CleanSource: Staying Clean with Safer, Green Options

20161208_1019223Hunna: Gabby Gaeta, Anna Garcia, Tianchen Zhou, Ameya Gehi

Requested Amount: $35,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 4 months

Describe your Project

(499 words)

The mission of our app, CleanSource, is to provide knowledge on all materials in cleaning products and for consumers to become aware of safer, more sustainable options. Our app is designed to be compatible for all smart phones, including IOS and Android softwares. The issue the app addresses is that the majority of cleaning products do not explicitly provide the ingredients nor source of their products on the packaging. Nonetheless, products such as food and clothing, always have material information. Similarly, manufacturing companies should provide facts about the chemicals and source of cleaning products because people are constantly exposed to them and their residue. These can have harmful impacts on the environment and consumers, especially children and the elderly. According to the National Capital Poison Center, 11% of 2014 U.S. poison exposures were from cleaning substances. Organic Consumers Association says that specific chemicals, commonly found in all-purpose cleaners, can lead to cancer and disrupt reproductive hormones. Furthermore, most of the chemicals used in conventional cleaning products settle in water sources and bioaccumulate in aquatic life. The majority of these chemicals are petroleum-based, which deplete our natural resources, and are packaged in non-recyclable material. To prevent the persistent consumption of these products, our app offers safer, more eco-conscious cleaning products that maintain cleaning efficiency.

The app first scans the barcode of the cleaning product and configures information of each element used in the product. For each ingredient, the app offers information about the environmental impact of the disposal and exposure of the chemicals. Furthermore, it describes the mode of transportation the product travels and the total distance traveled before it reaches consumers’ households. By using an aggregate of these figures, the app calculates the ecological footprint of each product. Also, the app provides information of the toxicity and health effects of each chemical. This will serve as a safety guideline for consumers to refer to while shopping for the safest product.

In addition, the app provides alternatives for the specific cleaning product that is scanned. The consumer has the choice of how to rank the alternate products in terms of toxicity of chemicals and ecological footprint to prioritize their prime concern when deciding which alternative to purchase. Due to the fact that CleanSource features a check-out option, consumers have access to easy purchasing through the app. The companies that manufacture the alternate cleaning products value transparency in terms of relaying information about materials, reducing their environmental impacts, and creating products that are healthier for people. Finally, this app also features a community section that will allow users to exchange reviews and opinions of products.

Overall, this app is for individuals who want to implement eco-friendlier purchasing practices along with using less-harsh chemicals to protect their health while maintaining sanitary conditions. This app seeks to accomplish this mission by creating consciousness of the materials in cleaning products and providing safer, greener options. Hopefully, this trend will encourage other companies to have a transparency policy for their cleaning products as well.

What unmet need does your product meet?

(196 words)

While most consumers know that traditional cleaning products are full of chemicals, many aren’t aware of exactly which chemicals are present and just how toxic those chemicals are. Resources such as the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, and the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Household Product Database offer consumers details about the ingredients in traditional cleaning products and their potential health effects. However, there is not a wealth of information available about how these products are manufactured nor their environmental impact. CleanSource builds upon EWG’s and NIH’s resources to not only present users with details about products’ ingredients and health effects, but also to inform users about the environmental impact of using and manufacturing these products.

In addition, consumers may struggle to find alternative cleaning products that are both effective and more health and environmentally conscious. EWG’s guide provides users with a list of healthier products, but doesn’t provide information about where to purchase these products. CleanSource strives to make it more convenient to find and purchase these alternatives by providing a check-out system. This allows users to purchase these alternative products directly through the app and ensure they buy the correct products.

Interviews

(200 words)

We gathered feedback from a number of people in the Ann Arbor area. The overall consensus was that people are concerned about the variety of cleaning products, but aren’t sure what steps to take to alleviate their tensions. Danielle Livneh, a 22-year old School of Information student, worries about the toxicity of traditional cleaning products. “I’m not really sure what I’m getting when I buy cleaning products,” Livneh said. Yuanrui Huang, a 22-year old economics student said, “When I look at the package of these cleaning products, I just see some unknown chemicals and I don’t know which of them are safer,”, and resorts to searching via internet. Alicia Kraay, a 27-year old post-doctoral at the School of Public Health, is unaware of the environmental impact of these chemicals, but is interested in knowing this and would use a reference to discover the information. Finally, Jan Hack, a 55-year-old Ann Arbor mother of three and Communications Director at the YMCA, frequently chooses to use eco-friendly products. “I will typically start with the lower impact one,” Hack said, and only uses more traditional products if it’s necessary. Based on these comments, we were inspired to create CleanSource to address community concerns.

How big is the potential market for your idea?

(105 words)

Our potential market expands to American homeowners. Because our app covers all existing cleaning supplies in the United States, anyone that uses these products has the potential to use this app. We know that people that will actually use it are likely health-conscious shoppers and are genuinely concerned about the environment. According to Neilsen’s Global Home Care Report, roughly 26% of global households care if the ingredients to their cleaning supplies are eco-friendly. We hope to target this audience first, and then market to those who don’t consider ingredient information a priority. Finally, because this is an app, we are also targeting users with smartphones.

How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing?

(196 words)

CleanSource is innovative because it serves the function of educating as well as offering concrete solutions to mitigate the environmental and health impact of conventional cleaning products. Websites such as Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning and The National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Household Product Database provide information on the toxicity of chemicals, but they do not provide detailed information on their environmental impact. In addition, users must perform additional searches to find healthier products. Overall, CleanSource is more preferable because all the information ranging from toxicity to suggested alternative products is aggregated on one page after a single barcode scan.

CleanSource believes that consumers have a right to know what their products are composed of and wants to end the culture of obscurity in product labeling. We do this by providing a platform for companies who value transparency to sell their products on our app. Through CleanSource, these companies will have the chance to expand their business, which will ensure the continued production of healthier and transparently-manufactured products. Finally, the ads on CleanSource will be sold to companies selling consciously-produced products which will aid consumers in finding products that prioritize sustainability and safety.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

(145 words)

CleanSource will provide a platform for eco-friendly cleaning product companies to sell their cleaning products to the app’s users. CleanSource will collect 3% of the revenue for all products companies choose to sell through this platform. Moreover, the app will have space for advertisements. CleanSource will sell advertisement space to companies whose products are environmentally friendly and health-conscious. Advertising space is not limited to cleaning products, but rather will include alternatives for food, clothing, household supplies, etc.. For each company that uses the advertisement space, the app will charge them $300 as the initial price for a monthly fee. Once the traffic of the app becomes substantially large and app revenue increases to meet the investment amount, the app will raise the advertisement fee. Also, the app will need promotion at the early stage. Accordingly, we plan to buy some ads to promote our app.

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?

(100 words)

Our passion has always been protecting the Earth and population in terms of reducing impact and the use of harsh chemicals. Therefore, we are the right people to be involved in this app because in today’s society, conventional cleaning products do not prioritize mitigating their ecological footprint nor the health of consumers. Furthermore, our team is made of up undergraduates that have educational backgrounds in computer science, environmental sciences, chemistry, and marketing experience. The combination of these skills will ensure the creation of a successful, credible app to increase awareness of cleaning materials and encourage the purchase of superior products.

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12 Responses to “CleanSource: Staying Clean with Safer, Green Options”

  1. This is an interesting idea! However, it does remind me of an app called GoodGuide which tells you ingredients and eco-friendliness of a product. Potentially, you could expand past just cleaning products to grab a larger audience.

    • Thanks for the comment, Erin! I agree; our original idea was to make this app for a variety of products, such as food, clothing, furniture, etc., However, we narrowed the focus to cleaning products because of the diversity of alternatives. Also, some of the alternate options, such as ethically-produced clothing are limited in sustainability because they are fewer brands. One of our potential ideas was also to prioritize locally-produced products, but we found few alternates that fall into this category. Furthermore, there are people that don’t reside near these types of producers and wouldn’t have access to local amenities.

      • Ameya, thanks for sharing your team’s thought process about potentially sourcing local cleaning supplies. Interesting. I think that creating a digital marketplace for local eco-friendly cleaning supplies might actually be a worthwhile angle to explore a little further. If you expand your definition of local to include regionally-sourced products and home-made cleaning products sold at farmer’s markets, there are lots of producers out there who don’t have big distribution plans. There are some great stalls at Detroit’s Eastern Market, for example, where people sell handmade cleaning supplies and skin products. I believe there are similar stalls at many large farmer’s markets around the country.

  2. I think this is an excellent idea and I was really impressed by how you thought through how to rank different cleaners based on both their health impact and their ecological footprint! I think it would be interesting to partner with really environmentally conscious localities or cities to try to get them involved with something like this and even get public grant money to help fund it. I could definitely see this as some sort of public-private partnership that starts out locally but expands nationally as it’s impact becomes more profound!

    My main critique of the app is that it is only accessible to those with a smartphone. While I understand that this is true of any app, I think that your initiative is so important and should be accessible to as many people as possible. Perhaps this could also be turned into a website where shoppers can see different rankings of products based on their primary concerns (as with your app) and then either make a purchase through the website, or print out the ranking and bring it to the store with them. This way, the concept of CleanSource becomes more accessible to everyone. Overall, I think you have a fantastic idea and I hope to one day be using your app!

    • Thanks so much for your feedback! This was something I thought about as we were developing our idea. We decided to propose an app to allow users to scan the barcodes of products to retrieve information about them. But I agree that this limits the number of people that can benefit from the information CleanSource provides. We think a good solution would be to develop the app and also provide a web application as well. Since the majority of the functionality of the mobile app and web application would be the same, the structure of the code for the two applications would overlap a great deal. However, we would have to hire another software developer to accomplish this which would obviously increase the initial costs of CleanSource. Our team would have to either request more funding or work together to restructure our budget to account for these higher costs.

      • Hi, Gabby. Your funding request is low. Don’t be shy about starting with a higher amount. You also need to pay people for the time it will take to the collect the information from private companies. You need to make a good-faith effort to get this info even from companies that are reluctant to participate but sell widely used cleaning products. This is similar to making multiple efforts to get comment from a person or company that is mentioned in a news story. In addition, you need to pay for marketing CleanSource. You can justify asking for much more money.

  3. GreenSource seems like a completely viable product that could not only impact the lives of consumers but help smaller scale eco-friendly products break out into the market. It seems like it would get a lot of users especially because people are concerned for their health and the health of their children and would not like to use cleaning products that are harmful.

    My initial critique was very similar to @Genevieve’s in that having this app only be for smartphones limits a large population of people who may want to reap the benefits of GreenSource but do not have a smartphone. You could get around this by making the app not just for smartphones but also a web application, so people can use it on a computer.

    Also, I like the fact that alternative products are sold directly on the app. I was a little confused however if the app also would locate alternative products in stores for users who do not like the idea of online shopping or prefer to use cash instead of credit cards. If you guys did not originally intend on doing that I think it would be very beneficial to gives users multiple options for buying these products in a way that is comfortable to them.

    Overall, great idea! This would really make an impact on limiting people’s carbon footprints and raising awareness about hazardous materials.

    • Thank you for your suggestions! As I mentioned above in my response to Genevieve, we agree that building a web application may be a great way to solve CleanSource’s limited reach.

      We also initially planned on using a user’s location to provide them with a list of stores nearby that sold each alternative product. We ultimately decided not to include this functionality for financial sustainability reasons. Since a portion of our revenue will come from purchases made through our app, we feared including a list of alternative purchasing locations would threaten this source of revenue for CleanSource. However, I do agree with you that this design doesn’t serve the needs of all potential users of our app (such as those prefer not to make online purchases). In order to account for this, my team and I plan to do more research to determine if listing other purchasing options would significantly affect the level of in-app purchases. Regardless, we would plan to work to increase ad sales to account for any loss of revenue with this new design.

  4. I genuinely think this product is a good idea and I firmly believe that if it were to be produced and properly advertised it would do very well in today’s evolving market. My criticism actually comes in the form of changing the expected completion time. Sourcing, processing, and getting the barcodes for each chemical product will take A LOT of time. I cannot even begin to imagine having to input all that information into an app. Furthermore you would have to account for products that are only available regionally, which will add to the time needed.

    Another potential idea after establishing the app would be to expand to the Canadian market. It’s fairly similar to that of the US and would allow for increased revenue for much less work.

    Once again, great product! I would seriously consider going commercial witth it.

    • Thanks for your feedback! The reason for our shorter time estimate was because some of the information we want to provide has been collected by other organizations in resources such as the NIH in the Household Products Database and in the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. However, we will have to do a lot of our own research, and I think you are right that that will take a significant amount of time. Our goal is to release a beta version of CleanSource in 4-6 months and continually work to add more features and improve the app after that. In this beta version, we plan on populating our database with some of the most common commercial cleaning products and alternative products since it may be easier to gather information about these more well known products. Meanwhile, we will be collecting as much information as possible about smaller, regional products and we will frequently add this information to our database so users can benefit from this new information.

  5. Your team has done an exemplary job of responding to earlier comments, so please do not feel any pressure to respond in writing to the thoughts I’m sharing now. You’ve also done a superb job explaining the need to make better choices when buying cleaning products. Great use of statistics and enumeration of problems with non eco-friendly cleaning supplies.

    I agree with Dylan, however, that one great challenge is going to be getting the all information you seek about these cleaning supplies from private companies. They don’t have to list all their ingredients, like a food product. Their formulations are proprietary. So is information related to production and distribution, which factors into the environmental impact you’re trying to evaluate. So think about how you will overcome that challenge.

    I really like the incentive you create for “green” companies to share info on their products so people can purchase in-app. But how will you handle warehousing and shipping?

    I also like your community features. Think about how this is different from the experience that an eco-conscious buyer might have searching “green cleaning supplies” on Amazon. How do you move shoppers from that big hub?

    I also think that you have a good description of the market for your product, but it would be stronger if you said something about price. Are eco-friendly cleaning products more expensive? Are you targeting wealthier households? How much does shipping increase the cost? How are you thinking about addressing these questions? Perhaps if you increase sales of eco-friendly cleaning products economies of scale will come into play, reducing costs.

    My impression is that marketing and brand loyalty are super important in the cleaning supply market. I’m thinking of Procter & Gamble and the huge money this company has pumped into soap advertisements over decades, creating the idea of the “soap opera.” http://www.adbrands.net/us/pg_us.htm

    How do you counter that investment? Are there signs that enough consumers are willing to go with less-well-known, more eco-friendly products? It might be worth looking at Seventh Generation, a company that seems to dominate in the eco-friendly cleaning field. Seventh Generation is in many grocery stores, alongside those Procter & Gamble products. How does your app add anything for the consumer who already is reaching for the Seventh Generation products? Here is an interesting case study of Seventh Generation, which has some additional statistics you may find helpful: http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/sustainable-business-cases/s12-case-marketing-sustainability-.html

    Again, great job on this idea. You’ve thought carefully about many angles. Fine work!

  6. Dear Ameya & Co.,
    I like your idea and encourage you to pursue it.
    Introduction: I’m the founder of the Green Stars Project and a research scientist by training.
    I agree with your argument that the EWG (and their SkinDeep site also) only deal with safety as it relates to the end user; they don’t consider social or environmental impact. More on that here: https://greenstarsproject.org/resources/. Erin mentioned the Good Guide app. It’s interesting to note that the Good Guide has changed direction and now (like EWG) only considers safety and health for the consumer; they no longer consider social and environmental impact (more here: https://greenstarsproject.org/2016/11/16/daily-footprint-5-shampoo-good-guide-update/).
    It has been hard for a an entity to maintain momentum, keeping up with all the new products on the market and doing research that’s sufficiently deep to be useful. The reason I started the Green Stars Project is because I believe that the solution is a crowd-sourced opinion.
    As far as the app goes, I think you are right to focus on one area and see how far you can get with that (and possibly expand in the future). I recommend that you go as deeply as possible with your research – deeply investigating a small group of products is more useful than shallow, superficial coverage of everything in the supermarket. The research should be at a high-enough standard and deep-enough level that you could publish an article on any one product and it would read like an interesting investigative journalism piece. You can supplement that with the more general data that you’ll collect on things like carbon footprint of product transportation, etc. Besides the article on shampoo above, I’ve looked into soap (https://greenstarsproject.org/2016/11/11/daily-footprint-4-soap/) and toothbrushes (https://greenstarsproject.org/2016/11/03/daily-footprint-2-toothbrush/) and intend to look at laundry detergent in the not too distant future. I also think you should incorporate social and well as environmental impact for your products.
    If you’re interested in discussing further send me an email (contact details are on my site) – I’m interested to know how you’re getting on. I would also love to have volunteers for my project!
    Good luck! J

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