Consumers are now demanding environmental accountability in everything — from the buildings they live in to the products they purchase. Food is a big one. While more and more food companies are claiming that their products are “sustainable,” a Brooklyn, New York-based startup is asking how good that claim really is. The company is called HowGood.
HowGood analyzes thousands of ingredients — more than 33,000 so far, the company claims — looking at factors like the product’s greenhouse gas emissions, its water usage, land usage, soil biodiversity impact, potential deforestation, concern for animal welfare, and so on.
Every ingredient in every product has different environmental impacts, all of which change region to region. For each product analysis, HowGood takes in close to 250 different attributes from those ingredients and boils them all down to a rating, which companies can then use to improve their products.
“HowGood provides sustainability intelligence,” said Alexander Gillett, HowGood’s CEO. “The idea here is that we have the largest database in the world on food sustainability, and companies get to use it now to start making better decisions and to be more transparent.”
“My friends like to say I can ruin any food group,” Gillett joked.
But companies are hungry for the data, both to meet their sustainability goals, and because their customers increasingly demand it. Chipotle uses HowGood for its Foodprint, a measure of its carbon footprint. Kraft Heinz is a new client, now experimenting with some of its staples.
“We’re already looking at some really favorable, interesting things with cheese, as well as plant-based alternatives inside that same category,” said Jonah Smith, global head of environmental social governance at Kraft Heinz. “We’re really excited about the possibility that HowGood can really help us, with their extensive catalogue, look at more carbon-friendly alternatives to sourcing as well as our other ESG metrics.”
While companies like Kraft Heinz and Walmart are buying the deep data to assess their products, consumers can also use the HowGood app to check on the sustainability of products they’re buying.
Gillett says the company is seeing, “inspiring” demand from product makers for the data, but he admits that a very small fraction of the millions of products in the HowGood database actually get a top rating. Less than 5%, he said.
“Most companies mainly complain that we rate them too harshly. And we’re okay with that. We’re okay with it being hard. It’s a hard problem to solve, and I think the great thing is those companies say that, but then they trust it,” Gillett said.
HowGood has a staff of about 40 now but expects to triple that in the coming year. Its backers include Titan Grove, Firstmark Capital, Serious Change, Danone Manifesto Ventures, Contour Venture Partners, Great Oaks Venture Capital, and Astanor Ventures. The company has raised $26.5 million so far.