It’s great when I have the time and energy to research which brands align with my ethics—and which ones make me feel nauseous. But there’s absolutely no way I can dig into the culture, philosophy, and practices of every brand I buy.
It’s not like I haven’t tried: one memorable grocery trip took me about an hour and a half as I frantically googled, say, which company treated its employees better, Whole Earth or Kashi, or which almond milk maker was more sustainable, So Delicious! or Silk.
In terms of personal sustainability, that’s just not a sustainable strategy.
But lately it seems that where there’s an iPhone, there’s a way. I just discovered the Human Rights Campaign, which is an organization dedicated to achieving LGBTQ equal rights, has made an app guide to LGBT-friendly businesses.
Each company in the HRC database has what’s called a Corporate Equality Index score, based on its LGBT employee policies. Those include, according to the website, anti-discrimination protections, domestic partner benefits, diversity training, and transgender-inclusive benefits. You enter a company or brand into the app and immediately receive its score out of 100—if it’s high, in the cart it (presumably) goes, but if it’s below 80, the app offers alternatives. Kind of like, “Eat this, not that,” but for conscious consumerism instead of calories.
Yesterday, I downloaded the Buyer’s Guide App, and I was thrilled to take it to the store. While there are certainly many factors that influence what I buy, an inclusive workplace is high on the list. And this is a much easier method of shopping ethically than conducting spontaneous Google research in the middle of the cereal aisle.
So here’s how it goes when my roommate and I head to the store:
First stop, dairy; my Greek yogurt stash is perilously low. But when I whip out my phone and type in Fage, my brand of choice, I’m told, “No results found.” Hmm. What about Chobani? No results found. I can’t get a score for Dannon either. Happily, “Yoplait” redirects me to “General Mills,” its parent company, which has a perfect score! I plunk some Yoplait in my basket.
In the nutrition bars section, none of my faves (Clif bars, KIND bars) show up. However, two of the other things on my shopping list, Boca burgers and Breyers Ice Cream, both have 100s. I’m wondering if there are really only two possibilities: on the app, with a 100, or not on the app.
I leave the store pretty disappointed. Apart from buying the Yoplait yogurt over the Fage, Chobani, and Dannon options, having the Buyer’s Guide didn’t change any of my purchasing decisions. I bought what I was planning to buy and felt gratified if it was on the app. But I didn’t decide not to buy any brands because they had bad scores, or choose one brand over the other because the first had a higher score, because all my results were either “No results found” or “100.”
When I get home, I do some investigating. It turns out there are only 734 companies in the 2014 CEI. In addition, they’re not all food-related—the categories include pet care, banking and finance, and travel and leisure. The variety is great, but it means knowing the score of every brand in the grocery store is not happening right now.
All of this information—category, ranking, number of companies—is much more clearly presented in the PDF of the Buyer’s Guide than the mobile version. I actually really like the Guide. It’s divided into industries and organizes companies by score. There are sub-100s!
I click to Page 26, Food and Beverages, and scroll through the companies in the red “danger zone,” with scores lower than 45. S&W—that’s who I buy my beans from. Well, not anymore. Smuckers, my go-to for jelly, has a disappointing zero, as does Dunkin’ Donuts. Chick-fil-a actually got a negative 25, which isn’t surprising.
This is much more what I had envisioned: being able to quickly, easily, and painlessly see who deserves my business and who does not. I’m definitely browsing through the guide and taking notes.
But I’ll probably delete the app. After all, how many times would I have had to punch in jam brands before I got to a positive hit on Smuckers? Looking into it myself would be quicker.
HRC explains why there are only 734 companies in the database. Although the organizations researches policies at more than 1,800 companies, it said, “We do not provide a business with an official score until we have collected and verified all the information we need.” Fair enough—I’d rather have a thorough list than an expansive but error-ridden one. If I’m interested in getting a brand in the index, I can contact HRC with any info I have on the company’s LGBT policies, provided it has 500-plus employees.
All that to say, this app only has room to get better, and the more we invest our knowledge in it, the more useful it can become.
I just looked; Fage has 1,000 employees. Maybe by this time next year, I’ll be walking around my local grocery store, knowing its score.
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a regular contributor to Her Campus, The Prospect, and her college newspaper. Her work has been featured on xoJane and The Huffington Post. The only thing she loves more than writing is dessert. Follow her on Twitter @ajavuu.