March 3, 2012

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Ethical Shopping - Gamification I Could Get Behind

I'm a bit, y'know, "weeurgh" when it comes to the subject of gamification. It just sounds too much like something out of a Philip K Dick novel.

But, putting aside the unwitting self-enslavement of consumers, there's one kind of gamification I might support. I think we could "gamify" ethical buying.

Imagine we're all carrying barcode scanners on us. Which many of us now are, it seems. I'm in the supermarket, and I'm presented with a whole shelf of different products that do pretty much the same thing, and I'm deciding which one to buy. The information I have in front of me comes from the retailer and from the manufacturer. How much does it cost? What does the manufacturer tell me I can expect from it?

It's all a bit one-sided, really. What I don't see is the carbon footprint of each product. Or the working conditions that went into making it. Or the amount of money the manufacturer spent lobbying congress to get laws concerning the testing and safety of that product relaxed.

What if I could scan that product's barcode and find out a bunch of stuff the retailer and manufacturer don't want me to know? Would that affect my decision? Maybe Washing Power X is 20p cheaper than Washing Powder Y, but what if I knew that the factory where they made Washing Powder X had been fined for dumping toxic chemicals into the local river?

If I was of a mind to shop more ethically, it might be of interest to me to have to hand information like that while I'm shopping. And databases full of that kind of information do exist.

I might even welcome a bit of friendly competition to see if I use my household budget more ethically than my friends and family. Using barcodes, it might be possible to assign an Ethics Score to my shopping basket, and if I wanted a better score I could visit their web site to look for better alternatives to the products I'm buying.

I'd already kicked this idea around for ethical investing - creating a browser plug-in that superimposes information about a company over its stock symbol so we can see at a glance how it scores on things like workers' rights, the environment and so on.

Hopefully, armed with extra knowledge about products, our inherent instinct not to be total and utter bastards might create a sort of adaptive pressure that gently modifies our buying (or investing) behaviour over time, skewing the markets towards better conduct.

That's a kind of gamification I might be able to get behind.

Posted 8 years, 11 months ago on March 3, 2012