Normative: Scan your purchase, visualize your impact by Normative Team
Aug 5, 2014
This is a well-developed and interesting proposal, well thought out by authors with experience and expertise. The idea is not new, but it is developed here from a new angle. My reservations pertain the effectiveness of this approach, the underlying assumption of which is that providing the information to consumers about the ecological impacts of their purchases will significantly reduce the collective impact of these purchases. Research so far does not support that assumption. The example you give in the final calculation around the case of a pair of jeans (which would be more helpful of it was additionally presented as relative, not only absolute reductions; and relative to that person’s carbon footprint) is that the consumer buys less, not only different. But I do not see how the proposed tool will do that. I imagine that the consumer will look for a lower impact pair of jean, not forego buying the jeans altogether; there is nothing in your method that indicates that people will actually reduce the amount of stuff they acquire (which is ultimately our goal, isn’t it?). Perhaps you can make a stronger case for this type of changing behavior? My second reservation is that the biggest ecological impacts in people’s lives come from such decisions as: where to live (commuting, driving), in what type of a house to live (the size, the design, the energy efficiency), and how to spend leisure time (speed boats, snowmobiles, etc, extensive travels). Will your tool inform people about these impacts before they make these long term decisions? Do you believe that it will change their behaviors? This is an interesting idea. It takes the work that has already been done in this field and adds a few dimensions, particularly the gamification and the charity option. The team has obviously done a lot of great work to secure partners, figure out funding, and work on the demanding technical requirements for providing ethical and environmental impacts for products. In many ways this is a very appealing approach, however I have significant reservations, both about the general approach and some of the specifics about this project. I suggest the team looks at the experience of "The Good Guide" which attempted to do this without much success. Citations to O'Rourke's work on The Good Guide would have been useful. The usefulness of the game feature is not supported and that would also be worth doing. Finally, I worry about rebound effects with the charity option (see cheatneutral.com for a humorous critique of the paradigm of carbon offsetting.) There are other operational issues, for example, what determines the relative weights of different impacts in the scoring, that is vital. I also have reservations about the individual product approach. You might want to look at the debate in the Dara O'Rourke Boston Review volume. There I argue for a brand-based, rather than a product-based, approach. Finally, there is the question of how a highly individualized approach such as this squares with the need for a change in the larger culture and social behaviors. A good deal of research on sustainable consumption suggests that the social dimensions are where we should be putting our efforts. This seems like a step away from that, with the exception of the information on others, which is a wonderful feature. Finally, I think a simpler approach, just focusing on carbon might be better. Consumers are already feeling overwhelmed.
Aug 7, 2014
Please allow me to share my 2 cents: To the judge: - Using the argument that many have tried a solution many times before with no sucess is one thing but it does not mean the objective is the problem. You will notice that many people have tried in many ways to reach the same goal: revealing the full story of our daily products. People try to do it because there is a gap and filling it is a necessity. - Second, let me first state that I think this idea is great. But unlike the judge I do not think that it is new. Pretty much everyone who worked on using LCA to communicate the impacts of products know that mobile applications need to be part of the solution. But I personaly think that an idea does not have to be new to bring innovations, for a very simple reason: all the ideas and soltions are already out there. All we need is people like this team to implement it and people like the judges to support them. It is easy to look at similar projects and decide that they are not worth it because they failed before but if you open and read information about why they failed, yo could find a lot more complexity, opportunities and space for innovations than expected. ‘These days, the problem isn't how to innovate; it's how to get society to adopt the good ideas that already exist.’ To the Team: First congratulations for that objective, and also for your previously awarded prices. Now no matter how you will bring that solution, I think there are two things you should be careful about: not getting in some greenwashing simplifications as good guide, as anyone close enough to the subject knows single scores made out of LCA are jokes. The second obstacle and the most important one for you is not to get stuck in the technological aspect of your solution. Your solution, to me is not the app. You solution is the movement that you could crete with that app in order to create all the conditions to make this system work. Lca databases are unfortunatly not really reliable in terms of transparency, but you can make it happen if you really identify the issues and design your solution otherwise. I believe you can make it if you do not focus only on the app, but if you learn a lot about the projects using LCS results and then you will see how your project fit in the overall challenge. Transparency,comparability and clarity, if your solution can bring it in the game, you will own it. I am sorry for that long comment but I really love that project, I did a master about it and I am still amazed by how much people overlook the need to create an information system on products that works. Finally to respond to he judge comment about the fact that there is no research that proves that improving the information will result in reducing the impacts: I think there is actually no guarantee it will, and most people will actually not care about whatever info we put on products or apps but the experiences that are being done in France and the European union show that such projects reduce the environmental impacts of products even before the customer sees the information. They can have such an effect because participating companies get to learn more about their own supply chains and it leads them to innovate to reduce their impacts as those innnovations often result in win win situations, environmental social gain+ financial gain. This is not a belief, it is innovative in course right now by governments and serious people. But yes, The more scepticism on your way, the more chances your project is innovative. Good work!
Aug 19, 2014
Dear Professor Schor and Professor Brown, We would like to start by thanking you for your rigorous and well formulated feedback. At this relatively early stage harsh but honest feedback from authorities such as yourself is extremely valuable to us. We would also like to thank you for your suggested readings. We found the links between buying patterns and activism investigated by you (Professor Schor) and Margaret M. Willis to be of particular interest. Having that said we can’t really say that we disagree with much of what you are saying since we have already spent a lot of time thinking about these issues ourselves. Although it is now apparent that we failed to communicate this in our initial proposal, much due to the word limit. From what we can see your concerns can be roughly divided into six question categories. In the rest of this rather lengthy comment we will try to address all of your concerns (we hope we didn’t miss anything). These answers have also been incorporated into our proposal. Sorry for our rather lengthy reply, but we hope you will find it informative. Yours sincerely, Kristian and Robin --------------- QUESTION 1: Research has shown that information itself is not enough to change peoples consumption behaviour. On the other hand movement building and activism has been proven much more successful. --------------- ANSWER: We agree. Information in and of itself rarely changes things. There are many horrors going on in the world today, wars, famine, poverty and animal abuse. Almost all of them are widely known, yet we fail to collectively act on that information. For that to happen we need activism and movement building. But in order to change our collective norms and behaviour we must find a way to change the behaviours of the individuals who makes up the collective. This is a very simple insight that often goes missing. In the news we often hear statements such as “Germany produces too much meat“ or “USA is not signing the Kyoto-protocol”, as if Germany and USA somehow became independent of its constituents, and acquires needs, desires, and actions of its own. But behind every group there are individual actors, such as the German father who likes cooking meat for his entire family or that high level US politicians who voted against signing the Kyoto-protocol. Similarly, by only measuring how well countries compare when it comes to global impact (e.g. CO2 emissions) we often fail to target the actors who actually drives the change, namely individuals. This is not to say that movements are not important. On the contrary we believe that they are absolutely vital, because without a community there will be no coordination and sense of mutual accountability and therefore no medium in which sustainability memes can spread. But in order to shift global norms and build successful movements on a global scale it is crucial to find a way to target incentives, needs, desires and habits on a personal level. Our goal with Normative is to make ethical and sustainable habits fun and engaging on a personal level whilst providing a forum where activism can grow out from it. Activism is very much at the heart of the Normative platform. Indeed the whole platform depends on it, since without it there will not be enough people to crowdsource the S-LCAs. Normative Life will, as we mention in our proposal, be a forum where citizens, companies, NGOs and researchers will be able to engage in discussions about the impact of various products and lifestyles and provide data for them. Normative Karma will use that data to promote sustainable habits in a fun and engaging way. Research by Lally (2009) shows that it takes approximately 66 days to form a new habit (but it can vary from 18 days to 254 depending on the circumstances). Users of Normative Karma will be able to engage in 60 days challenges where they compete against their friends for points and badges that are awarded when sticking to a sustainable habit (like eating a vegetarian diet). The power of gamification to trigger behavioural change has been extensively studied in recent years (see Fogg (2002), Cugelman (2013), Hamari (2014)). We realised that we hadn’t explained this thoroughly enough in our proposal so that has now been corrected. --------------- QUESTION 2: It is hard to build collective engagement with a product that is too complicated to use. Instead of complicated data about specific products would it not be better to give consumers general and easy to use heuristics about (1) what brands to avoid and (2) what lifestyle choices to make? --------------- ANSWER: This question is very much related to the question above, and all we can say is that we agree! In fact that is what we are already doing. As we mention in the “Normative Karma” section we will start with a user form and a corresponding database composed of general heuristics about sustainable lifestyle choices such as where to live (e.g. close to work), leisure time (e.g. extensive travels), brands to avoid (e.g. ConAgra Foods), product categories to avoid or substitute (e.g. meat). Building the databases of the complete Normative platform is kind of a catch-22. We need users to be able to generate the product specific data from Life and the consumption data from Scanner. But we need a working product with good databases to get users in the first place. Starting with rough approximations through the generalized heuristics mentioned above we will be able to bootstrap Normative’s databases, since it allows us to gain enough users to crowdsource the missing pieces of the database. The big data generated by Life and Scanner will then be used to validate and modify the generalized heuristics we started out with. This is one of the reasons why it is important to have rigorous high resolution data on specific products, since it will allow us to base the various lifestyle heuristics on a stable foundation that will be dynamically updated as the S-LCA database gets more and more complete. We have added a flowchart to our proposal where the whole process is visualized. But more importantly bootstrapping allows us to significantly mitigate the risks of failure by pursuing a modular design (as discussed in the “Risk and Feasibility” section). In summary: - We will actually start by developing Normative Karma composed of a user form and a corresponding database composed of general heuristics about sustainable lifestyle choices and good brands to choose. - The aggregated S-LCA data generated from Normative Scanner and Normative Life will be used to rigorously refine the otherwise rough heuristics in Normative Karma and generate a whole set of other interesting quantitative measures of: -- What brands, products, diets etc. to avoid -- Leaderboards of companies with the best CSR -- Leaderboards of countries with the most responsible companies -- Leaderboards of the most ethical consumers in the users friendcircles. --------------- QUESTION 3: It’s not only about consuming the right product, it’s about consuming less. How will you lower people’s consumption? --------------- ANSWER: While we in the Normative Team would both consider ourselves minimalists, we still need to consume products and we also acknowledge the fact that people will not be as easily persuaded to live the minimalist lifestyle we do. Therefore we believe it is just as important to consume the right products as it is to consume less. With Normative consumers will be encouraged to use better products by giving them suggestions on more ethically permissible alternatives, like a more ethical and sustainable hand soap or by second hand products instead of new ones. That being said, Normative will still have features promoting less consumption. 1. Certain 60 day challenges (as mentioned in the answer above) will be about creating habits for consuming less of a certain product category (such as meat). 2. If you want to buy a new car, it will be easy to calculate the newer car’s ecological impact compared to keeping your old car for a while longer. 3. Consuming less means less negative impact in Normative Karma which equates to more badges and points when you compete against your friends. --------------- QUESTION 4: How will you weigh the different variables and their relative importance? --------------- ANSWER: In the 18th century the philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed that the right and wrongness of an action can be calculated by aggregating the degree of pleasure and pain it is likely to cause any sentient being. Bentham called this algorithm the felicific calculus and the units of measurements used in the calculations were called hedons. Bentham realised that this intuitive and fairly simple idea had several at the time radical implications such as equal rights for women, decriminalisation of homosexuality, abolition of slavery, the abolition of the death penalty and animal rights. But it also implied that there is a strong ethical imperative to care about the future of humanity and planet earth, since most sentient beings and thus the vast majority of hedons will be located in the far future. According to this argument ecological sustainability and resilience would thus be of great ethical importance. In order to weigh the importance of the different variables one would need an logically consistent and quantitative ethical theory very similar to the type Bentham proposed over 200 years ago. At a first glance the thought of unifying all normative issues under this single framework seem very appealing indeed since it would allow us to determine the ethical permissibility of any given action with a simple expected utility calculation. But in practice we would quickly run into troubles because of (1) limits to scientific knowledge, (2) inability to predict the long term consequences of our actions, (3) broad moral uncertainty and disagreement (even amongst experts). Given these constraints we are left with no other choice but to rely on a set of simple heuristics in evaluating the importance of different variables. So far we have three of them: 1. Ecological variables that represents one of the nine planetary boundaries, as defined by Rockström et al (2009), are given an equal ethical weight since they are of extreme importance for the wellbeing of the planet and future generations. 2. Social variables are given a weight to the extent they can be connected to a quantitative outcome in quality adjusted life years (QALYs) as suggested by Weidema (2006). This is done by relying on data and research from various sources such as DCP3, WHO-CHOICE, J-Pal, CEVR, AidGrade, Innovation for poverty action, Giving What We Can and GiveWell. 3. All other ecological are still measured but at the moment deemed ethically irrelevant until we find a reliable way to give them an ethical weight. It is important to point out that all of the heuristics above are far from perfect. But they are still a huge improvement compared to the default position which is to not even try, which would at best give an uniform importance weight over all variables or at worst be biased towards the latest sensationalist media reporting and not backed by science. If you have any suggestions on how to improve our weights we would be more than happy to hear from you! --------------- QUESTION 5: Why do you target the consumers and not the companies producing the pollution in the first place? --------------- ANSWER: We don’t just target the consumers, we target companies, NGOs and governments as well. In fact we believe that the biggest impact from Normative will take place behind the scenes without consumers even noticing. With Normative Life, companies will have a platform to make life cycle assessment on their products and be able to assess where they can increase efficiency in their production cycle while also decreasing socio-ecological impact in their supply chain. This is in fact already happening but at a much slower pace as was pointed out by us the “User demand” section and by Naolo Charles in the comments section. The solution we bring to the game is not the app, but an ecosystem of socio-ecological data that enables the creation of all sorts of applications such as many of those that has been proposed in this very contest. This point can be highlighted when looking at the feedback you gave fellow CoLab contestant iCarbon “However, we do wonder about how accurate the translation from bank statements to carbon foot-printing data will be [...] this proposal could be improved by addressing this question.”. Mapping the bank statements with the consumption behaviours from Normative Scanner and the S-LCA data from Normative Life would most likely solve this problem. This illustrates how an open platform like Normative could highly benefit projects such as iCarbon. In fact we recently such a collaboration with Cook n’ Smile, a website with recipes for sustainable cooking.
Aug 19, 2014
Thank you Naolo Charles for your informative comment. Your observation on our solution and warnings are spot on and something we have also been thinking about (and incorporated in our comment to the judges) so we will definitely take your advice into account as we go forward.
Sep 3, 2014
The judges appreciate you addressing the comments they gave during the last round. They remained somewhat unsure of how this proposal results in less consumption rather than different consumption. They thought as well that, given the level of the project's development, the complexity may be too high. Smaller, more concrete, nearer-term goals may help. They would like to applaud you on your initiative as evidenced by the success of your networking.
Sep 6, 2014
Could we include "Save Fruit-seeds, spread next season" slogan on the display! A request to 'save the seeds of fruits eaten by their units (work/family) throughout the year and spread/help spread those seeds onto unused land in the vicinity,' would help increase the green cover, density and in long run provide fruits free of cost to everyone. A proposal outlining such an approach is available. Following is a link to such a proposal. https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/1300103/planId/1310401 This would bolster the efforts directed at finding workable solution to climate change..
Osero Shadrack Tengeya
Sep 17, 2014
Hi Normative and your friends, kindly consider voting for my proposal shown on this link. https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/1300206/planId/1002 Thanks.
Sep 23, 2014
Hi NormativeTeam, Please consider voting for my proposal, https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/1300801/planId/1309001 Good luck with your entry! Asante/Thank-you @conserveaction
Sep 29, 2014
I believe I can provide the missing component to your climate solution. It is the ethical consumption rewards system. Learn more at tiny.cc/ecrs-intro Ethical Consumption Rewards System Introduction (ECRS) - Designed by Jonathan Bean, about John : http://tiny.cc/envisioneer - Link to the Google Docs version: - http://tiny.cc/ecrs-intro-doc ECRS Plan : version 2 ; Edited 9-11-14 - Reasoning for ECRS: In the world I aim to create, each person has a strong and meaningful relationship that is reciprocal, mutually beneficial, and symbiotic with the greater systems it is a part of including the social and ecological systems it belongs to. To make this vision are reality I am developing the Ethical Consumption Rewards System (ECRS). Stage one of ECRS is the Local Consumption Rewards System (LCRS) - LCRS Benefits: - Consumers will be recognized and rewarded for consuming in a way that is more socially and ecologically responsible. - LCRS will increase the consumption of locally produced food, thus decreasing consumption of non local food, - Thus less fossil fuel will be used to transport food, - Thus there will be less harm to the climate from food consumption which means we get healthier more sustainable weather patterns. Plan for developing stage one of LCRS: - The minimum viable product and the first stage in the development of the Ethical Consumption Rewards System will be a gamified farmer’s market where consumers compete to get the most local food. The point system will encourage people to buy the most local food products. The farmers will benefit when people start buying more locally to improve their score, to get to the next status level, and to compete with other consumers on the scoreboard. Farmers will fund the prizes for the local consumers. Prizes will be earned in the form of opportunities to spend points on entries into a lottery for prizes. Prizes can range from locally produced food to special opportunities to meet with farmers - There will be three categories that reward different amounts of points relative to how far the food travelled from farm to market, the” food miles”. The most rewarding food category will be food that has travelled 0-5 miles to the market, so you will get 5 points for each dollar spent on food that travelled 5 miles or less from the farm to the market. Category 2 foods will be foods that travelled 6 - 15 miles from farm to market and will get 3 points per dollar spent on category 2 items. - Points can be redeemed for entries into a lottery for local products and services. You can reach levels that recognize your contributions to the local economy in the form of special badges you can add to your social media profiles and credentials. The credentials prove that you are dedicated to sustainable consumption, you can prove you care about sustainably developing society and Earth. Updates: - (7-3-14) I have contacted the Social Progress Imperative - http://www.socialprogressimperative.org/ - I have contacted the Ethical Consumer: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ - - See their ethical food directory: - - http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/shoppingethically/ethicaldirectory/list.aspx?SectorId=1289 Edit from 2014 - June: Ethical Consumption Rewards System Introduction: Pitch: Imagine a world where you are rewarded for making the world a better place. - Problem: There is not enough tangible incentives to consume ecologically and socially responsible products and services to convince people that responsible and ethical consumption is the most rewarding in the long term perspective. - Solution: Make long term social and ecological effects of actions into immediate tangible rewards. Every consumer will have the opportunity to earn rewards for their actions. Example of a reward: Your consumption score tells us that you saved society and Earth a lot of resources from being used on you unnecessarily. As a reward for these savings to Earth and Society, they reward you with a proportion of these resources for your own uses, or you can earn voting power to decide where those resources will go. Ex. You save Society 100 units of land that would have been used to produce a more resource intensive food product. I return you get 50 units of land, you can get the monetary value of 50 units of that land or get 50 units of land for your own purposes. The other 50 units is returned to society to be used however you choose for any social benefit. More Detailed, Larger Scale, Plan: - People should be more motivated to contribute to society and produce social progress, or increase the net value of society. Society, for its best interests, should fairly compensate its members for each contribution if it wants to maximize its value growth rate. In the current society we live in, when someone does something that increases the value of society there is little to no reward for their contribution many times. For example, compared to traditional for individual profit type products and services, when you purchase green and socially conscious products and services the reward is very small in the immediate perspective, and in the long term perspective the payoff is so abstract and distant that people do not understand it and therefore do not understand the importance of such behavior. People know they must choose between, low immediate, high eternal cost things and, higher immediate, lower eternal cost things. Most people do not value anything beyond the immediate timeframe of their most familiar self. We as a society need to adapt to this human nature and work with it to survive as an eternal society. This is the understanding I use to produce my solution, "Ethical Consumption Rewards System" (acronym: ECRS). - I envision an "Ethical Consumption Rewards System", ECRS, that provides immediate tangible rewards for choosing to consume in a way that increases the value of society and Earth more than traditional consumption habits. For example, if the average traditional food product, X, costs society 100 social value units (SVU) (SVU will be based on the Social Progress Index metrics system) while a food product that is a comparable but more ethical product, Y, costs 50 SVUs, then the reward will be half of the savings that Society and Earth get from your choice, so you will get rewarded with 25 SVU and Society will keep the other 25 SVU. Ex. 2, If the average SVU cost of living for someone like you is 100 and your cost of living is 10 SVU then you earn 45 SVU, in a form like a "sustainability tax" refund while Society keeps the other half of the difference, the other 45 SVU. You decide how Society will use the units it keeps for its development, this is like your vote on resource distribution for social development. First stage of development - In the first stage of the development of the ECRS, the rewards will be less complicated. You will be rewarded SVU like a credit card rewards program. SVU can be used for any ethically produced product that is healthy for society (the long term interests of society). SVU cannot be used for unethical consumption that is harmful to Society. All transactions are monitored and tracked by ethical analysis systems. - At the very beginning it will be a store credit program. The store will track your consumption and rate it. The amount of money and resources and SVU you save society over the next ten years is exempt from the sustainability taxes, like the taxes used to capture and sequester CO2 or other infrastructure costs for social resources and services. In other words you get a refund for the money you save the government and society. A portion of the SVU you save society and the government will be rewarded to you. You can use the SVU on sustainable and ethical living costs and other sustainable and ethical things you need. - This will be like a massive impact investing system where everyone is an investor. - You could cash in your investments before they mature too if you want to Update 9/13/14 : - I requested a partnership with Plan G : https://www.myplang.com/ - Plan G is a service that recognizes and measures what you give to causes and reminds you of your impact. They offer the ability for businesses to reward giving gift cards to their customers, so it should be easy to set up a rewards pathway with them to reward localvores. - Share this: Here is the introduction to the “Ethical Consumption Rewards System” http://tiny.cc/ecrs-intro
Sep 29, 2014
It looks like buycott app is doing something similar how is normative different from buycott? http://www.buycott.com/