Blog & PodcastDealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

Consumer power

The climate crisis has created immense challenges, challenges which only governments and mega-corporations can solve. On the other hand there are things which all of us can do to make a difference, and consumer power when it's spread across millions of consumers, should never be underestimated. We're not going to solve the climate crisis on our own but we are able to contribute to keeping our earth a clean and safe place to live by making responsible choices when we shop.

For example, the laundry products we buy, the cleaning materials, the preparations for skin and health care, even baby wipes and toilet paper involve chemicals in production and ingredients that may come from halfway across the world. Not all brands are the same, of course, but how do we make the right choice and select the product with the smallest environmental impact?

Lizzie Horvitz, today’s guest, can help with that.

 

Anthony:

Yes. Lizzie Horvitz. Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Thank so much for having me

Anthony:

FINCH

Now, you’re founder and CEO of Finch. Before we talk about that, I understand you've been involved in fighting climate change for 20 years or more. Tell us a little bit about that.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Off-Grid

I have almost 20 years when I was 16, I lived off the grid in the Bahamas. My water came from the rain and our energy came from wind and solar. And if you can imagine back to 2004, climate change was obviously known and studied, but it wasn't at the top of headlines like it is today. And so I didn't really know that much about it. And I sort of saw the solution before I fully understood the problem. So I saw this beautiful way of living without the dependence of fossil fuels and really fell in love with climate change mitigation and decided to dedicate my life to that.

Anthony:

Right. But you've moved back from that. You are back in, could I say consumer world, a completely different world from that, and that led you I think, to set up Finch. So explain to me what, what Finch is, what it does, what it intends to do.

Lizzie Horvitz:

On-Grid

Yes. I am living fully on the grid right now to be clear. I, after graduate school went to go work for Unilever. I was on their supply chain team and then on their sustainability team. So working on how products like Ben and Jerry's and Dove soap could be as least impactful as possible. And while I was there something interesting, so of it happening in my personal life, where, because I'm one of the only people in my larger community who had a real background in this space, I began to get a ton of questions around how my friends could reduce their own footprint. And I didn't really know where to look online because there were wonky academic papers, which aren't meant for normal people to read. And then on the other side, we have this rise of bloggers who are saying things that aren't based in real scientific data and are unregulated.

Sustainability Newsletter

And so I started a newsletter aiming to distill this type of information. And meanwhile just fell in love with entrepreneurship, taking a company from inception to scale and realised that Finch could really become a full-time opportunity. 

Environmental Impact

And so what we've evolved to beyond the newsletter is this platform that decodes products, environmental impacts to help consumers make better purchasing decisions. So we rate products based on a scale of 1 to 10, on a variety of attributes, ranging from embodied carbon to water impacts, etc., and we give you a score. And then through a browser extension, you're able to shop online like you normally do. We'll show you the score of the product you're looking at. And then three alternatives in case you're interested in making a different decision.

Anthony:

Certification

Right? As you say on the website, when you analyse a product, you look at making, moving, buying, using, and ditching it. You look at every stage, that's quite a big ask. It really is. I believe that you base this analysis on a number of indices, certificates and certification schemes and things like that. I notice B Corp, which is one that I recognise, the other ones are less familiar to me. You don't seem to list ISO 14001, but that would be something you would hope, I would've thought, to see on some of these manufacturers.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Public Information

Absolutely. We incorporate ISO to a certain extent for sure. I would say we are not claiming to be as accurate as we would if we were in the manufacturing floor of every single product that was being made, but obviously we're not able to do that. So what we feel that we're doing is getting a good enough read, given publicly available information to inform not only business, but also consumers on what the impact of their products are. And so our process is probably 10% manual and 90% automated. And that 10% manual is looking at a product category like body wash or sunscreen.

Sustainability Impacts

And we say okay what are all the impacts that affect the sustainability of this product? We read several academic studies and NGO reports to inform those decisions. We quantify those weightings. And then what we do is we scrape the public domain for any type of information we can gather. So, a sustainability report or an SCC filing or anything that has been published about a product. And then we feed that into our machine learning model, which then can give us any score on Amazon. And so companies who are transparent about their actions get higher scores just by default. And we like to encourage transparency and companies who are doing sustainability behind the scenes, but not talking about it. We would encourage that they actually publish the good work that they're doing somewhere.

Anthony:

Brands

At the moment. You've got relatively limited range of products that you're are looking at. They are household chemicals, laundry powders, and products and personal care. And at the moment you haven't actually got brands assigned to all those categories, but presumably this is work in progress. And gradually you are going to populate these things with specific brands.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Oh, we do have specific brands to these categories. We haven't covered, the whole variety of brands of course, but how it works is we look at the product category overall, and then anything that's on Amazon that has enough information for us. We will match it to that category. We right now don't need to have formal partnerships with brands, which has been great to maintain neutrality. So we just find anything we can online. What's been interesting that's happened, is since we've launched, we've had brands coming to us saying, can you change our score because of A, B, and C reasons, or I think this information is inaccurate and that ladder issue has happened less likely.

But what happens there is as I just mentioned, we say, we're happy to incorporate this information if it's publicly available somewhere. And to a point earlier we're not trying to reinvent the wheel with this B Corp and EWG and many of ISO have done incredible work that we would obviously never expect to measure up to in this short amount of time. So we're using all of those existing databases to inform a one stop shop for Finch where you don't have to go to one certification for the human toxicity impact and another one for the child labor impact. For example.

Anthony:

I've been looking at your website. I don't find products in every category and I don't find ratings on any of the products. So am I looking at the wrong place?

Lizzie Horvitz:

Browser Extension

No, you were looking at the right place. We launched a beta version of our browser extension in May and we had all of our products rated. We're in a unique time right now, where we are launching the second version of our extension in a couple of weeks. And so we're sort of redoing all of the backend and all of our scores are changing because the strength of our model has been changing. So you will see probably in the last week of January, you'll see scores on every single wise guide that we have. It's the unique time to be looking at our website right now, unfortunately.

Anthony:

Online Purchase

All right. OK. So you can then click through and make a purchase online.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Amazon

You can. So we're not trying to be a marketplace on our website, if you would like to go to our website and see the top rated products in different categories. We're happy to have you do that. And you can buy directly from our website. What we'd really like to do is have the website inform what the important factors are that you should be looking for in these categories. And then really using the browser extension when you're shopping on Amazon. And right now it's only available on Amazon, but you know, a short term goal for us is to, of course, be on many other e-commerce sites.

Anthony:

Business Model

I see, the key question I have to ask you is what is your business model? How do you actually fund your operations?

Lizzie Horvitz:

It's a really important question. And what we've decided for right now is that we would like to not charge the end consumer. We would like to take all friction possible away from that end user. And so they will never pay. They'll only pay for the products that we recommend. We are gathering incredibly valuable data, two different types of data that we sell to companies in a subscription based model. And so each month companies will pay a subscription fee to get two different types of data. The first type is, we'll never share a proprietary algorithm. We can share the deep dive of the product category that we've done and what the top 50 products are in that category or even all of the products and how they're rated. So we could sell that as either a list or a licensed API, which a Google or an Amazon might be interested in if they just want to integrate the Finch ratings directly into their platform.

Data

The other type of data we will gather is once our browser engine is downloaded thousands of people, we will get very valuable information on the user journey. Okay, this person looked at Tide and ended up going with a different type of detergent that was less environmentally impactful. These people were willing to spend an extra $3, but not an extra four. And so we're really getting down to that granular, willingness to pay and interest level on sustainability products. So that businesses have a real use case to market their products or in a perfect world change their products to make them more sustainable, because they realise they're losing market share. And just to be clear, we would never sell private information or specific user data, we will only aggregate it and anonymise it.

Anthony:

Expansion

Right. And do you have plans to expand your range of categories?

Lizzie Horvitz:

Absolutely. We made a conscious decision to start with what we call consumables, so less expensive products that people buy often. And so while we're gaining the trust of our consumers, we'd like to recommend smaller things like toilet paper, because if for some reason the purchase doesn't work out, you have to buy it again in a couple of months. And it's not as big of a deal. So as we're doing that, we have 85 categories. We have a couple of outliers like mattresses and sheets for other reasons, but most of the 85 are products that people buy fairly regularly. And then the plan is to expand to more durables, like household appliances, clothing, fashion, and then of course end up with real luxury items like cars, maybe engagement rings, things like that are really important purchases.

Anthony:

Right? Well, that's a whole new level of investment, isn't it? It really is.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Exactly.

Anthony:

Global Expansion

Yes. And the other question I have to ask you is at the moment of course, you are geared at the United States market, but the majority of listeners of the Sustainable Futures Report don't live in the United States. So have you got plans to expand globally?

Lizzie Horvitz:

Of course, what's interesting about the European market is you guys are so much farther ahead than we are, unfortunately. And sustainability, I believe, obviously in the government, but also in the private sectors. And so we decided to start with the United States because a that's obviously where our team is based, but also that's where it's needed the most in current times. But the European market is absolutely the second one we'd enter into.

Local profiles

And there's actually some really exciting things happening in both markets right now that we're excited to sort of tap into the problem is we're getting localised ratings in which so one example would be if you were based in California, water scarcity is much more important than if you're in New York city, where water is less of an issue. And so your score not right now, but in a couple of months will look differently than someone based in New York if you're in California. So we're doing a lot of hard work across the United States on getting those details. And it's just an extra push for us to go into the UK and European countries. But we're imagining in the next eight months we will go there.

Anthony:

Optimistic?

Right. Well, thank you. That's been very interesting as we draw this to a close, sustainability is making the headlines COP 26, got a lot of coverage. And of course, looking on the downsides when we've had these terrible fires, which I think are even now burning in parts of the United States. And of course we've seen in the news that it's now confirmed that this year temperatures exceeded a hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the arctic circle. So the climate emergency is more and more clear to more and more people. And are you optimistic?

Lizzie Horvitz:

Stay Positive

It's such an important question, Anthony. And I think what I would say is I'm cautiously optimistic. I think if I were not, I wouldn't be able to be in this field. I have to have faith that all of our actions collectively will make a difference. And I think to that point it's not an either or that's going to solve climate change. It's a both. And, and so we need COP 26 and all these governments to get together. We also need the nonprofit sectors to be doing incredible work. And we need private sector solutions on both the macro scale and the micro scale. So I want to make sure that our listeners know that any small change that you're making is really making a difference, maybe not on your individual level, but if there are a hundred of you or 5,000 of you that adds up and everything counts. And so I just encourage everybody to stay positive.

Anthony:

Lizzie, thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.

Lizzie Horvitz:

Thank you so much, Anthony.

 

Lizzie Horvitz of Finch.

You can find Finch at choosefinch.com

 

I’m Anthony Day and that was the Wednesday Interview from the Sustainable Futures Report.

Net Zero

Net Zero is constantly in the news and underlies the theme of a new book, Pandora’s Toolbox - The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention, which will be published shortly. Next Wednesday’s interview will be with the author, Wake Smith of Yale University.

Next Friday

On Friday there will be another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report as we look forward to publication of the third part of AR6, the latest report from the IPCC.

Patreon

For the moment, enjoy the rest of your week. You’ve just got time to sign up as a patron at patreon.com/sfr and help me cover the costs of bringing you the Sustainable Futures Report - now twice a week!

 

I'm Anthony Day. 

Until Friday.

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A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
And also, I do address conferences.

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