An app to reduce your environmental impact: Interview with James Hand, co-founder of Giki

Jungmin Seo 12 November 2019
Image Credit: MaxPixel

General Interviews Editor Jungmin Seo reports on her telephone interview with James Hand, co-founder of the social enterprise company and sustainable shopping app, Giki, which stands for ‘Get Informed Know you Impact’. 

Week 5, Cambridge.

You head over to Sainsbury’s to buy some pidge-worthy chocolates for your College children. What do you go for? Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons? Galaxy Cookie Crumble? Maybe even Sainsbury’s Basics (inevitably at the cost of coming across as a stingy College parent)? But what if you could – quite literally – scan those shelves of colourful packaging with an app that enables you to pick the most sustainable and healthiest option of the lot?

Giki offers precisely that. Founded by husband-and-wife James and Jo Hand in 2017, Giki is a social enterprise which gives practical advice on how to reduce your environmental impact. With the launch of the app in 2018, the company has introduced an extensive ‘badge-system’, covering criteria like Low Carbon Footprint, Better Packaging and Animal Welfare, thereby allowing customers to analyse the sustainable value of over 280,000 UK supermarket goods – all with a quick scan.

Example of scanned product (Image Credit: Jungmin Seo via Giki App)

“We had the idea about three years ago,” explains Hand. “There were two things: one was an increasing concern about climate change and the need for everybody to start changing their individual actions, and the other was almost an amazement that it wasn’t easy for people in supermarkets to find out how sustainable the stuff they were buying is”.

He had assumed that such an app would have existed before, but soon discovered that Giki was the first of its kind. “We spent a year trying to find out why [it hadn’t been done] and it’s a simple why: it’s that it’s hard to do. There’s so much data that we needed to push through to make it easy for people to find sustainable and healthy food in their weekly shop”.

“We spent a year trying to find out why [it hadn’t been done] and it’s a simple why: it’s that it’s hard to do…”

So the demand for Giki continues to grow.

As of July 2019, the company recorded 18,000 app downloads, and with the announcement of the new Hero Badge this August, which combines a number of environmental factors into one (e.g., Responsibly Sourced, Organic, Better Packaging, No Additives etc.), there is even more excitement as to where Giki will go next. Hand tells me that the response to the new badge has been “really good”: “it’s about making things easy for people, but not making it simplistic at the same time. People want know the details of what they are trying to achieve, as they have very clear values themselves”. These people can be anyone – some of the most dedicated users of Giki include “students, women of their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even grandparents who are thinking about their grandchildren”.

According to Hand, recent events from even just the past 18 months – Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, David Attenborough – have led to another “step-up” in the amount of people who are keen to implement change to save the environment. “It’s part of a long-term trend of sustainable, organic and ethical shopping, but there has been a recent acceleration”.

Having said that, some challenges remain for Giki: “It’s a really important point that any change people make need to be in line with their lifestyle and their budget.” Hand offers some solutions to these, but people will have to be prepared for big, rather than small, change. “You can actually shift to a sustainable healthy diet without it costing any more. But it’s not about individual product shift. It’s a wholescale shift in diet”.

“You can actually shift to a sustainable healthy diet without it costing any more. But it’s not about individual product shift. It’s a wholescale shift in diet…”

He goes on to explain that “If you buy organic beef, it costs a lot more than conventionally farmed beef. Yes, there’s an environmental cost, but the bigger shift for people is actually having to have less red meat and less cheese in your diet. Then the money you save from the high value items can be used to buy more sustainable products”.

Giki have recently started a social media campaign for “Eco Meals for around a pound” (click here for more details), which demonstrates that it can be done, as long as people “look at their whole shop rather than just the single item”. It’s refreshing to see technology being used as a “force for good”, which Hand admits “has been lost with the issues that tech has had over the past few years”.

In line with this emphasis on a holistic shopping experience, Hand is keen to widen the scope of Giki badges so that they can focus more on the collection of items in the basket, rather than individual products.

He also wants to add more badges to the algorithm: “The more issues that people tell us about the more we will do that. The most common request is for a Vegan and Veggie badge.” Giki are planning to release Giki Zero, an eco-planner which aims to “help people to reduce their environmental impact across all areas of their lives: food, transport, household – you name it. Some of those decisions will be hard, and some are actually relatively straightforward. But crucially what we have seen with the data is that people who are really wiling to engage can actually cut their own environmental impact by up to 50% without the need for big policy changes”.

Hand alerts me to the urgency of the environmental crisis: “We need to move away a bit from this mantra that if we make a small change it will make a big difference. That’s kind of true, but actually we are past that point now with climate change. We are at a point now where everyone needs to do everything, everywhere.” These changes – whether that involves altering your diet, not flying, or green electricity tariffs – will be more drastic for some than others. “Some of these will be impossible for people, but some of them will be much more interesting for people too”.

“We are at a point now where everyone needs to do everything, everywhere…”

It’s important to linger on that positivity: “It’s very true that we have ten years to make massive changes, and each passing month that we don’t it makes those changes that much greater. It will only work if people take their personal responsibilities and enjoy the fact that people are leading a more sustainable, and therefore more fulfilling life”.

Find out more about Giki here!