Despite the slew of new businesses waving the flag of ethical enterprise, it’s still a tall challenge to do good by shopping well. The best businesses aren’t always the easiest to find. Certifications like organic or Fair Trade help choose one coffee brand over another in a grocery store. Apps like GoodGuide or Free2Work let you scan a product to see if there’s a better choice one aisle over. But when it comes to entire businesses—like which nearby restaurant serves sustainably fished salmon—there isn’t much in the way of direction while you’re out and looking for a good dragon roll.
Sometimes, to follow through on your good intentions, you need that quickly dispensed tidbit of information, the proverbial last mile of research, right there at your fingertips. That’s what apps are for.
So, now there’s Social Impact, the first GPS-based social enterprise finder. "Social Impact’s purpose is to link consumers who seek positive social change with the products and social impact they seek," says Rolfe Larson, designer of the new iPhone and iPad app. You enter in the category of business you want—right now it’s just restaurants, coffee shops, catering, and a temporary catch-all "everything" category—and then you see the nearby social enterprises along with descriptions of their products, hours of operation, phone numbers and what kind of social impact they boast. A map also pops up to guide you there.
"We believe there are tens of millions of customers who would frequent social enterprises, fair trade stores… if only they could easily find those stores when they are ready to buy," Larson said.
Larson’s app has launched with growing list of 600 businesses, mostly in 12 big cities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. His firm, Rolfe Larson Associates is building the database from lists of third-party certifications, like from the Fair Trade Federation and Dine Green.
What’s a tad unusual, and more than a tad ambitious, about this approach to building a database from scratch is cataloging the social impact. There are thousands of businesses that each have a different approach to doing good, from using eco-supply chains to employing ex-cons. The site iuMAP attempted to do this internationally and stalled after compiling only a few hundred listings. Larson’s app sidesteps the hard metrics for now, instead listing the social impact of each business with a narrative blurb: "Imports and roasts certified organic coffee and tea, composts waste, and practices environmental responsibility throughout the store" or "Supports people with intellectual disabilities to live full and meaningful lives."
The app is free for all, with no ads. Down the road, though, expect it to cost a few bucks, and display some ads for social enterprises especially eager to win the morally motivated customers. Eventually, users will be able to add or nominate businesses to the database so it could grow into a Yelp-style tool for the ethical shopper.