Greenwashing and a token corporate social responsibility marketing campaign are no longer enough. In an increasingly open, digital world where authenticity is the buzzword of choice, businesses must keep up with growing demands for ethical behavior and transparency in everything; from employee rights and gender discrimination to child labor somewhere in the supply chain. Studies reveal more than 80% of consumers are willing to make sacrifices in order to address social or environmental rights issues, albeit there is a price – literally – for ethical and responsible consuming.
Technology can contribute to dealing with the challenges created by consumerism. Open data, social networks and mobile tech can change the game.
To this end, the Impakt Browser Extension was born from a heterogeneous team whose members combine expertise in mathematics, philosophy and humanitarian studies. It is, as its name suggests, a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that allows users to glean information about the practices, politics, and ethics of companies in real time as they shop. To begin building a tool like Impakt, Hecht and his team trawled government databases, industry reports, and news articles. The team has created the bare bones of the tool, though it is not yet available for download. To complete the project, they first need to raise some funds.
In its final form, Impakt will offer users data on a range of metrics, from a company’s hiring diversity to whether they pay workers minimum wage. It will also look at the age of factory workers in factories (a possible indicator of child labor), as well as the company’s standards for environmental sustainability. Users will be able to customize the extension to show them the information they care about most. And it will work anywhere you’re likely to buy something on the internet: e-commerce sites like Amazon, online retailers like Best Buy, and brands like Sephora.
Artificial Intelligence is the key to ensuring the program’s functionality. With more sophisticated machine learning, the algorithm could scrape and crawl for data around the internet, ensuring that users receive the most up-to-date and accurate information. An artificial intelligence component will aggregate and store user data, allowing the program to learn about the impact that the extension has as users shop, which will allow for improvements down the road. Raising awareness and developing that consciousness in the first place is the challenge accepted by the team. Tools that can explain what it means for a product to be “ethically sourced” or produced in an “environmentally-friendly” fashion could help narrow the gap created by those who haven’t been educated on the subject. This is a great application of AI for a broad educational purpose; although consumerism is hard to target in modern society, expanding transparency based on the information already available is definitely a good way to go. It’s no secret that it can be a costly endeavor to consistently buy only products that are ethically-produced and environmentally friendly, but it still is useful to shed some light in production processes and possible rights violations on behalf of the companies in order for some of them to take responsibility or start avoiding unethical practices.
I am really interested to see if such a browser can grow up and deliver what it promises without being cannibalised by the strong interests that want to avoid any transparency on issues such as equal pay, environmentally conscious manufacturing processes, prevention of counterfeit goods, human trafficking, farming practices and overproduction of goods are all at the forefront of consumers’ minds. For sure, the modern IT technologies are able to provide us with the often lacking transparency which is essential for the rise of conscious consumers. Are we able, as social structures, to cultivate and grow this type of Artificial Intelligence or no? The future will not be driverless…