How Consumers Create Personal Ratings: Interview with Bill Pease

We interviewed GoodGuide’s Chief Scientist, Bill Pease, to learn about how the new personal filters were created. With this new feature, consumers can quickly find products that match their personal values. Read on to find out how the science team was able to create a way for users to customize their own ratings:

How do the personal filters work in tandem with GoodGuide ratings?

To generate a GoodGuide rating, we keep track of a tremendous amount of information about products and companies. We have to decide how something like waste management or air pollution will affect a product score. These are all behind-the-scenes decisions that the science staff has to make, but often users have personal opinions about what matters most.

The idea with the filters is to give consumers direct access to our raw data to make their own choices. A good example is with animal-friendly products and companies; we track that information but it is currently not used in the rating system. There are consumers that care passionately about this issue and want it to be major buying criteria, so the new filters allow these consumers to find products that aren’t tested on animals.

With personal care and household products, our ratings embed a wide variety of judgments about how toxic different chemicals are. Our health ratings are scaled from 0-10 but many consumers don’t want to delegate their decision to GoodGuide on what our scientists deem to be safe. They won’t buy a product that contains controversial chemicals, and want to be told if a product passes or fails against that criteria. Filters are designed to give consumers a way to be informed by the GoodGuide rating but to be able to draw bright red lines on issues critical to their values.

How did the science team develop the filters?

Historically, we have always been collecting ingredient information and tracking which might have adverse health affects or have controversies tied to them in the public domain. With our new filters, we are now able to respond to user feedback. Consumers can have a clearer view into our database. They don’t necessarily only want to see if a product is, say, a 7.5; they also want to know whether that product matches their personal values. To do this, we looked into data we already had but came up with a different way of flagging products. Filters allow consumers to draw bright red lines on issues such as climate change or controversial ingredients.

What does the controversial ingredient filter screen out in personal care products?

It literally filters out thousands of ingredients, from things that the scientific community believes create adverse health affects such as Formaldehyde to those with less scientific evidence but are still concerning like Triclosan. It even includes categories of products with controversies in the media even if there is weak toxical data, such as Aluminum in Deodorants. This filter incorporates all this data, so if your opinion is that you don’t want to take any chances with your kids, you can find products you feel comfortable with.

What filters help you find socially responsible companies?

We have a filter that’s intended to screen out companies with poor labor records and poor community relationships. You can also filter in companies that are doing things you do like, such as companies that don’t test on animals. Another filter reveals products that have been manufactured by companies whose social practices have been certified by a third party, such as Fair Trade, as having the highest standards in the industry.

What about finding the most environmentally friendly products?

Filters will reveal companies that have a good record with use of materials and are showing evidence that they are using energy and water efficiently. Another filter exhibits a company’s commitment to recycling, whether it be high percentage of recycled content in products or an electronic company with a take back program to prevent cell phones from being thrown in the trash.  There are lots of different ways that you can use filters to pick out products made by companies going above and beyond the call of duty.

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