What's the Killer Mobile App for Green Shopping? (and other tough questions)

JoeSolomon's picture

Over the last year, a lot has changed in how we access social and environmental information about the products we purchase. A small but growing army of mobile apps have flourished that now help consumers make more informed and "green" decisions. What makes mobile apps so innovative in this space is their potential to help consumers access crucial data at the point of purchase. The idea behind mobile apps is that you can just whip out your cell phone, look up a product while you shop, and make more informed purchase decisions.

These apps raise a lot of interesting questions around best approaches, collaboration, and potentially the limits of mobile technology.  Before we dive into the questions, though, let's review some apps!

1. Good Guide (Also posted in NetSquared's N2Y4 Project Gallery)

"Good Guide is now available on your mobile phone! GoodGuide mobile makes it fast and easy to find safe, healthy, and green products, instantly delivering the information you need, when you need it most — in a store and on the go. Get instant access to over 70,000 products and ratings at your fingertips....Simply download GoodGuide's iPhone application through Apple's iTunes App Store or use GoodGuide's Text Messaging application on any phone to get product ratings sent to your phone via text message..."

2. 3rdWhale (Also posted in NetSquared's N2Y4 Project Gallery)

"It's easy to be green on the go with 3rdWhale's new mobile application. Find green spas, restaurants, bike rental stores and much more when you need the info the most-when you're on the move."

 3. Greenpeace Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide (Built by 3rdWhale)

"The Guide makes it quick and easy to find out which brands of facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins are truly green and which should be avoided. Our experts have carefully evaluated over 100 brands and recommended those that: contain 100% overall recycled content; contain at least 50% post-consumer recycled content; and are bleached without toxic chlorine compounds."

4. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood iPhone app

"Our new iPhone application brings the latest Seafood Watch recommendations directly to your iPhone or iPod touch. Now you can make sustainable seafood choices quickly and easily—whether you're eating at your favorite restaurant or shopping for dinner. And at a time when the world's oceans are severely overfished, your seafood choices make a big difference."

5. EcoHero

And there's a new app reportedly coming soon! "Actor Adrian Grenier has caught the mobile application bug. The actor, best known for his lead role on HBO's Entourage, is planning to launch an eco-themed app for Apple's iPhone andGoogle's Android mobile platform this fall...The new app, called ecohero....will help consumers weigh products' environmental and health impact." Check out this slideshow for more info.

And now...

the Questions:

...After reviewing these apps, Which do you think is the killer one? is there a particular approach you think that combines aesthetics, usefulness, and ease-of-use. Would you use one over another? Why or why not?

...Each of these mobile startups has created their own database of green (or not so green) ratings. What would happen if they drew on and contributed to each others' databases? What if their teams also collaborated with active online databases like: Knowmore, Green America, AMEE, Bilumi, GenGreen, SkinDeep, SustainLane, Crocodyl, WiserEarth, and others? What would this look like? Is there an opportunity for open standards? How would you balance allowing a unique data layer per project while also growing all participants' data as a whole? How would you recommend these projects work together to empower each other and the conscious consumers they serve?

...Currently, the mobile approach to 'green shopping' requires you to turn on your phone, load an app, look up products or establishments - and then compare reviews. Is this too many steps to be adopted by 'the masses'? What are the usage stats? How might this process be simplified? What are other innovative solutions for bridging environmental and social data at the point of purchase?  

I  hope these questions (a few of which were quite tough to ask!) spark some good conversations around how we can   best approach and support these apps and ultimately use them to drive more effective social change! Am excited for your thoughts!

Note:  This post was inspired by NetSquared's recent N2Y4 Mobile Conference.