Sust is the working name for our web browser plugin which is designed to help people shop sustainably. It works by identifying products for sale in web sites, and overlaying an interface which both presents sustainability-related information and enables the consumer to contribute sustainability-related information.
Our research engagements with sustainably minded shoppers told us that the plugin needed to support a variety of approaches to shopping sustainably, to sharing what individual consumers have found out, and to engaging further (or not) as a member of a community of sustainable shoppers.
We divided Sust’s functionality into three layers.
- To inform: the user finds shortcuts to sustainability information about products and brands, and brands learn about the preferences of consumers in relation to their market offerings.
- To influence: the user seeks to influence others on the basis of that information, including brands and other consumers.
- To engage: the user adds to or improves that information as an opportunity to engage more deeply with sustainable consumption. This is to create a community of involved, empowered shoppers engaged both in the market’s sustainable offerings and in the sustainability strategies of brands with an online presence.
Our imperative was to provide shortcuts in all three layers, in order to cut down on the complexity of sustainable shopping. For example, rather than having to find a brand’s statement on sustainability when they visit its website, the plugin provides a shortcut to it from any page of the site.
We created Sust as a Chrome browser extension (plugin) with the following functionality:
- Product discovery. The plugin automatically discovers products in web pages
- Information repository. The plugin communicates with a server-based database which collates and provides information about products and brands across websites.
- Information overlay. The plugin provides information both about the website and about the individual products within it. The product-based information takes the form of “traffic lights” and online reports with respect to sustainability choices, links to alternative products, and information about whether other sustainably-minded shoppers gave a particular product a sustainability “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”.
- Sharing shortcuts. The plugin streamlines actions such as communicating with a brand or posting on social media about a product, and giving a product a sustainability “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”.
- Contribution shortcuts. The plugin streamlines actions such as contributing links to further sustainability reports, or to sustainable alternative products.
We showed Sust to sustainably minded participants in online interviews, as it operated on the John Lewis and Asos websites with selected products. We are in the process of fully codifying the results, but the prototype received an enthusiastic response, and many excellent suggestions for improving it.
In 2021, we will be putting those improvements into effect and making Sust available to the public.