News Environment This Browser Extension Ranks the Sustainability of Household Products Finch wants to make it easy for you to choose the best option when shopping. By Katherine Martinko Senior Writer University of Toronto Katherine Martinko is a writer and expert in sustainable living. She holds a degree in English Literature and History from the University of Toronto. our editorial process Twitter Twitter Katherine Martinko Published May 18, 2021 12:31PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checker Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a writer, fact checker, and conservationist with a certification in sustainability. Our Fact-Checking Process Article fact-checked on May 18, 2021 Haley Mast Finch Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices Shopping has become an exercise in analysis. With people wanting to know more about production standards, and companies offering more information about how items are made, what was once a simple decision about what to buy now involves a complex series of comparisons. A new startup called Finch wants to help with that. Finch is a browser extension that works with Amazon (where most people buy their everyday products), ranking items on a scale from 1 to 10 across a range of categories. It relies on an algorithm to analyze all available data pertaining to that product and compare it to other items within the same category. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for people to choose well when buying household products. Founder Lizzie Horvitz is a longtime climate activist, academic, and former member of Unilever's sustainability team. She tells Treehugger that her own interest in sustainable living began when she was a teenager living off-grid, unable to shower if it didn't rain. A few years later she was inspired to start Finch when she saw how eager people are for simple, straightforward answers to their questions about product provenance and quality. "[When] I was working at Unilever in 2016, I had so many people asking me to weigh in on the sustainability arguments of the day, i.e. cloth versus disposable diapers, or metal versus plastic straws, and I saw that there was a huge gap between rigorous and dense scientific research and well-meaning blogger types who had the best intentions but not necessarily the background to understand the nuances," says Horvitz. She adds: "I started a newsletter called The Green Lizard to help answer these questions and help people lower their environmental footprint. [This] took on a life of its own, and I was inspired to be more hands-on in helping people address their impact. Simultaneously, brands are scrambling to offer information that addresses the growing sustainability concerns of their customers, so there’s value at the larger scale." Lizzie Horvitz, founder. Finch Finch's process is 10% manual, 90% automated. The team looks at new products "with fresh eyes," as Horvitz describes, and then researches whatever factors might affect its sustainability, e.g. for paper towels it would be run off at the pulp mill, potential for deforestation, etc. "We weigh these factors using academic and NGO reports and rate the top 10 to 20 products in that specific category," says Horvitz. "Then we feed that into our machine learning model [that] gives all the products on Amazon a score." Products are measured across five categories: Making It (materials and manufacturing), Moving It (transportation from origin to the last mile), Buying It (availability and cost), Using It (product quality and lifespan), and Ditching It (how it's discarded, recycled, or reused). Scientific research, company practices, product profiles, and consumer reviews are all considered when calculating a final score. Together this information generates the item's ranking. Horvitz explained that Finch's aim is to go beyond saying one item is more "sustainable" than another. It strives rather to simplify the science and focus on why it matters: "We break it all down into convenient, easy-to-digest ratings and show you what to pay attention to. It’s important to note that we only incorporate an attribute when we feel 100% confident in the data and its sources." In order to maintain an unbiased review system, brands get no commission for being featured. People can request to be part of Finch's ambassador program called The Charm, where vetted individuals provide feedback about their real-life experiences using various products—these reviews influence scores, too. (And if you're wondering about the name, a charm refers to a group of finches, and finches are the adaptable, resilient little birds that Charles Darwin studied and can thrive in a changing world.) Finch Horvitz hopes Finch will give people the precise information they want. She tells Treehugger: "Right now, if someone searches 'Can I recycle this in my zip code?" or 'Was child labor used in the shirt I’m wearing?' There’s no single trusted source to give us that information, and no one out there even trying. It’s a really exciting opportunity for Finch to take that market and give people easy and convenient answers that are based in science." Ideally, Finch will eventually be available throughout the e-commerce world and become an application that other retailers use to rate their own products. "We'd like Finch to do for sustainability what Honey did for coupons and Nerdwallet did for personal finance," she says. "If we can help consumers do less upfront work and help drive brands to be more sustainable, we’ll have reached an incredibly important inflection point." Finch is careful to say that consumerism won't solve the world's current environmental woes, but does believe in the power of individual choices repeated day after day. The website states: "We may not be able to single-handedly dismantle society’s reliance on fossil fuels or eradicate child labor globally by swapping toilet paper brands, but we all have a role to play and our individual actions can lead to collective rewards." There is no pressure to buy the top-rated products, but rather an emphasis on equipping oneself to make the best choice based on one's own resources and priorities. If you don't use Chrome or shop on Amazon, you can still take advantage of Finch's ratings by way of its Wise Guides, available on the website.