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Monday, May 10, 2010

Do consumers want more data?

I don’t think so.

At a smart meter event hosted by Google and The Climate Group in DC a few weeks back, much of the discussion was on how much information consumers are going to have on their energy usage in the future and how they are going to act on that information to have their washing machine run at midnight, unplug their appliances when not in use and use their PDA to switch off lights remotely when the kids leave them on. I don’t see it that way.

There are iPhone apps to scan barcodes. So apparently, we will soon (if not already) be walking around the supermarket scanning products and checking their carbon footprint, ethical employee values, supplier code of practice. I am not persuaded.

At the LCA Supply Chain summit in Chicago last week, Dr Stan Rhodes of SCS did a superb presentation for assessing product performance against a new ANSI sustainability standard. The slides included a compelling visual representation of the results that certainly had me excited about the possibilities. Even then I don’t believe that most consumers would have the motivation or knowledge to interpret the results.

I hope consumers take ever more interest in the various ethical and sustainability implications of what they are buying. It will help me do my job. However, I don’t think comprehensive and detailed data will cut it for the consumer. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be provided for the sake of transparency. But it won’t have impact without trusted intermediaries to interpret it and simplify it down to actionable judgments. Those intermediaries might be NGOs, government, media, or perhaps some other organization. But walking round the supermarket comparing 15 dimensions of sustainability across two brands of cookies, switching the dishwasher on from the road? Not for me.

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