Sustainable Entrepreneur Jo Hand believes part of solving climate change requires people to make sustainable shopping choices. But in practice, that tends to be difficult. Hand’s company, Giki, is helping consumers in the United Kingdom shop in more eco-friendly ways.
Freedom to choose is the cornerstone of a capitalist society. Psychologists estimate that we make tens of thousands of decisions every day. Yet with such information overload, it is difficult for many people to prioritize reducing their carbon footprint or promoting animal welfare in their overstuffed box of decisions-to-be-made.
Fortunately, Jo Hand and her husband, James, love data. They are driven to help people make sense of the terabytes of data related to climate change and sustainability. They launched Giki Social Enterprise to guide people toward sustainable choices when shopping.
Hand became aware of climate change when she researched flooding in the United Kingdom more than 20 years ago as part of her job as a TV producer. She worked at the climate change charity CDP, which is focused on helping companies manage and measure the risks associated with a warming planet. As she continued to learn about climate change, the greatest challenge of our generation, she began to fully appreciate the intersection between good data and better climate decision-making.
From there, she and her husband set up Giki and immersed themselves in researching whether products are sustainable and how to make information about sustainability clear and accessible.
Truth will set you free, and access to data and a sustainable lifestyle empowers people to make the changes the world needs through their consumption choices. It gives sovereignty and motivation back to consumers by arming them with the necessary data to create eco-friendly habits.
Clearing the Clutter
Information overload, misinformation in the media, and a lack of time impede our ability to make ethical consumer choices. Hand’s company, Giki, is one solution so we do not have to all be geeks squandering enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to live perfectly waste-free, net-zero-carbon-emission lives.
Giki is an app that allows users to search products and quickly learn if they meet certain characteristics, represented by badges. Some of the most popular badges are for carbon footprint, sustainable palm oil, and sustainable packaging, issues that are prominent in the media. The hero badge shows the highest performing products around sustainability and health issues. Hand said people like the hero badge because it is a clear indicator that a product is one of the most sustainable and healthy products on the market. The hero badge helps people feel confident with their purchases.
Users in the United Kingdom can download the app here.
Hand explained that a challenge around sustainability is that the lifecycle of any consumer product is endlessly complicated. There is such an array of natural and human resources that go into making a cell phone or even a simple soda bottle.
She pointed out another challenge is that ingredients do not go by one name. Therefore, even if consumers have time to read the ingredients, it may still be unclear what products are sustainable, like if they include palm oil.
People need a “clear roadmap” of how they can make sustainable decisions. Otherwise, they may feel trapped.
“We’re just kind of paralyzed by this feeling of being totally overwhelmed by everything that we hear about climate and the environment, and we really want to help people feel empowered and inspired to make a difference and make changes rather than overwhelmed,” Hand said.
“We started Giki because we wanted to make it easy for people to live sustainably, and it currently isn’t. And we wanted to really help people with as much information that was relevant to them to understand and then make changes to our lifestyles that benefit the environment,” continued Hand.
Hand and her husband’s desire to help people live sustainability came from their own concern about the environment.
“What we both found was that the more that we dug into climate science and the more that we understood the impacts of our everyday behavior and everyday choices, the more compelling it became that we really, really wanted to do something. Once you [read] the climate science, you can’t unread it. You’re always thinking, if we don’t deal with this, we’re going to have really big problems. That’s been a real motivator for us throughout,” said Hand.
They have discussed specific issues such as palm oil, why it is widely-used, and why it damages the environment and hurts local wildlife. She said they also explored how “it can be produced sustainably, and that we do have a choice.” Once consumers have information, they can choose products that are palm oil free or use sustainable palm oil, but that can be difficult to do while at the store.
Looking at the data was just the beginning for Hand. She and her husband have made many changes to their consumer habits that have not only promoted a healthy planet but also have improved their lives. For example, they have stopped flying, use an electric car, and have mainly plant-based diets.
“We take the train for holidays, which is great fun; and we both feel significantly better on a mainly plant-based diet and have discovered lots of new recipes too,” elaborated Hand.
Thus, these changes have been well worth it for her family. She said, “Modern society can be kind of overwhelming at times, and actually thinking about making choices that are better for the environment and usually better for you as well can be very life-enhancing.”
Hand’s experience is that once people start making sustainable choices, they grow to enjoy the changes. The need is to help people start making these choices.
Getting into the Weeds
“We always wanted to produce something that was really evidence-based and driven by data,” said Hand. Considering Giki now has data on over 280,000 supermarket products, they have met this goal.
When Hand and her husband started conducting research on products, they quickly learned that a large database “is not useful unless you present it in a way that is comprehensible, compelling and clear to everybody.” Giki is “fully transparent” which “gives people confidence that they can trust what we do.”
Sometimes people will discuss their shopping experiences and ask why certain products do or do not get certain badges.
“That feedback is so helpful because it helps us understand the challenges that people have when you’re going around the store or when you’re at home looking at the label or trying to understand a product, which is often really difficult,” said Hand.
They recognize that they can not include complete data on every topic, so they focus on providing information that is relevant and specific so that it is meaningful for consumers.
“There are some issues that we would love to cover, like soy, for example, but there just isn’t enough data out there at the moment to provide the kind of information that would actually be useful to people,” said Hand.
It is not always easy for a married couple to launch a company, especially one with a profound mission. However, running a company has not been a big strain on Hand and her husband’s relationship. The business itself has been freeing for Hand.
“It took us a little bit of time at the beginning to work out the best way of working together, but the great advantage we have is that our skills are very, very different. So there’s actually not very much crossover in terms of skill sets, which I think makes it really easy to work together because it’s so obvious who should be doing which part,” said Hand.
The company faces many of the typical challenges of start-ups, like funding, resources, prioritizing, and building from scratch. Fortunately, Hand knows what works to help her keep going. “Many a challenge at Giki has been solved during a walk in the countryside. I also find yoga is amazing for keeping everything on an even keel,” she said.
Ultimately, Giki has led to not just freedom of access to information about sustainability but freedom for its founders. “I actually feel freer now than I have at any other time in my career. We can prioritize what we do, in line with our mission, and as a small team … there are so many things we’d love to do, but [it is] much better to do a few of them really well. We also try to ensure that we work as effectively as possible – this doesn’t necessarily mean working for hours and hours, but is more about making sure that everything we do, is really worth doing,” told Hand.
Growth for Giki
Hand has plans to grow the business beyond the app. It is expanding its user demographic and offerings.
She said the audience is “the conscious consumer,” but surprisingly, it is not just millennials enthralled with the app. Kids and grandparents have become fans. Older consumers in particular are animal and nature lovers and were drawn in for that reason.
Giki also has blog posts a couple times per month. Hand said, “we try to make the information as actionable as possible so that people can read them and take something away that then they can hopefully incorporate into their lives in some shape or form.”
Giki is not stopping here. It plans to develop the app to provide information on “the whole shopping basket.”
It is also launching Giki Zero, a step-by-step interactive website that helps its audience members measure, track, and reduce their environmental impacts.
“Our aim really is to make it as fun and compelling and as simple to use as possible so that anybody who wants to get a better understanding around their impact can use it and it doesn’t require massive environmental knowledge, although the issues that we’re covering can sometimes feel very overwhelming,” she continued.
Hand said the app and website will work together to help “people understand their lives from different angles to live more sustainably and hopefully enjoy the benefits of a more sustainable lifestyle.”
She said the company engages with customers often through face-to-face discussions, phone interviews, social media, and surveys. These interactions inform the company about areas of information to develop.
Hand said the feedback on the app is positive because it is so user-friendly. In fact, even children as young as five years old find it easy and fun to use. She and her husband have two young kids who are fully signed-up Giki supporters.
But the company is not just creating change through an app and website. It is getting out and engaging with the community.
“We’ve done quite a lot of work in primary schools around palm oil, which has really resonated with fairly young children,” told Hand.
“In the UK in the last two years, I would say there’s been a massive public awakening around environmental issues,” she continued. Greta Thunberg’s global climate movement is one reason for this awakening. People can make impacts on climate change in various ways. While Thunberg is a spokesperson, others, like Hand, work behind the scenes to help people make sense of the data and take action themselves.
As a result of this increase, Hand said, “More people want to do something and I feel sometimes quite conflicted that modern society doesn’t make it easy to live sustainably.”
Giki can also mitigate eco-anxiety by giving the public tangible ways to support sustainability. Clear information can make people feel less helpless despite the system that can make sustainable living hard, like the abundance of plastic used for products.
While there are plans for growth, what makes Giki so great is the feeling of wholeness to its current app. There are many badges that give people confidence when making sustainable choices. Hand’s commitment to using accurate data also builds integrity into the company.
When trustworthy information is at consumers’ fingertips, they have the liberty of sustainable decisions and better control over how their money impacts the world. I am impressed with Giki and how it allows every user to be a hero for the planet. I give my own hero badge to Hand and her company for their innovation.