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Greener One: A crowdsourced 'green stamp'

Wiki-like data source believes consumer ratings can pressure companies to build greener products.

Greener One, now in early beta, is a very interesting and timely idea. The CEO, Zoli Piroska, wants to build a "crowdsourced database of green attributes for consumer products." The benefit for consumers is that they'll be able to tell what the environmental impacts are of products they are considering, from TVs to laundry detergents--and users will be the ones to build the database of attributes.

On the input side, Greener One is a structured wiki. Consumers who want to add information to the database are directed to look up certain info on products, and there's a database of enviro contacts at major consumer companies, with a list of pre-written e-mail templates for gathering info that's not evident in a product's packaging or on its Web site.

Each product gets its own green rating.

Most consumers won't enter information, of course. They'll just consume it. What they'll get from the service is a green rating, and data underneath it, that will tell them the comparative impact of the product they're looking at. The database will consider the entire lifecycle of the product, from raw materials used to recyclability, and will also include include environmental issues that pop up during a product's use (for example, outgassing due to chemicals used during manufacture). The data isn't just about a product's carbon footprint, as it also considers safety issues.

The system encourages users to contribute data from which the score is calculated.

Piroska is convinced that this user-generated green database will be a game-changer in consumer behavior, especially since, as he told me, the price of an item does not correlate with its environmental impact. Expect, perhaps, in the case of Apple: The MacBook Air, he said, is one of the first laptops that doesn't use heavy metals in its screen; and Apple as a company is "greener" than most computer manufacturers. Overall, Piroska said, the manufacturer of a product is a good indicator of greenness: In mobile phones, Nokia is generally good. Motorola is not.

Greener One isn't going to open up its own testing lab (there are plenty already) because, "it doesn't scale," Piroska says. He believes a dedicated cadre of users and activists will do the heavy lifting.

Ultimately, Piroska would like the Greener One rating stamped on product boxes or running alongside reviews (like those on CNET). He thinks most consumers will get exposure to the concept from such relationships, that a small number will dive into the Web site for deeper details, and that an even smaller number will contribute. Given the growing awareness of green issues and how they impact consumer safety, cost, and climate change, I would not be surprised to see this idea get some traction.