Eco-Score – Greener food choices at your fingertips

If you are anything like us, you put great effort into searching for alternatives to your favorite soya sauce or chocolate spread. And when you do find one to your liking, it’s only normal to ensure it is, in fact, greener. With the Open Food Facts app, you can find out whether or not the product is good for the planet by simply scanning its bar code.

The app, available on Android and iOS, gives a single environmental score to each scanned product. It couples ratings spanning from A to E with a green-to-red color gradient for quick and easy recognition. But details on each of the 15 Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) indicators it's based on are just one click away. Impact on climate, waterways, and land is measured at all stages, from production to consumption. To compensate for criteria missing from the LCA framework, Eco-Score also :

  • adds a bonus for official certifications (organic, fairtrade, MSC, etc.), local raw produce, and strict national environmental policies.
  • subtracts a penalty for ingredients threatening biodiversity and ecosystems, non-recycled or non-recyclable packaging, and overpacked products.

Harnessing the power of crowdsourcing

The end product is freely accessible to all. Not only that, but consumers can also take the helm and enter data directly into the app or the website, where it’s possible to search, filter, and compare products by category. The crowdsourcing even goes a step further. Producers are encouraged to submit information too. This time via a dedicated platform. All entries are then manually verified by tens of thousands of volunteers.

Eco-score was launched by Open Food Facts in January 2021, with the support of ten partners, including recipe app Yuka and e-shop la Fourche. A little over a year later, it already features 750 000 products. Co-founders Stéphane Gigandet and Pierre Slamich and their team of four are adding more indicators to the score and finetuning the algorithm for a re-launch in 2023.

Hacking the food systems, one scan at a time

The non-profit organization founded in 2012 aims to unleash consumers’ power to shape market offerings. The ambition is to prompt a healthy sustainability competition among manufacturers, spurring them to reduce the environmental footprint of their products. And this isn’t their first rodeo.

In 2014, the team already launched Nutri-score on their website. The move kicked off the spread of the rating system invented by Prof. Hercberg and encouraged many producers to improve the nutritional value of their products for a better score. France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland went on to adopt it as their official but voluntary front-of-package label. As the European Commission is to decide on a mandatory food label system by 2023, nearly 300 scientists and associations support the Nutri-score. One can only hope that transparency on the environmental impact of food gains similar traction.

But there is one major difference between the two scores. All information needed to boil down data into an overall Nutri-Score was already buried in the fine print of packages. It’s an entirely different ball game for Eco-Score. Although Open Food Facts can retrieve part of it from Agribalyse - the French national database for food products, it still needs to source the missing information from other stakeholders, producers included.

But the Wikipedia of food can leverage the 100+ applications currently using their API, the nearly 2 300 000 indexed products worldwide, and the 15 million unique users as springboards for the deployment of Eco-Score. It's the world's biggest food database. And scale is crucial for consumer adoption, according to Founder Stéphane. Reputation may help too. Belgian supermarket Colruyt, French Carrefour, and others in 6 more European countries have already added the guide to their e-shops.

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