Socially conscious shopping apps

By Lisa Schmeiser, Macworld |  Personal Tech, iPhone apps

The primary challenge of being a socially-conscious consumer is finding products that fulfill your needs without sullying your conscience. A secondary challenge is remembering which products are on the "good" list and which ones are banned. A fresh crop of iPhone applications hopes to remove the cognitive challenges via reference guides that let you make ethical--and often green--choices in what you buy.

GoodGuide is a free reference guide that lets consumers find the products based on how well they've scored in environmental, health, nutritional and social criteria. Users have the option to add specific products to Favorites or Avoid lists and check the price of specific products at Amazon. The products are sorted into four easy categories--food, personal care, household cleaners, and toys--and if you don't want to drill through the subcategories, there's a search interface with a gratifyingly rapid response time.

The current database of products in GoodGuide includes more than 50,000 choices, but what's included--or not--within brands is baffling. For example, searching "Hansen's Beverages" produced several discontinued products but not the diet ginger ale I was drinking while test-driving the application.

As a reference, GoodGuide may be somewhat useful; as a repository of personalized favorites and shopping picks, it failed. Although I had created a user account on GoodGuide.com, none of the items I had selected as favorites via my iPhone were saved, despite pop-windows assuring me otherwise. This is a serious flaw in an application meant to be useful to shoppers in the store.

By contrast, Green Book, a $6 app from Kamikaze, eschews listing specific brand names or products and focuses instead on walking users through which consumer choices to make and how those choices could affect the planet positively or negatively. The scope of the book is extensive--offering waste-reducing, energy-, time- and water-saving tips on everything from going on vacation to staying late at the office--and the interface is intuitive, allowing users to bounce back to the table of contents with two quick taps in the center of the screen.

Two other apps dole out the green-living tips one at a time. Go Green from Webworks and Applications dispenses a new green-living tip every time you fire up the free app; the idea is that you'll accumulate a long list of useful low-impact consumer pointers by launching the app over and over.

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