Researchers at Aalto University develop blockchain-backed app to help consumers make sustainable food choices

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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A new blockchain-based app has been created by researchers at Finland’s Aalto University to help consumers evaluate the environmental impact of their food choices.

The Food Suffering & Wellbeing Index (FSWI) uses anti-rival blockchain tokens and distributed ledger technology to measure and collect data on food choices and show users the collective effect of their individual actions.

The technology has been developed through the Food Futures research project, led by visiting researcher Dr Sonja M Amadae from the Department of Communications and Networking at Aalto, and design researchers from the university’s Creative Sustainability Programme.

The FSWI aims to respond to consumers’ growing concern about their personal impact on the environment, and the lack of information available on how their individual consumption habits affect the planet.

Through the app, users can authorise the service provider to store their data on food choices and the sustainability concerns that are most important to them. These could include how a food item affects their carbon or water footprint, animal welfare, land use, or packaging waste, for example.

This data is then collected through the app and presented to the user through a traffic-light colour-coded graphic, showing the level of impact a food item has on the environment.

The app can also measure the nutritional value of produce, showing the level of protein and calories of each recorded item.

Individuals are rewarded for their sustainable choices through the application in the form of credits. They can pick which areas they are most interested in reducing their impact and be rewarded for their efforts over time. These rewards comes in many different forms, including potential discounts and subsidies.

The accumulated data aims to reflect a community’s food choices and aspirations and can be used to find gaps and issues that could be tackled through policymaking to reach sustainability targets, says Aalto University.

The app has already been piloted at the University of Helsinki’s Unicafe restaurants. Shreya Sood, who helped to design the index, said the technology has been particularly useful “for vegan-curious participants”. She commented: “The index influenced rethinking their meal choice after viewing the impact on various variables, making them feel empowered to make a positive change.”

Ruta Jumite, another designer on the team added: “Vegan participants… got a sense of being appreciated for their default choices.”

Many participants in the pilot reported that the app made them more aware of the high emissions tied to foods like cheese, according to Sood. She added that people also said it helped them to start to questions their assumptions about certain sources of protein.

The Food Futures research team plans to run a second pilot of the app in the autumn.

With consumers becoming more eco-conscious, is more information on the environmental impact of our food needed? Find out in this latest Food Matters Live podcast episode:

Is it time for environmental impact scores on food?

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