Normative: Scan your purchase, visualize your impact by Normative Team
Normative is an app for ethical consumption. By scanning your purchase, Normative visualize its and your own impact on the world.
Today more consumers than ever before are asking questions about the socio-ecological circumstances under which a product is made. Companies do not want to be linked to any questionable activities in their supply chain and governments want to make sure that all actors are following laws, policies and guidelines. In other words; the incentives to do good are greater than ever before.
Yet, 900 million people today face hunger, 1.4 billion live on less than $1.25/day and we are facing an environmental crisis. And the biggest source of environmental stress are the consumer patterns of the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population who generate around 50% of CO2 emissions and 33% of the world’s sustainable nitrogen budget.
But if we want to do good and have the will to do so, why are we not doing it? The problem is not about will, it is about knowledge, or as the 2009 Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission concluded:“Those attempting to guide the economy and our societies are like a pilot trying to steer without a reliable compass.”
Normative can be described as a Google for ethical consumerism. By scanning a product barcode with our app, you gain immediate insight into the socio-ecological impact of that product, and if you answer questions about your consumption and connect your bank statements, Normative can also calculate your consumption pattern. We will use gamification to motivate you to become a better consumer and if you still consume in an unethical way you can compensate for that by donating to a cost-effective charity.
The impact of a product is calculated by using our database of social life-cycle assessment (S-LCA) research. If a product is not in the database, users will be able to fill in the gaps using our S-LCA software and discussion forum.
A maxim in economics holds that transparency makes markets work more efficiently. This rule has long been applied to price, but it is about time we apply it to the ethical impacts of industry and commerce.
Category of the action
What actions do you propose?
Our mission with Normative is to build a moral operating system that will provide consumers, companies, governments and NGOs with a reliable compass that could guide us safely through the 21st century by counteracting socio-ecological degradation caused by lack of information, hyperbolic discounting, current moment bias, diffusion of responsibility and acrasia. This will be done by communicating externalities in a quantifiable and engaging way by using state of the art gamification and an up to date crowdsourced database of social life cycle assessments for different products.
The Normative platform is made of three different software components: Normative Karma, Normative Scanner and Normative Life.
1. NORMATIVE KARMA
Will visualize the overall ethical footprint, in terms of socio-ecological variables, of companies and people by letting them:
- answer a questionnaire about their current lifestyle.
- connect to external data streams such as bank statements and location aware social media apps such as Facebook and Foursquare.
- see their ethical footprint which is calculated by cross-referencing our database containing the latest sustainability research.
If users are behaving sustainably, they will be rewarded with points and badges (“PBL triad”), and will be able to compete against their friends through social media. The user will be able to compensate for any externalities by donating money to charity using our database of cost-effective giving opportunities. It is however important to emphasize that this should not be seen as an attempt to emulate the idea of carbon offsetting on a micro scale, but rather a distinct additional feature that enables the users to donate money to high quality charities.
This way consumers will not only be encouraged to consume better but also less, since since consuming less means less negative impact which equates to more badges and points. If you want to buy a new car, it will for example be easy to calculate the newer car’s ecological impact compared to keeping your old car for a while longer.
To facilitate sustainable habit formations, which is the cornerstone for any behavioral change, users will be able to compete with their friends in a 60 days challenges where they are rewarded with points and badges when sticking to a sustainable habit (such as consuming less meat or commuting to work). 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) and power of gamification to trigger behavioral change has been extensively studied in recent years (see Fogg (2002), Cugelman (2013), Hamari (2014)).
Normative Karma will also contain an application programming interface (API) that enables third party developers to create even more engaging apps and games using our data. Examples could be to-do list apps that automatically donate money to charity if you don’t complete your tasks or RPG games that updates your characters magic abilities if you behave ethically in real life. The possibilities will be endless.
2. NORMATIVE SCANNER
Enables users to scan a product barcode and gain immediate insight into the socio-ecological impact of that product. It will also suggest the most ethical substitute and where to find them on a map. The impact is measured using a database of S-LCA data. The app will also learn what products a given store has from what users have previously scanned and match it with the smartphone’s geolocation.
The main customer segment for the Normative Scanner will be consumers and resellers in the developed world interested in quantifying the impact of various products they buy.
3. NORMATIVE LIFE
Activism is very much at the heart of the Normative platform. Indeed the whole platform depends on it because without it there will not be enough people to crowdsource the S-LCAs. Normative Life will be a forum where citizens, companies, NGOs and researchers will be able to engage in discussions about the impact of various products and lifestyles. It will contain the following components:
- S-LCA software and up to date inventory databases that generates reports on the socio-ecological impact of different products; following guidelines for S-LCA outlined by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and ISO 14000 standards.
- a wikipedia style discussion forum that encourages the companies and researchers to engage in a transparent dialogued because inevitably some life cycle assessments will be dubious.
- all of the S-LCA reports for different products which will be collected in a searchable database open to the public.
The main customer segment for Normative Life will thus be producers, NGOs, researchers and governments interested in improving the efficiency of production in terms of various variables related to cost and socio-ecological impact.
VARIABLES TO FOCUS ON
The importance of the measured variables resulting from a given S-LCA will be weighted as follows:
- 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 equal importance for the wellbeing of future generations.
- 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 from various data sources such as DCP2, WHO-CHOICE, J-Pal, CEVR, CC, AidGrade, IPA, GW, GWWC.
- 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.
NORMATIVE'S VIRTUOUS CYCLES
As said, we don’t just target the consumers, but companies, NGOs and governments as well.
Our biggest impact will not come from the consumption level. It will come from companies that will want to adapt to accommodate for the movement building we are doing on the community level.
In the graph above, you see the virtuous cycles of Normative on these levels and how Normative will be the cog in the middle.
USER DEMAND, MARKET POTENTIAL & BENEFICIARIES
In the long term the winners will be planet earth and humanity as a whole. However in the short term the main beneficiary of the Normative platform will primarily be people in the developing world that are the main victims of socio-ecological externalities caused by destructive business norms. Having that said it is however important to stress that even in the short term Normative will also benefit consumers, companies and governments in the developed world.
UK consumer surveys show that about 33% of today’s shoppers are actively seeking information on a company’s reputation and similar surveys in the rest of the world gives the same results. A recent survey by GlobeScan also shows that consumer expectations are highest around a company‘s level of transparency, especially in regards to the social and environmental impact of its products, which is regarded as ‘very important‘ by over half of both UK and US consumers. Ironically, the company’s social and environmental responsibility in and of itself was only seen as the second most important consideration.
With Normative Life, companies can meet the increasing consumer demand for transparency and credible CSR in a radical way, with an easy-to-use interface and powered by crowdsourcing. But more importantly, it would help them save money. Businesses making the transition towards the green economy are already reaping rewards worth hundreds of millions of dollars in savings and high return on investment, while benefiting consumers, communities and the environment, says a new report by UNEP. In fact we believe, as previously mentioned, that the biggest impact from Normative will take place behind the scenes without consumers even noticing.
The solution we bring to the game is not just an app for consumer, but most importantly the 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. In fact we recently started a collaboration with Cook n’ Smile a website with recipes for sustainable cooking.
In other words, the market demand for a platform like Normative seems to be greater than ever before amongst all major stakeholders and this trend does not seem to be fading away. On the contrary, it has been conclusively shown by scholars such as Peter Singer and Steven Pinker that our circle of moral concerns has been expanding gradually for the past 500 years. If you combine this trend with several decades of exponential growth of technological capabilities in computing and big data, a product like Normative will see an ever increasing market potential in the future.
The development of Normative will be divided into four phases:
We are currently in phase 1 in which our goal has been to assemble a team, find key-partners, seek seed funding, build a functioning prototype. So far we are ahead of schedule in that we have successfully obtained seed funding, assembled a team and a network of partners (see the next section), and we are currently working on the prototype.
It is hard to create collective engagement around a product that is too complicated to use. This is why our prototype will be build around the Normative Karma questionnaire 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).
If successful we will then go on to develop Normative Scanner and Normative Life. The big data generated by Normative Life and Normative Scanner will then be used to validate and improve upon the generalized heuristics we started out with. The whole process can be visualized in the following way.
RISKS AND FEASIBILITY
When dealing with large scale software projects, such as Normative, there will inevitably be great challenges to overcome and thus a great deal of risk involved. When dealing with risks (i.e. probability of failure) it is important to remember that the probability of two events occurring together (in “conjunction”) is always less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone. This simple fact in probability theory teaches us the importance to start lean and not try to do everything at once, because the risks of a project typically grows exponentially as a function of the number of phases/components it is dependent on. Yet it also stresses the importance of a modular strategy where each component can function independently without the conjunctive support of additional components.
We apply a lean and modular approach by making the three software components work independently with separate revenue models. This significantly mitigates risks related to market demand, revenue and technological feasibility.
To ensure the best result and efficiency we are using an agile management methodology called Scrum that enables our team to self-organize with close collaboration and daily face to face communication.
Why we need your support!
But in the end the biggest risk is a lack of early adopters. We will need the support from early adopters to continue to engage in discussion, build the S-LCA database and most importantly spread the word!
As Malcolm Gladwell points out there is usually a tipping point, when an idea gets enough critical mass, to spread to the general public. Winning the MIT CoLab challenge could most likely prove to be such a tipping point for us.
Who will take these actions?
Our team is currently made up of two people.
Kristian Rönn is in charge of the development of the architecture for Normative and business relations with academic institutions and has connections with many world renowned researchers. He has relevant experience as a manager at the University of Oxford and as a researcher for the charity evaluator Giving What We Can.
Robin Undall-Behrend in charge of marketing, design and business strategies. He has relevant experience from his education in sustainable urban development and his work as business developer for the charity organisation Emmaus Fredriksdal.
In the near future we plan to expand our team with a front-end and back-end developer and imagine our team will span across continents with a strong volunteer force.
- $50,000 from the Swedish state through Vinnova, the government agency responsible for administering state funding for R&D. To receive this funding Normative had to go through a rigorous three step review process led by experts from industry and academia.
- $5,000 from Lund University, through LU Innovation System.
- $50,000 from Emmaus Fredriksdal, a Swedish environmental NGO.
- Giving What We Can in Oxford, is an organisation researching and promoting cost-effective solutions to global problems. They are advising us in the development of Normative Karma.
- Ideon Science Park is where most of our team members are located at the incubator Venture Lab. It is one of Europe's most successful meeting places for entrepreneurs and venture capital.
- LU Open Innovation Center at Lund University is a development unit that designs large innovation projects. We have a strong partnership where they advise us on anything from business development to networking.
- Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford is an interdisciplinary research centre focused on predicting and preventing large-scale risks to human civilization. They advise us on long term knock-on-effects.
Where will these actions be taken?
Our team and partners are currently geographically distributed over two continents and three countries, Lund in Sweden, San Francisco in the USA and Oxford in the UK.
We see this as an advantage since the EU a the USA also happens to have the two largest ethical and ecological footprints in the world. If we can change these markets, we can change the world.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
As mentioned earlier surveys show that about one-third of shoppers in the developed world claim they are actively seeking information on companies reputation.
Let us for the sake of argument say that 10% of people in the developed world would use Normative Scanner, and as a result, challenge the norm of consumerism by buying one pair of jeans less in a year. That tiny change would result in 2.5 trillion litres fresh water and 12.8 billion kg of CO2 saved, in theory enough to provide 2.3 billion people with drinking water for a year and a CO2 emission equivalent to 3.4 million cars.
This is a huge impact given conservative assumptions, in the sense that it only counts 1 variable (water) for 1 product (jeans) for 1 actor (consumers) for 1 year. If we include more variables, a broader range of products, norm shifts for multiple actors (like governments and companies), for a longer period of time by counting future generations, we get an effect size several orders of magnitude larger.
What are other key benefits?
It is a truly open platform, both by being open-source, but more importantly by inviting people from different backgrounds to participate in the discussion. Any S-LCA will inevitably be based on some intuition and judgment calls, which makes it vital to put all reasoning out in the open where others can assess and critique it.
It breaks the information asymmetry between producers and consumers that is one of the leading causes of negative externalities and market failures.
It is a scalable solution that will increase regional and global access to S-LCA data and thus locate responsibility both on a consumer and producer level.
Gamification and social media can effectively target the biases that cause us to act against our better judgment, and thus expand our circle of moral concerns to include caring for the planet, future generations and all other conscious beings that are our co-travelers on spaceship earth.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The development of the entire Normative platform is expected to cost around $960,000.
- Development Team: $680,000
- Hardware & Software: $80,000
- Travel & meetings: $50,000
- Promotion & marketing: $90,000
- Office & Miscellaneous: $60,000
Our vision is to create the greatest positive impact as we can and aspire to create a world where data is quantified. In this world, consumers can make ethical and sustainable choices in their consumption and companies will want to be more transparent and work towards providing the customers with these choices. And our innovation is a blueprint for an app and platform called Normative that will do exactly that.
5-15 years: Within 5 years we want to have the complete app and platform developed with at least a million users. They will be able to get a holistic perspective on their consumption patterns and through our app be able to make better decisions when purchasing new products, and also rethink if they need the product in the first place.
15-50 years: We anticipate that our platform or other offshoots will be the norm rather than an exception in the daily lives of consumers all over the world. As a result we have become much better at tackling global problems on a global scale. Indeed, if we as a species want to survive the coming century, we need a tool like Normative to become better at predicting and mitigating the unintended consequences of our collective behaviour.
50-100 years: Through shifting norms and behaviour we will have avoided an ecological disaster, live in world where hunger and poverty has been decisively eradicated and where human rights are respected by states, corporations and people alike.
Normative: Scan Your Purchase, Visualize Your Impact in the Shifting behavior for a changing climate contest is the same as this one, as Normative perfectly fits the description for both contests.
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Calculation: (1.14 billion people in the developed world * 22000 l of water/jeans * 0.1)/(3 l/day in daily reference intake * 365 days) = drinking water for 2.3 billion people per year.