I suggest a visual game with "augmented reality/enhanced imagery/virtual reality" combined with dazzling graphs and animated pie charts, where you could scan several items and ingredients on the shelves in a store (or what is in your shopping cart). I propose a digital application that will let you see some dramatic visuals and choose between colourful charts that compares all the items with each other (in size, colour, brightness and probably music and motion). A little bit raising awareness, a little bit fun and experimental for the users.
This is not like all of those other concepts that simply put a numerical value or a coloured label on each of the products in a shop. This is a suggestion for an augmented-reality-application. The main point I am trying to make, is that the whole contents of my shopping cart (or of the contents in my fridge and cupboards at home) is a mix of many different ingredients with each unique background, content and origin. If we can show shoppers visual comparisons, we can make them think about the competitive side and ethical aspects to what they finally choose to bring through the check-out-lines.
A numerical value of emissions, the distance on how far a thing have travelled in miles, a coloured label; it can all be just a very abstract number or confusing indicator. If you are simply standing and holding up one item and trying to evaluate how "good/bad" it is (when it comes to nutrition, emissions, food miles, fair trade, social responsibility, organic and so on) you will probably not understand or comprehend how that relates to you, and how you could make well-informed decisions based on that labelling system.
I want to be able to show a direct visual graphic comparison between all the values on several different items at once, in a simple visual way: for instance I have put 3 items in my shopping cart and I scan these (bar code or QR Code or another method). I hold my camera-phone above the shopping cart, and I see my items lying in the cart on the screen, but each item start to grow or shrink in size, and their colour turns brighter, paler, more vibrant or darker depending on what value they try to show me. I can choose from a list of icons, to change what values and representation i want to see displayed, depending on what is important to base my purchases on right now.
On top of the different items there could also appear pie charts, that shows other facts that are derived from a base of info, numbers... (i take lots of inspiration from dr.Hans Roslings gapminder.org )
How and where:
On your smartphone, or on a scan-it-yourself-monitor in-store, or on your computer at home (before or after your shopping trip so you can learn and plan ahead)
I put 3 items in my shopping cart, a packet of beef steak: that shrinks and becomes a small black dot. Because it is compared to the avokado; that grows and becomes vibrant green. And the canned (imported) tomato stays its original shape and colour, because it is in between the other two. If I add a couple of fresh tomatoes to my cart, I can be able to see a visible difference between those and with the can of tomatoes. If the fresh ones are locally organically grown they will grow a bit larger and become more brighter vibrant red. If they are imported or in any way worse than the canned tomatoes, the opposite change happens onscreen.
Or it can even become exciting results, that surprises you, so you will get curious to try to find out more when you get home to go to wikipedia to read more.
Values for the size and pie charts can be chosen with touch-buttons, and those could be a long list with a wide range of fact based variables. (the absolute number on the item, and in relation to other items of similar type or to any item in your cart)
- Cost per gram, per serving/portion size
- Water use
- Fertilizers, Pesticides, Herbicides used
- Food Miles, Fuel use before the product reached the shop
- Food Miles, compare fuel use and emission "pre-shop" to "post-shop" (user must here punch in what type of transport he/she uses to get the grocery bags back home, and what the approx distance is to home on a map)
- Ethical employer, equal opportunity policies, fair trade licenced or not,Social Responsibility, Treating animals respectfully...
- How many persons that i will cook for with this shopping cart.
I would like to be able to see a comparison chart that shows how well a litre of milk stands up to a pair of jeans or the t-shirt you got on. (cotton growing and so on) Or the amount of water wasted in the maintenance of the local golf course compared to the local cattle farm. Is it better to buy farmed fish or wild-caught when it comes to overfishing or personal health?
A family would be able to track purchased items and food costs over time. They could see a week or monthly evaluation, and realize they spent X amount of dollars/person more then previous month. And they could find reasons to why it is rising, perhaps they bought 122gram meat/person/day, instead of their normal 94gram/person/day. (A possibility to change number of persons in the home must be made depending on children eating at school, or a visiting grandparent in the house for a couple of weeks)(Possibility to set a maximum level on costs or in meat consumption, so you get alerted in the middle of a shopping trip, and can alter the contents of your cart right away, to stay within budget)
Maybe you could receive suggestions from the software, if it discovers that your family in november (each year) buys no seasonal food at all. So your food costs in that month is where you could save the most, if you adapt and learn about local in-season foodtypes. (maybe with artificial intelligence preprogrammed, or with peer-to-peer-advice?)
Probably there could be long-term future predictions on the whole years food costs, depending on how your shopping pattern is this month?
Why I think there are problems with other concepts:
numbers are too abstract if you just see "250 miles" on the carton of milk or a green star or foot label on a leek. It says nothing about how many litres of milk that shared that total amount of transport emissions and costs. In some cases a container ship with many millions of cookies from the other side of the world can have lower individual food miles, than the locally made boxes of cookies that came in a pick-up truck.
The other setback that trying to labelling products comes with, is that some producers that get poor score will refuse to put the "negative labels" on their packaging, and therefore the whole transparency idea will fail. And there are already a djungle with many different logos and labelling, at least in europe. A recent survey checked knowledge and awareness of normal shoppers, and only 10% could identify more than 1 of the environmentally-friendly indicator-labels. We need fewer logos and labels on food, not another new one, that only makes it more confusing to the average consumer.
What effect I imagine this concept will have:
it can show consumers that are trying to decide between raw potatoes and frozen potato chips/french fries what is the difference between them (on many various aspects). It can show how the total effect it has on the whole shopping cart if i put back the big package of beef steak and pick one that is 5-15% smaller (and how smart it is to decide to fill up the carbohydrate and veg-based protein part of my meal) We can influence consumers to take a couple of trips each month to take bike and leave their car at home, because if they worry about food miles from the farm, they will notice that their own vehicle was really a much bigger part of the problem than the farmers tractor.
Bonuses and "easter-eggs" possible to "hide" in the software:
If a couple of selected products and the best current seasonal choices/value deals in the store this week is loaded in secret with a mp3-tune, and the customers picks this product, the scanning of this items bar code will activate a mp3-download and he/she will hear music all the time they keep this item in their cart and pays for it.
If they take their car home, the music stops and is deleted. However if they ride a bike, or walk or choose the city bus or metro home, they can get a password, to save these mp3-songs permanently. or an option to share these to their friends.
I think local musicians would be happy to contribute with mp3-songs for different types of this backwards : "product placement" (alternative gifts with focus on local region : discount on event tickets; for a concert, or to the cinema, or to a football game)