ASSET project closed

ASSET developed shopping tools that have been tested by Esto­nian and Austrian consumers in real shopping situations. The data analysis of test data shows indi­cations for a change in shopping behaviour. Data analysis is still ongoing. Contact for more details:
johannes.klinglmayr@lcm.at

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Dr Johannes Klinglmayr from the Linz Center of Mechatronics in Austria is developing a smartphone app to help shoppers choose food products that conform to their own version of sustainability.

‘One of the problems for sustainable consumerism is getting reliable data,’ he said.

The app is designed to be used when someone is standing in front of a supermarket shelf, and allows people to assess the difference brands for between similar products such as pasta.

It works via Bluetooth, matching the customer’s location with a database of product information. The app allows someone to see how each one matches their own preferences, which they’ve pre-programmed into the app.

To do this, Dr Klinglmayr and his team on the ASSET project used some 25 sustainability criteria to tag products with, including environmental factors such as being free from palm oil as well as health concerns such as being sugar-free.  

‘We have to take the word apart and give people the ability to build their own criteria,’ Dr Klinglmayr said. ‘The point is that everyone has a different understanding of sustainability, but on some levels there is overlap.’

For one shopper, he explains, sustainability could mean organic food, while for another it means food that was sourced locally, or has a small carbon footprint, or was produced whilst upholding workers’ rights.

But all four of those sustainability criteria would prompt a shopper to buy a product made locally, in an area he or she feels familiar with. ‘This means that four shoppers could have different understandings of sustainability, but end up buying the same product in the shop,’ he said.

‘One of the problems for sustainable consumerism is getting reliable data.’

Dr Johannes Klinglmayr, Linz Center of Mechatronics, Austria

Organic

Dr Klinglmayr believes this type of information could be more helpful than relying only on food labels, which he says have become so diverse as to risk creating confusion. ‘In Austria, for instance, there are 30 different labels that call an egg organic,’ he said.

The app has already been trialled by the COOP shop in Estonia and WinklerMarkt in Austria. ASSET looked at information on all food products in the Estonian shop, excluding tobacco and alcohol. In Austria, the products used included common shopping items such as tea, milk and pasta.

Dr Klinglmayr said initial indications were that the app had been appreciated by shoppers and that data from the trials is now being analysed to see if a business case could be built for the app moving forward. He says that ASSET is part of a wider trend to improve product data and share the information with customers, whatever the end form of that turns out to be.

‘In general, I strongly encourage widely spread implementation within the EU of a transparent product information system,’ he said.

Opaque

One hard-to-assess criteria of sustainability is what goes on in companies that form the opaque supply networks around the world that bring goods to shoppers and which can allow brands and companies to hide behind distant suppliers.

Much of this data, about which factories are working for which companies, and which brands are produced where, is available if you know where to look. But a lot isn’t published publicly, or when it is there is so much data that even the companies themselves don’t know where to start.

Laureen van Breen, program manager with open analysis platform WikiRate, which gathers data from companies at various points along global supply chains and publishes it in an online database, says there is a lot of information about supply chains that could be made transparent, if the right systems are in place.

Van Breen coordinates a project called ChainReact, which aims to make supplier networks easier to understand and more responsive. This includes identifying responsible and irresponsible corporate behaviour, and making it easier for workers to report problems.

One important feature of ChainReact and WikiRate is sharing research with companies, trade unions and NGOs, and developing tools for them to make use of the information. With this project, ‘we’re able to connect companies (to supply chain data),’ van Breen explained.

Working with the UK’s University of Cambridge, ChainReact has developed an app for whistleblowers known as The Whistle. The Whistle makes it easier for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to collect grievance reports from workers, to improve transparency along the supply chain.

Theresa Heithaus, ChainReact’s co-coordinator, says NGOs are already using the data gathered by ChainReact. The pressure group Clean Clothes Campaign, a network of NGOs and labour unions in the garment industry, has for instance used supply chain data in talks with trade unions, with the aim of improving working conditions.

Slavery

Another NGO, the Walk Free Foundation, used ChainReact data to analyse the effect the UK’s Modern Slavery Act was having on company behaviour in order to advise the Australian government on the development of the country’s own anti-slavery legislation.

Through WikiRate, ChainReact gathered information about over 500 companies, to see whether for instance they had a training programme to raise employee awareness of modern slavery, or a whistle-blower system. ChainReact also looked simply at which companies were legally complying with the act, which turned out to be ‘a shockingly low percentage,’ says Van Breen.

Van Breen says the NGOs’ work shows the important of ethical supply chains goes well beyond Europe and will always be relevant. ‘We don’t really have a geographic limit,’ she explained. ‘Supply chains are global.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.

Social innovation

New business and technology ideas that are designed to address social issues are known as social innovations. In November 2018, Carlos Moedas, the EU’s commissioner for research, science and innovation, said the EU would put more money into funding this type of ‘innovation with a purpose’ in the future.

Current initiatives to promote social innovation include the European Social Innovation Competition, an annual contest that challenges all Europeans to come up with solutions to the problems affecting our society. In 2018 the theme was RE:Think Local, which aimed to tackle issues around revitalising regions and communities, with a particular focus on empowering young people.

The Horizon Prize for Social Innovation, which closes in February 2019, offers a €1 million first prize and four €250,000 runner-up prizes to the best solutions for improving the travel mobility of older people.

This post The apps that can tell you if you’re buying sustainably was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

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FIELD TEST IN AUSTRIA

In spring 2018, the Bluetooth Low Energy localization system was installed at the premises of Winkler Markt, a family owned supermarket in Linz, Austria. Since the beginning of July, we started another field campaign there. The campaign is supported and promoted using a booth directly in the supermarket, which is run by the LCM team. So far, we further advertised the test using posters and flyers at the supermarket and at the nearby campus of Johannes Kepler University.

At current, interested test participants may download our App “MyPrefs”, use it during shopping, and certainly are invited to give us their opinion using the feedback options within the App or directly at the booth.

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“Motivating citizens’ behavioral change through ICT” was the topic of a workshop at the Digital Social Innovation Fair 2018, where the ASSET project was one of 3 CAPS projects introduced and discussed. The workshop adressed challenges regarding the encouragement of active citizen participation and beahioral change through the use of ICT platforms, crowdsourcing tools, design thinking and gamification approaches.

Additionally, the ASSET project was also presented by a demo, where participants were invited to experiment with the smartphone application. A demo-supermarket with a virtual infrastructure was set up. Users were able to download the app and test it while going through the demo-supermarket and accessing single item’s ratings.

Agenda

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After months of intensive work, we are happy to start the second field test. Staff members of the COOP store in Tartu are putting up posters, advertising for the participation in the test. One day after the start, we already have the first downloads from the app store and the first customers have installed the app on their phone. We all are very excited to observe the usage of the app and to find out how customers feel about the ASSET-service.

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Visitors of all ages, from children to seniors visited the ASSET stand at the science fair on 13.04.2018. The visitors had the opportunity to try out the localisation with a 3D-Scan of a room.
Apart from the functionalities that have been programmed for the ASSET app, other interesting questions and ideas were given as a feedback from visitors. For example, the utilisation of the localisation tool for blind people or for locating certain products or product groups in the store, was suggested.

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On 21st March, retailers, consumers and environmental and food experts had the opportunity to get an overview of the ASSET project and get a feel of the mobile app. We had lots of interesting discussions and got good and useful input for the future. Depending on the perspective, either from a consumer’s or retailer’s point of view, the ASSET app offers different interesting aspects.

What do consumers want?
One of the most interesting features for consumers is the direct comparison of 2 or more products with one click. Also, the possibility of defining individual ranking criteria that can be changed quickly adds a dimension that cannot be found elsewhere. This way, the ASSET app seems to be able to fulfill the consumer’s need to make shopping decisions that fit their current life situation as well as a wish to get more background information on products. Shopping for a sugar free diet as well as finding palm-oill free products can both be equally supported. The most important aspects from a consumer’s point of view for further developement are independence, transparency, intuitive usability and, of course, data protection.

What do retailers want?
For retailers, the app can be interesting for overcoming the lack of space in the shop for providing additional information. Even without installing the localisation tool in every single store, the ASSET app still seems to be a potentially useful service for customers. A data coverage of at least 80% of the product sortiment should be ensured, however, to avoid frustration of users.

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2ND GENERAL ASSEMBLY

For the second general assembly the consortium met with the advisory board again in Tartu, Estonia. While testing the app directly in the store, also the advisory board got a good impression of the progress of the project. The consortium could test the improvements of the app that had been added since the last project meeting in Estonia. Now, last preparations are being made for the start of the second field test.

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SOCIAL IMPACT DATA HACK 2017

The University of Tartu organised a datathon from 10th to 12th November 2017 with people of all ages and students from various universities. ETH Zürich offered sponsoring for the task “ASSET challenge: Smart Sustainable Shopping”. BIA and COOP offered guidance and mentoring for the participants. With three groups taking on the challenge, this topic was the most popular amongst in the event. Apart from the fun and interesting experience that all the participants had in the event, the ASSET project got valuable input for possible additional data sources on products or brands.

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