Product Barcodes – Why They Are So Important to the Sustainable Shopping Movement
Product barcodes may seem like a very common and simple attribute of consumer goods, but their prevalence is an important piece in helping consumers access data about products. Barcodes act as a common denominator for connecting products with vast amounts of data, which when collected and organized properly can offer much desired insight into life cycle information of products so consumers can make better decisions about the products they purchase.
What Are Barcodes?
Barcodes, also known as SKU – Stock Keeping Unit or UPC – Universal Product Code, are a small but very crucial part of products. These 12 digit identifying codes connect a variety of products to information such as price, name, weight, and now product life cycle details. When a checker scans a product at the supermarket, the laser barcode reader references the vertical black bars the product barcode which represent a numerical value. The actual numbers are also listed below the vertical bars. The product’s unique 12 digit identity code is registered by the computer which cross references that number with a database containing relative product information. With a 12 digit length, product barcodes can have 100 billion combinations (the first and last numbers are start and stop identifiers leaving 10 digits as variables) allowing every product to have a unique id.
The barcode was originally patented in 1950, but the technology necessary to make its use widespread was not yet available. As we all know, the technology did improve and the barcode we are all familiar with became standard practice for tracking products by 1980. Barcodes have since been used for identifying more than just products and there are even QR codes which offer an added dimension that allows for the storage of more information. Today most smartphones can read barcodes through their camera. This functionality combined with an internet connection allow users to query information from product barcodes and QR codes very easily.
How Product Barcodes Can Help Consumers Shop Sustainably
If product life cycle information was stored in an accessible database, shoppers would be able to query that database simply by scanning a product barcode. The data necessary to piece together the complete life cycle of a product will come from various sources – learn more about crowdsourcing product life cycle data. Because product barcodes are such a widely used standard, a product’s unique code can be used to combine data about a single product from several sources which quickly becomes very powerful. With currently available technology and an infrastructure that is already set in place, we can bring together many sources of data (manufacturers, environmental organizations, government entities, individuals, etc.) to gather a complete picture of the life cycle of a product.
The ACES information cooperative (Alliance for Consumer Empowerment and Sustainability) is doing just that, collecting disparate product data, organizing it, and verifying its accuracy and credibility. Earth Accounting then uses this data to provide users with product life cycle information through the Earth Touch app. The Earth Touch app, to be released this year (2015), will reveal all available product life cycle information in an easy to interpret and transparent manner so consumers can quickly make educated decisions about the products they are shopping for.
Visit the Earth Accounting website for more information on this groundbreaking mobile app.