Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sourcemap – Because We Really Do Care

Today I stumbled across Sourcemap.org, an open source and open data supply chain publishing platform. The site allows anyone to easily discover, share and discuss where and how products are made, from the origin of materials to the mode of transport.

It was created by Leo Bonanni as a tool for lifecycle assessment and supply chain transparency with the aim of encouraging radical sustainability in product design. The project began by assessing the supply chain of a laptop – a product comprising more than 50 materials from some 25 different countries. Bonanni says the project stemmed from the crowdsourcing idea that “we each only own something for a brief period in its lifecycle… it has come from many places and will go on to many more.” He believes this makes us the custodian of materials which belong to all of humanity. A really simple philosophy when you pause to consider it.

Entering the products materials and their source into the site allows you to generate information to assist in purchasing decisions, such as carbon footprint and End Of Life. You can also ascertain the added footprint of shipping the item to your address. The site presents more than cold data, allowing users to tell a cultural or travel story, as the Lovat Hotel in Loch Ness, Scotland have done. Managing Partner, Caroline Gregory uses Sourcemap, amongst other things, to account for emissions incurred by her guests in travelling to the hotel and offsets these by investing in local forests to make their travel carbon neutral. 

The site also allows you to generate QR codes which can be added to your packaging and the details accessed by anyone using a Smartphone. This is becoming commonplace in supermarkets across Tokyo to trace the origin of fresh food and details of the grower. This technique has apparently led to a 30% uplift in sales on QR coded products in Japan (credit to Jon Bird from Westfield Breakfast Seminar 2010/Inside Retailing).

The reality is that we know very little about the origins of so much that we consume and the complexities of auditing green certified products makes it difficult to know if we really are making the most sustainable decision. Take the example of printing business cards using online supplier Moo. Sourcemap tested two options - ordering half-sized non-recycled business cards or full-sized 100% recycled business cards (which most of us would assume would be the way to go). Surprisingly, the non-recycled cards have 33% less carbon footprint than the recycled cards (120 grams compared with 180 grams).

Whilst Sourcemap is in its infancy stages it provides all businesses with the opportunity (it’s free!) to better understand their supply practices and therefore make more informed decisions in sourcing. In a world where more consumers strive to think, live and buy green it also allows brands to differentiate from their competitors.

More importantly, as consumers we should be demanding this information.

To learn more about Sourcemap check out this video featuring Leo Bonanni:

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