Conscientious Consumption: There’s an App for That
Being socially conscious is hip. In the past few years social media has made advocating a particular cause convenient and, dare I say, prestigious. Need proof? Scroll through your Facebook friends and see how many of their profile pictures include the pink equals sign on a red background for marriage equality, an image with a red “X” marked on the back of the hand, or perhaps a face with red tape over the mouth. Perhaps you or your friends got caught up in the pre-naked-breakdown Kony 2012 hype. Perusing the most popular documentaries on iTunes or Netflix will reveal titles like Food, Inc., The Corporation, King Corn, 8: The Mormon Proposition, and similarly socially oriented fare. Musicians’ breakout singles are now often followed by a socially relevant anthem supporting some cause or another. Your favorite TV show has probably addressed some hot-button topic at least once in the last season. The reality is that we are challenged every day to take a stand on one social issue or another, but have those stances translated to our spending habits?
Recently, an app has been introduced for smartphone users to be able to put their money where their mouths are. Introducing Buycott, an app designed to help consumers make more informed purchases. With Buycott, available for iOS and Android devices, shoppers can simply scan a product’s bar code and see the corporate “family tree” of the purchases they are making. Did you watch Food, Inc. and decide Monsanto needs to be avoided like the plague? Buycott will let you know if that corporation is affiliated with your purchase. Are you a frustrated Occupy X protester or a viewer of HBO’s The Newsroom who has decided to target your ire at the Koch brothers? Buycott will let you know if your purchase is benefiting Koch Industries. Maybe you’re a conservative who has decided George Soros shouldn’t be getting any of your hard-earned dollars… well, you get the idea.
What’s great about the app is that the infrastructure itself isn’t biased. The information is just a matter of public record, however users can create “campaigns” to help you make informed decisions regarding the social agendas of the corporations involved in the products you might want to purchase. Say you want to support LGBT rights, scanning a bag of Starbucks coffee will reveal that the company has donated money to support that cause. Forbes quoted developer Ivan Pardo. “I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” said Pardo. “For me, it was critical to allow users to create campaigns because I don’t think its Buycott’s role to tell people what to buy. We simply want to provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions.”
I found the app to be very easy to navigate and easy to use. When the user clicks on a campaign, they are directed to an info page with a brief description of the cause, the ability to “join” a cause, and buttons to share that cause on social media. The campaigns right now tend to favor progressive causes, however there are certainly some conservative causes represented. More importantly, there are plenty of campaigns that appeal to consumers of all political or social affiliations. For those of us living in the United States, we have been told for generations to “vote with our wallets.” Buycott helps people do that conveniently, and the app is free.
For the majority of humanity’s history, people traded with other people in their proximity. You knew the cobbler who made your shoes, the farmer who supplied your food, the smith who shoed your horse, et al. In this day and age of the global market, it is comforting to have the ability to see where your money is going and to know more about the companies we support. It’s easy to get frustrated by the influence of special interests on the world in which we live, however it is often our dollars that are fighting against our own interests. Buycott is a step in the right direction towards rectifying that problem.