobile app which allows you to scan the barcodes of products to see how sustainable they are, and can even suggest more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Each product is assigned different ‘badges’, indicating whether their packaging is recyclable, contains responsibly sourced palm oil, or is free from additives, along with several other categories which you can check out here.
Giki was born out of frustration, primarily, says Jo; “As an individual it’s really hard to understand the products we buy and their impact that they have on the environment”. Jo and her husband James came up with the idea for Giki three years ago, after questioning why no one else was creating something similar already, and a belief that “as individuals we have the potential to really drive change so if people have the information and they come together, actually the collective voice can be really profound and really have a positive impact”.
The process of creating an app to rate the sustainability of a plethora of supermarket products was not without its challenges, as you can imagine, and began with research to discover whether or not such data was actually readily available or not.
“We first had to work out if the data was there, so after about six months of searching we found out that the data was actually there for supermarket products which is where we started, and then once we’d sourced that data, we then pulled in lots of other sources like government guidelines around health, academic and scientific research and then built the algorithms to score the products.”
One of the major advantages of Giki is that it’s an all-in one resource for such a wide variety of product information, something which arose out of market research prior to creating the app, reveals Jo; “We did the research to find out what people wanted to know about; we originally thought we’d focus on sustainability and climate change, but we talked to people and they all care about different things, so we decided to bring a sort of one-stop-shop so you can find out about healthiness, chemical concerns, palm oil, or whatever it might be.”
But how does one begin to rate products for sustainability? Without overloading my technologically unsavvy brain with the science of algorithms, Jo explained using the example of the app’s palm oil badge, how the process works.
“We look at a company’s procurement policies and their practices on palm oil, using data that they report to the RSPO (Roundtable on Palm Oil), and we see if we can certify that they are sustainable or not. We search product ingredients as well because there are 250 different names for palm oil, so we search the list to ascertain whether the product has palm oil in it, and then we can show on the app whether it has palm oil, and whether it’s sustainably sourced.”
The app has had a hugely positive response from users so far, and Jo notes that access to information on palm oil has proved particularly popular.
“I think that’s something that people really care about, and I think when we can give the information that they really need, and they can get it easily, then it’s really popular. I think for us it’s just about letting as many people know about it as possible, so they can use it, and the more people that use it and rate it the more the collective voice can have positive impacts.” Jo also notes that a lack of information on such topics can make people feel “disempowered”, because often, “they just want to make a difference, and it should be easier to make sustainable choices, but it currently is quite difficult.”
Jo is clearly driven by a desire to make sustainable living a more feasible option for the general public, so I ask her what inspired her personal interest in these issues.
“I used to be a journalist working on Channel 4 twenty years ago on a programme called Deluge, looking at flooding in various parts of the world, and that was when I became aware of climate change science, and it made me realise; this is happening now.”
Jo went on to work for a climate change charity, prior to starting Giki (which stands for ‘Get Informed, Know your Impact’, by the way.)
So, what does the future have in store for the app?
“We’ve decided that we’ll continue to deliver all-round information on the app, but we’ll also make the data and the analysis freely available to other NGOs, academics, scientists, policymakers and journalists who want to use it in a whole range of different ways, because the gold is really in the data, and if we can get people using that in different ways then that could really drive change.”
Author: Roisin Conneely is our Environment & Wildlife Editor and is currently studying for an MRes in Biodiversity Evolution and Conservation at UCL. Follow her on twitter.
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