Taking individual climate action can often feel pointless - or at best a balm to assuage a guilty conscience, but it is far more important than that. Choosing sustainable products sends a demand signal to manufacturers/producers/retailers that non-sustainable products are not wanted.
But which products are the most sustainable? It seems like every products is now claiming the green high ground. Well, one company working to surface products' climate friendly credentials is Finch. Finch assigns a score to products so you can decide quickly which product in a particular category is the most sustainable.
To find out more how this works in practice, I invited Finch Founder and CEO Lizzie Horvitz to come on the podcast.
We had a wonderful conversation. I learned loads as always, and I hope you do too.
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Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper
We're able to take all of those, you know, willingness to pay preferences, et cetera. Not only about who the people are that are buying sustainable products, but what that journey looked like, who looked at one product and then went with another and then we're able to sell that back to brands to help them become as sustainable as possible. Whether that's marketing better, what they're already doing, or changing their practices over time.Tom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the climate 21 podcast. The number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi everyone. Welcome to the Climate 21 Podcast. My name is Tom Rry, and with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Lizzie. Lizzie, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?Lizzie Horwitz:
Thank you so much for having me, Tom. I am Lizzie Horowitz, the CEO and founder of Finch and Finch scores in products based on their environmental footprint and helps consumers make better purchasing decisions.Tom Raftery:
Okay, let's, let's unpack that a little. So Finch that you're CEO of has this ability to somehow score things on their environmental footprint. Can we talk a little bit about that? Tell me. For, let's even go back a little further than that. Why, why did you decide to set up Finch? What's, what's the thinking behind it first off?Lizzie Horwitz:
Definitely I have been interested in sustainability since I was 16, so it's been a very long time. I won't give away how old I am, but it's been more than half my life and I have really dedicated my life specifically to helping mitigate climate change in the private sector. And I spent three years at Unilever, so really understood, you know, the maker of Dove and Ben and Jerry's Hellman's mayonnaise figuring out how those products could be more sustainable. But in the meantime, because of my unique background, I was getting questions from family and friends about how they could reduce their own footprint. People would ask is aluminum in my deodorant really harmful to my body, or, are the chemicals in my sunscreen going to kill the reefs? And I didn't know all the answers and I didn't know where to direct them towards. I felt like the content online was very difficult to sift through. You either had very academic white papers, which are tricky for even myself to read sometimes. And then on the other hand, we have a lot of greenwashing where, products are saying that they are eco-friendly or chemical free. And so I wanted to cut through that greenwashing and make it easier for consumers to make better decisions so that they didn't just give up.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And so how do you do it? Do you just sit there going through all those academic papers and making a summary for each product that you find something on? Or how does it work?Lizzie Horwitz:
Well, we've rated over a million products and so that would be very, very difficult to do if we did it product by product. But we, we actually do a combination of that. We look at the category overall. That's what's unique about Finch is that we, we score products on a category basis, and so we will look at shampoo, for example, and we will read a lot of academic papers on what the impact is of, of the different components of shampoo. Is it the water that makes it heavy to ship? Is it the packaging? Is it the ingredients and materials in it? We break that down into six different categories, and those categories are climate, water, waste, ecological human wellbeing, and raw materials. And so within those six we'll figure out, okay, shampoo, the biggest impact in shampoo is happening in water and in waste. So we will weight those a certain factor, and then we use machine learning to scrape the public domain for anything we can find from third party sources, data sets we're paying for or that are available online on products that are sold on Amazon, and we will, put that through our algorithm and, and it will split out a score. And then what happens is those scores are all normalized. So everything in shampoo will be between a one and a 10. There are certain categories that are worse than others, but for, for a good user experience, we wanna make sure that everyone has, you know, a better option to buy.Tom Raftery:
Okay. I came across a, a link this morning. And it was about new legislation that's being proposed in Europe about reducing waste. And one of the things they talked about is the plastic hotel shampoo bottles, and you just brought up shampoo and that triggered that memory that I read this this morning. And one of the things you didn't mention there specifically talking about shampoo was the plastic. Is that one of the six categories, is it within one of the six categories that you referenced just now?Lizzie Horwitz:
It is, it's really. It within three categories. It's in climate because plastic comes from petroleum more than anything. Um, unless it's bio-based plastic, and that's a different story, it comes into waste because we cannot assume that plastic will be recyclable even if we don't. Even if we know the exact type of plastic that's dependent on the consumer. And then it's in human wellbeing because plastic creates microplastics, it gets into our water streams. We drink, we ingest about a credit card worth of plastic every year, I think it is. And so it, fits into all those three. The challenge for us candidly, with plastics is that, often you don't know unless it's labeled, you know, bio-based or comes from sugar cane or something like that. We don't know exactly the type of plastic that it is. And so, that's been difficult for us. The difference we can certainly make is, shampoo bars, which are these new trends that are kind of like a body wash bar, a bar of soap rather that's for your hair, that we love. And that normally comes in a, the ones we've seen overall are coming in a cardboard container, so they're completely plastic free, and that's fantastic. But when comparing two plastic shampoo bottles, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Fascinating. Fascinating. And where do I find the scores?Lizzie Horwitz:
In a couple of different ways. I'm so glad you asked. Um, the firstTom Raftery:
I, I don't, I don't see them on my shampoo bottle right now for example.Lizzie Horwitz:
No, that a long term goal for sure. But the first is we have a browser extension, and so you add this onto Chrome and then when you're shopping on Amazon, you will be able to type in detergents and you see all the different detergents that are on Amazon with a little number in the corner and that that shows the Finch score. And then when you click into the product, it will show you okay, here's why it got this score here are four alternatives in case you wanna make a better decision. And then if you wanna keep on clicking, it will take you eventually to our website where it shows you our Wise Guide. We have a wise guide for every product category and it really shows, okay, when you're buying shampoo, here's what to keep in mind. Here's, you know, the difference between plastic and shampoo bars, et cetera. So a lot of different ways. We have a partnership with Microsoft, and on Bing any minute now, you'll be able to see the scores in real time on the Bing platform, which we're really excited about. And then we have some exciting other partnerships in the pipeline that should be, should be coming out in the next few months.Tom Raftery:
Wow. Okay. That's cool. And you said a Wise Guide. What's that?Lizzie Horwitz:
So a wise guide is if you. So, let me back up that the interesting thing that we've learned from customer discovery is that the amount of information that everybody wants to see is very different and it's independent of their background or interest in sustainability, to be honest, or maybe not interest, but you know, we have PhDs in sustainability who're looking at our website who are like, I trust you guys. You seem legitimate. I don't really care what goes behind the score because that's enough for me. And then we have kindergarten teachers who have no experience in sustainability, no sort of official experience in sustainability, but they're like, I really wanna dig in and know exactly why this product got a certain score. And so the Wise Guide is meant to not overwhelm the people who really just wanna see the score, but to help those other people. If they happen to be shopping for shampoo, they don't just know, okay, Seventh Generation is better than. I don't think Seventh Generation makes shampoo, so that's not a good example, but one brand is better than the other. They wanna know this is better because it is made without this ingredient and it's made with recyclable plastic and it's a concentrate, et cetera. So the Wise Guide really just shows what goes into these scores. And if you happen to not have the extension in front of you, you're shopping in the store, for example, you can use that to guide your shopping.Tom Raftery:
Ah, okay. Very good. Yep. Nice. And you said you've rated a million products I think at this point. They're not all shampoos. So , what else? What other kind of products are you rating?Lizzie Horwitz:
We have rated 85 categories. We're about to launch our 88th, but 85 are public right now, and it really ranges from, baby products, diapers, wipes, baby towels, et cetera, all the way to pet care. Pet food was our, was our latest, uh, that was our 86th product category that we rated. And then, you know, detergent, shampoo, We were very intentional about the products that we started with, and they had to fall under a couple of different categories. The first is they had to be products that people bought frequently. We believe that to gain our trust, we didn't wanna start with a car because you buy a car every maybe 20 years. And so, you know, the worst case is if you buy a toilet paper that you don't love, you have to replace it again in three months. And so it was sort of a low risk, low cost, opportunity for people to, to do better for the environment. And so all of our products, except for we have a couple of outliers, we actually do rate mattresses, which hopefully people don't buy very often. But otherwise it's just frequent, inexpensive products.Tom Raftery:
Consumables. Exactly. And we went with consumables because there is this real white space. Nobody else was really, there were a lot of people or companies who were trying to score these at the brand level, um, and at the company level, but very few on the product level at scale, and so we were excited to take that space.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Is there a risk that legislation comes out in the next couple of years mandating that organizations publish on their packaging, for example, like nutrition labels, publish, for example, their carbon footprint or something like that. And if so, do you think that kind of does away with your raison d'etre?Lizzie Horwitz:
I think it's a great question, but it's actually the opposite. That would be fantastic if that's something that happened. Finch is not, not doing firsthand research on. We're, we're not in a lab testing these materials ourselves. We're using meta-analysis to bring everything together. And so our real value is that we are saying, okay, if you care about child labor and you care about your climate footprint, you shouldn't have to go to two different places to get that information. You should be able to go to one place and see all of that information aggregated. I think furthermore, if legislation, which I hope they do, did come out with sort of nutrition labels. And I think the writing's on the wall, I think that will happen. definitely in Europe before the United States, but, but fingers crossed, it would be in the form of, okay, this has 10 grams of carbon, or this used 30 gallons of water to make, et cetera. That's not super helpful to the customer because customers don't know how to compare that what a normal, like what is the least amount of water that a shampoo bottle could possibly have versus the most, where does that fall? And so I think what that legislation would do is would give us information that we might not get to that granular level otherwise but can, put with, in comparison with all these other factors, and still give it one score.Tom Raftery:
Okay. If I am a shampoo manufacturer and I see that my Finch score is, I dunno, is it, is it zero is fantastic and one is awful, or the other way around? Or is it one toLizzie Horwitz:
Um, it's one to 10, so zero's terrible. And 10 is the best.Tom Raftery:
Okay, so if I've got a Finch score of 0.1 and I'm horrendous for the environment according to Finch, but I think, no, that's not right. Do I have kind of recourse?Lizzie Horwitz:
Absolutely. You know, I, I hope that we stay this way, but we're certainly able to do that now given our size. If a company were to come to us, we are able to point towards exactly what went into the score and how we weighted it. You know, there are certain things we will not share. We will not share our entire proprietary algorithm for obvious reasons. but we don't do black box modeling, which is special. So I think what a lot of people do is they say, I'm gonna put all these things in this box and then it'll spit out a score, and I'm not really sure where that's coming from. But we can do a sensitivity analysis on every single product that we rate on if you became a B Corp, your score would go up two points, and if you got rid of this ingredient, your score would go up, et cetera, et cetera. And so we're able to do that. Luckily, we have not gotten a lot of pushback from our manufacturing partners yet. The thing that is tricky that happens, It's only happened once actually in my memory, but a company came to us and said, you know, we're paying for carbon offset, but we don't talk about it because we don't think consumers care and you're not giving us points for that. And our response was, first, we're rating millions of products at scale. We can't possibly vet anything that's not publicly available. We, we need that to be listed and posted somewhere, and that you're not just telling us. And secondly, that's kind of a mistake on your part. You're making a big assumption that customers don't care when they really do. And we would highly recommend that if you are doing things that are better for the environment, you should talk about it. There's no downside to, to talking about something that you're actually doing. And so that was our response at one time. It will be our response in the future. But you know, another line of revenue for us, which has been really fun is for smaller companies that might not necessarily be on Amazon yet to come to us and say, we're just starting out. Can you score our product and let us know, you know what, what we might be able to change before we go to market?Tom Raftery:
Okay. Yeah, because that does lead me on to another question, which was going to be, what is the revenue?Lizzie Horwitz:
So it, it is these two different streams of revenue and they're both surrounding data. So the first is retailers are getting a lot of pressure from their customers to be more transparent about the environmental impact of the products that they sell. But they don't have the resources in house. and they have a conflict of interest, to be honest, because they have partnerships with all these vendors. So, Target wouldn't wanna say, Hey, Seventh Generation, we're giving you a nine, but Tide, we're giving you a six even though your both kind of, we have a good, solid partnership. They wanna say, just take it up with Finch because they're doing all the scoring, right? So, retailers will, pay for us to score their products on their platform. It's a subscription based model where they send us thousands of millions of product descriptions. We send them back the scores, and then, and then they're surfaced on their website. So that's the first one. And then the second one is from the browser extension, we're gathering really fascinating consumer behavior insights, which gets me really excited around, okay, men of a certain age in New York City are willing to spend an extra 50 cents on aluminum free deodorant, but men in San Francisco are willing to spend an extra dollar. We're able to take all of those, you know, willingness to pay preferences, et cetera. Not only about who the people are that are buying sustainable products, but what that journey looked like, who looked at one product and then went with another and then we're able to sell that back to brands to help them become as sustainable as possible. Whether that's marketing better, what they're already doing, or changing their practices over time.Tom Raftery:
Does it also tell them, oh, the market could stand me pushing this up another dollar?Lizzie Horwitz:
Absolutely. Yeah.Tom Raftery:
You know, I don't know. It's funny, we're still, we're still at the very beginning and I hope, you know, there are certain hypotheses that I hope will not come true. Like what you just said. We would love to not make sustainability more, expensive. But the opposite is also true, where we could say, you know, people are actually willing to spend. So you could, or people are, People are only willing to spend X amount. So you could actually sell twice as much if you lowered your, price, right? So we could play around with that a little bit. and then the other hypothesis that, that scares us is that people aren't willing to make these switches over time. Um, and I think, you know, for some categories that might be the case and that's, that's interesting insights in and of itself. We hope that that's, doesn't happen very often. But, it's important for Finch to decouple our success financially with people buying more stuff. That feels antithetical to what we're all about. And so we're, we're excited to really take this data and make it valuable for somebody.Tom Raftery:
Okay, and if I want to use Finch, is it just through the browser plugin and or the website?Lizzie Horwitz:
Right now it's, yes, it's through the website and through the browser plugin. Soon as I mentioned, you'll see us on some retailers, definitely on Microsoft, Bing. and we're, we're working on a mobile solution right now, which will be, hopefully really successful.Tom Raftery:
You would say a mobile solution? You mean just an iOS and or Android app?Lizzie Horwitz:
Either an app or we're kind of in the testing phase right now, or just a web app that that works well on mobile.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And is that using something like a, a QR code or some form of product recognition when you're in a store or something like that?Lizzie Horwitz:
It's actually both. That is a little bit longer term what you just said, but we'd love to get there more it's that so many people shop on mobile that we would love, the ability to go to, the Amazon app on mobile and be able to see the Finch scores right there.Tom Raftery:
Okay, cool, cool. And you did mention you that, that it works on Amazon, does it work with other, and, and you mentioned that you are going for more retailers, but is, is it just Amazon for now?Lizzie Horwitz:
It's just Amazon for now.Tom Raftery:
And you've mentioned Bing is coming shortly. What else is coming shortly or what else is coming? What are your big plans?Lizzie Horwitz:
Well, right now we're in the middle of fundraising, which is taking up a lot of time and it's a very exciting time. but other big plans include, this mobile launch, which we're excited about. And then our goal in the next year is to get from these 85 core categories to 120. And so we're getting into makeup and more cosmetics, pet care, as I mentioned. And so I'm really excited about the expansion of those products and just improving our scores.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And as you mentioned, pet care, I read a while back that it's now possible to get, and I've not been able to find it, and it's possible to get pet foods that are made from insect protein. Just as a matter of interest, I happen to have a couple of pets and I've been looking for something a little more sustainable. Have you come across anything like that?Lizzie Horwitz:
It's so funny you said that we actually, our first customer, who, who wanted us to rate their products is a cricket based pet food. and we did a whole analysis, greenhouse gas emissions on insects versus, you know, beef, chicken, et cetera. And we actually got some conflicting research that showed that chicken might be a little bit better, than insects. But I think part of that, which is interesting is the scale. So as chicken is. There are chickens everywhere. Chickens are already highly, highly manufactured and so, or not manufactured, but, but used. And so if insects were to get to closer to that scale, they would 100% be better. But because they're still, they're still smaller, they're just not quite there yet. So the, the way to help is to, support that industry 100%. And I'm also a huge, this doesn't go into our scores quite yet to the extent that I'd like it to, but I'm a huge animal lover and when I think about the, intelligence of insects versus chickens or pigs or cows, that's a real no brainer for me. So I'd love to be able to give my dogs insects.Tom Raftery:
Cool. Yeah. Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. Okay, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Lizzie. Is there any question that I haven't asked you that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?Lizzie Horwitz:
I think one area that we're getting really excited about in terms of what individuals might be able to do is the reuse space. Thinking about how you can get, you know, Laundry tablets that you then send back or can go back to a zero waste store, to refill. So reuse and refill. And I think when people are asking me, you know, what, what small things they can do to make differences, that's one of them. Just not buying new containers, um, and products makes a really big difference. And so I think that's something that I definitely wanted to highlight just because recyclability is so difficult, particularly recycling plastic products, is, is not always that effective. And so, yeah, that's something that I wanted to highlight, but I think that, I think we covered everything else.Tom Raftery:
Okay, cool. Yeah, cuz uh, when I'm buying soap or or shower gel or anything here, I always go for the ones that have refills available. So I buy one container and then for as long as I can, afterwards I'll buy refills to refill that container as opposed to buying new. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Good. Awesome. Great. Lizzie that's been really interesting. If people want to know more about yourself or Finch or any of the topics we discussed on the podcast, where would you have me direct them?Lizzie Horwitz:
Our website is choose finch.com. and then on Instagram and Twitter and social, we are just at Choose Finch. so definitely find us there. And then we monitor any, I personally monitor, Hey @ choose finch.com. And so I always love to hear from. Potential customers, end users, et cetera, on how they're liking it. Any feedback, any questions that we can help answer. So feel free to email me directly there.Tom Raftery:
Awesome. Lizzie, it's been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Lizzie Horwitz:
Thank you so much.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about Climate 21, feel free to drop me an email to Tom Raftery at outlook.com, or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please, don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks, catch you all next time.