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Can Consumers Shop Amazon Responsibly? This Startup Thinks So

Launched during the early days of the pandemic, Finch wants to help online shoppers make more sustainable purchases, starting with America’s biggest e-commerce destination.

The browser extension provides environmental and social ratings for popular products available on Amazon, taking into account everything from climate footprint to human impact. Founder Lizzie Horvitz said she was inspired to create the platform as she noted more friends and family looking for information about the ecological and social credentials of the products they buy regularly.

“I felt like the internet had a bunch of academic studies that were based in real data and science, but they weren’t accessible for normal people to read,” she said. On the other side of the coin, popular lifestyle blogs regularly tout products as “eco-friendly” or “all-natural,” citing very little evidence. Finch, which began as a newsletter written by Horvitz, aimed to fill the white space between scientific research and practical recommendations.

A veteran of Unilever’s sustainability division, Horvitz is well versed in consumer products and driving environmental progress in their supply chains. She’s noticed increasing interest in people and planet, even from shoppers who prioritize convenience. That mindset took hold in a big way during the pandemic, as shoppers were largely stuck at home, ordering online from platforms like Amazon.

“We know that there are a lot of environmental and social issues with people using Amazon,” she said, referring to its logistical carbon footprint. But given that 197 million consumers who shop the platform, she believes it’s futile to ask them to give up Amazon altogether or change their behavior. Most people “[believe] in climate change, [want] to do something about it, but [don’t] have more than five to seven minutes to research it,” she said. “We’re trying to reach those people.”

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Finch’s goal is to help Amazon customers shop more consciously. The plug-in, which lives within a browser’s toolbar, displays automatic popups when a consumer shops on the site. It offers sustainable alternatives to the options they’re browsing, taking into account water usage, waste output and raw materials, as well as their impact on biodiversity. “We have 85 rated categories, ranging from mattresses to body wash, detergent and sheets,” Horvitz said. Ratings are based on aggregated data from more than 200,000 sources.

In essence, Finch scrapes the “public domain and the internet for anything we can find about these products,” looking at certifications from B Corp, the Forest Stewardship Council and others to lifecycle analysis about their ingredients, Horvitz said. The company’s sustainability data scientist has a PhD in green chemistry, and Finch has created an AI and machine-learning driven system for rating products en masse using his framework with each product scored between one and 10, with anything above 6.5 considered good.

Finch created a browser extension instead of an app because “it’s downloaded once, and it’s super sticky,” Horvitz said. “Every time someone goes on Amazon, Finch pops up without them having to open an app or do anything differently,” much like Honey, an extension that aggregates and automatically tests coupon codes at checkout. Horvitz was inspired by the format, and Honey’s co-founder has since become an investor in the startup.

Horvitz eventually wants to take Finch beyond Amazon to multi-category retailers like Walmart, Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond as well as specialty stores. The startup will explore new product categories, too, and perhaps even lean into selling its data to retailers to help with planning and assortment.

“Finch is really that lever that gives consumers the transparency that they’re craving, but it also allows companies to understand where their footprint is, how they stack up against other companies, and how consumers are really thinking about this issue,” Horvitz said.