Business 2.0, Sustainability


I came across Sourcemap (via FastCompany) the other day – a project by MIT that aims to map out where products come from, down to the material level in some cases. Check out the vid:

Getting Started with Open Supply Chains from Matthew Hockenberry on Vimeo.

From the site:

Sourcemap is a tool for producers, business owners and consumers to understand the impact of supply chains. Our site is a social network where anyone can contribute to a shared understanding of the story behind products.

I’ve long imagined tools like this making it easier for the public and other organisations to both determine the footprint of the products they use, but also to make this information available and learn from others in the process.

Acknowledging that the site is beta and still very early days (and also being a fan of the agile “fail early, learn often” approach) I don’t think the site yet lives up to the stated objective of telling the “story behind products” (such wording evokes images of initiatives such as Patagonia’s ‘The Footprint Chronicles’). That said, it seems to me to be a big step in that direction on a much broader level.

I like the fact that it is, in part, a crowdsourced approach. The QR codes that allow producers to create a URL pointer to the Sourcemap page for a product is also a nice touch – though I’m still not convinced about QR codes (I’ve not had much success using them personally, and the impression I get is that they are far from “mainstream”).

I’m also not sure what the business value for organisations opening up their supply data is – I suspect the emissions calculation aspect of the tool would not be totally sufficient to do so, but it will be interesting to see how the database develops over time. The about page hints that organisations wanting to promote their eco-credentials may also want to use the tool – I think this is probably a stronger “market”, albeit a potentially small one…

There are some parallels here with Nike’s attempt to open up its supply chain as part of their “Considered” product line and philosophy. While I agree with Joel Makower that radical transparency may not save the earth, tools such as Sourcemap will hopefully make it easier for organisations to become more transparent, which is definitely a good thing for customers and the environment, even if it is only part of the puzzle.