UK smartphone app Impact Score is on a mission to help shoppers make “simple, informed decisions” that will enable them to live a “more sustainable lifestyle”. By doing so, the start-up hopes to encourage companies to strengthen their sustainability credentials.
Since its market launch in 2018, the app has gained popularity among brands and consumers.
“We already rate over 280,000 supermarket products across 14 different sustainability metrics, and provide this information to shoppers through our free smartphone app, which over 80,000 people have downloaded to date,” Impact Score co-founder Ian Yates told FoodNavigator.
From gender pay gap to CO2 emissions
The idea for Impact Score dates back to 2016, around the time the infamous Panama Papers were published. The leaked documents listed several counts of alleged tax evasion, which got Yates and his colleagues thinking.
“We had a fierce debate in the office about whether we should buy coffee from [UK coffee chain] Costa or a local cafe, and how we could be sure both were paying a fair amount of tax,” he recalled.
“It turned into an idea of being able to walk down the high street and look up any business to see if they paid their fair share of tax. The idea for Impact Score was born.
As the concept developed, other measures besides the ‘simple tax’ were added, including corporate gender pay gaps, CO2 emissions and a ‘feedback loop’ that allowed consumers to share their views on a particular company’s behavior towards society and the environment.
The Impact Score Company app was launched around this time, allowing users to research company behaviors.
Impact Score’s second smartphone app, Impact Score Shopping, was then developed to focus on the sustainability of supermarket products. Since its launch in 2018, the app has helped shoppers “live more sustainably” by finding “better” products, Yates said, adding that “better” in this context means more sustainable or nutritious.
“The same principle has been adopted, search or scan a product and bring transparency to the consumer, quickly and easily.”
The inner workings of Impact Score Shopping
At the product level, the application evaluates up to 14 criteria. The assessment measures applied depend on the product category, but can include factors such as the use of sustainable palm oil, recyclable packaging, animal welfare, as well as monitoring the presence or not of chemicals of concern.
“It is not up to us to judge that one product is more ethical than another”, Yates explained. “We measure the nutritional and sustainable nature of the product based on data provided by the manufacturer and refer to over 30 partners on this, such as RSPCA, RSPO, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance, and what they consider to be one more. sustainable or nutritional product in their area of expertise.
For example, the low carbon badge comes from academic studies by WRAP and Poore & Nemecek, and the healthier options come from data collected by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the NHS.
“We are not, and we do not want to be, an evaluator in our own right. We want to be a trusted source for consumers.
Impact Score has developed algorithms that use these data points to calculate the overall rating and score companies accordingly.
Yates believes shoppers want more information than just a single score, but is also open to consumer feedback. “We’re looking at whether we simplify this with an AF rating, similar to the energy rating system you see on electrical appliances, but we’ll be guided by our users when we quiz them in February.”
A growing category
A growing number of smartphone apps are being developed to help shoppers make more informed decisions about in-store health and sustainability.
French smartphone app Yuka, for example, aims to help consumers choose “healthy” products, while Setai combines the CO2 footprint of products with their health score to “empower consumers”.
Impact Score understands that sustainability means different things to different people. It stands out, the co-founder explained, by being a “trusted source” measuring products in 14 sustainability categories – from carbon to nutrition, animal welfare, sustainable production and sourcing.
“While carbon and net zero are the hot topic of the day, last year it was plastics and before that palm oil,” we have been told.
“We focus on buyers and make sure we measure and evaluate the things that matter to them. With 80,000 users, we receive lots of feedback and continually add new criteria to our technology platform. For example, our users want to see how responsible or ethical the company is, so the next metric we’ll add will take data on the company’s gender pay gap, overall CO2 emissions, and if it pays the real living wage, etc. be another metric that the company must achieve.
“The continuous enrichment of our data helps our customers make more informed decisions through the use of our application.”
Impact Score is working with academics at the University of Chester in the UK to determine how best to measure product sustainability credentials, including what data it should leverage, from whom, and what other data can enrich its platform.
The app doesn’t currently measure companies’ soybean production methods, for example, but Yates said the university team flagged it and Impact Score is investigating certification standards.
“As you’d expect we need to make sure the ratings are accurate and consistent to maintain the trust of our users and the industry, that’s actually another point of difference, a lot of work goes into that, including working with academics to validate the processes we have for validation,” we have been told.
In the future, Impact Score wants to integrate more measures of supermarket products; more sectors such as fashion, technology and financial services; and expand internationally.
However, these plans depend on user feedback, as well as the Impact Score to find the “right partners” and investors to work with.
“We are at an early stage of talking with some potential investors and we are also talking with some retailers and brands about how we can work together because the reality is that we will reach most consumers quickly by working with these groups” , said the co-founder.
“We are also aware that we must not lose our independence and that we want to avoid using the application simply as an advertising or marketing channel for products. We want the ‘right’ partners rather than ‘any which partners.