Buycott App Makes It Easier to Put Your Money Where Your Ideals Are

Buycott / AOL
AOL / Buycott
Every time a shopper tosses a tube of toothpaste or carton of orange juice in their cart, that's a decision -- conscious or not -- to support the company that makes that product.

But what if you don't want to do business with companies embroiled in ethical scandals? What if you actually want to boycott brands whose practices aren't up to your standards?

There's a new (and free) smartphone application -- "Buycott" -- that makes it easier for consumers to make sure what's in their cart is aligned with what's in their heart. Simply choose which campaigns to join, and scan items before purchasing them to determine whether they're produced by companies you wish to avoid or companies you wish to support.

Buycott includes a wide range of user-sponsored campaigns covering social issues from animal welfare to economic justice to gay rights. These campaigns specify which companies to avoid ("boycott"), and which companies to support ("buycott").

One popular campaign is called "Demand GMO Labeling," which asks consumers to avoid buying products from companies that spent $150,000 or more to oppose genetically modified organism labeling laws in California.

In their pitch, the creators of the campaign point out that a recent poll shows 93 percent of Americans favor the mandatory labeling of GMOs, but that businesses like Monsanto (MON) and DuPont (DD) have spent significant amounts to block these changes.

Another popular campaign, called "Cut Funding Ties to ALEC," is aimed at the American Legislative Exchange Council, stating that the organization is "intent on amplifying the voice of big-business at the local and national level" at the expense of ordinary citizens. The campaign's pitch claims that about 200 bills a year are passed because of ALEC's ability to influence politicians using "model legislation" that is based on "a corporate wish-list."

Don't agree? No problem. You don't have to join these campaigns. There are user-created campaigns representing a wide variety of world views, and if you can't find any campaigns that represent your values, you can create one.

Scan to See What You're Supporting

Using the Buycott app is simple. Simply scan the bar codes of the item you're about to purchase. If that item comes from a company one of your campaigns boycotts, you'll see a red bar on the top of the screen that says "You're avoiding this company." If the item is not sold by a company one of your campaigns boycotts, you'll see a white bar at the top of your screen that says "No campaign conflicts."

You'll also find the name of the product's producer and the reason your campaign recommends that you avoid that company. In addition, you can see each listed company's "family tree" and ultimately trace the scanned products back to their parent companies.

Let's take a look at what Buycott had to say about several products on my grocery list this week using the two campaigns mentioned earlier -- "Demand GMO Labeling and "Cut Funding Ties to ALEC."

Product Brand Parent Company Verdict
Orange juice Tropicana PepsiCo (PEP) Avoided by "Demand GMO Labeling"
Simply Orange Coca-Cola (KO) Avoided by "Demand GMO Labeling"
Minute Maid Coca-Cola Avoided by "Demand GMO Labeling"
365 Everyday Value Whole Foods Market (WFM) "No campaign conflicts"
Toothpaste Colgate Colgate-Palmolive (CL) "No campaign conflicts"
Crest Procter & Gamble (PG) "No campaign conflicts"
Aquafresh GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Avoided by "Cut Funding Ties to ALEC"
Cola Coca-Cola Coca-Cola Avoided by "Demand GMO Labeling"
Pepsi PepsiCo Avoided by "Demand GMO Labeling"
Dr Pepper Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) "No campaign conflicts"

As you can see, the "Demand GMO Labeling" campaign made it particularly difficult to select an orange juice without any campaign conflicts. After finding that all of the brands available at my standard grocery store were off-limits, I had to go to Whole Foods to find one that wasn't made by a company I wanted to avoid. For other products, it was much easier.

A Sharper Tool to Carve Conflict from Your Cart

Given the product's newness, it shouldn't be surprising that there are several areas that still need work.

First, the application is still adding company and product information, and may not recognize every item you scan. In such cases, users are prompted to contribute to the improvement of the application by inputting relevant information about the product.
Second, it appears that the application is not yet able to recognize certain types of bar codes. For example, the bar codes found on stickers placed on individual pieces of produce are set up differently than standard bar codes. I was unable to successful scan any items of this type.

Despite these shortcomings, however, Buycott still appears to be a useful tool for guiding our purchasing decisions.

What do you think of the technology? Chime in below!

Motley Fool Contributor M. Joy Hayes, Ph.D. (@JoyofEthics), is the Principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. She owns shares of Procter & Gamble.The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Whole Foods Market.

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Thank you to whoever thought this one up. Will download NOW.

September 13 2013 at 9:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great reason to get a smartphone if you don't have one yet.

September 13 2013 at 5:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Absolutely brilliant. Running off to download the app right now. Good bye cognitive dissonance!

September 13 2013 at 4:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply