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GoodGuide.com is a free database for consumers who wish to determine, before they buy, how safe, healthful, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible various products are. These are the things that most of us buy on a regular basis, from household items like shampoo and pet food to cars and electronics. The site provides an overall aggregate score (using a 0 to 10 rating system) for each item, compared to other products of its type, and breaks out individual scores in categories such as Controversial Ingredients, Fair Trade, Energy Efficiency, and Labor and Human Rights. Using the GoodGuide Transparency Toolbar, a free browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox, online shoppers now have on-the-fly access to the GoodGuide product ratings system while shopping at Amazon.com.
The GoodGuide Transparency Toolbar, which appears at the bottom of the browser window only when you are shopping at one of its supported sites (currently, just Amazon), takes your own values into account when presenting scores, based on criteria you establish during setup. It’s easy--users just identify the issues that matter most to them, choosing from a short list. If you indicate that any problem in the area of Labor and Human Rights might be a deal-breaker for you, for example, that product will be flagged a “Fail.” Green dots indicate a passing grade while red dots represent failure; the deeper the shade of green, the better, while the darker the red is, the worse the score.
The toolbar does a nice job of giving the average shopper just enough detail. Assuming you’re curious, you may then evaluate the ratings in more detail by clicking the Full Rating button on the right side of the toolbar. Founded by Dara O’Rourke, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental and labor policy and an expert on global supply chains, the GoodGuide.com service can provide a large amount of data although perhaps not always enough to satisfy the most scrupulous (obsessive?) shopper. Inspecting my results, I soon realized that some of the initial criteria I had chosen might be too strict, since none of the products I looked at could pass my filters. After taking a closer look, I realized, for example, that I would probably continue to buy Tom’s spearmint toothpaste despite the sodium lauryl sulfate (suspected skin irritant) and carrageenan (suspected carcinogen) it contains, but I might change sunscreens after learning that the one I buy merits “high concern” for its oxybenzone content.
There were times when I would have appreciated access to more information on the perceived transgressions that prompted a low score in a given area. (At the same time, however, I can see why it would be difficult to provide that level of depth for so many products.) And once, when I searched Amazon for an Apple iPad 2, the Transparency Toolbar showed me results for a juice product made by Apple & Eve. But despite these quibbles, I found the GoodGuide Transparency Toolbar valuable and will continue to use it. It will become more useful in the future, when it adds the promised support for additional online retailers, including Soap.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com.