Yelp with a conscience? DoneGood launches app for socially responsible shopping

DoneGood co-founders Cullen Schwarz and Scott Jacobsen.
DoneGood co-founders Cullen Schwarz and Scott Jacobsen.

Scott Jacobsen says that when he lived in Washington, D.C., his favorite lunch spot used to serve everything in a recyclable plastic container. But there was no recycling bin at the deli, so all that plastic just went into the trash. After needling the owner for a while about putting in a bin — and no action — Jacobsen decided to spend his money elsewhere.

That experience led Jacobsen to build a mobile app called DoneGood, launching this week in conjunction with the Boston Green Festival. The app collects information from users, and existing databases, about the environmental impact, product sourcing, employment policies, and ownership of restaurants and retail shops. Looking for a restaurant that serves organic food, supports workers, and also gives back to the community? DoneGood will serve up the closest options, and give you the option to comment on businesses that you know about or have interacted with.

donegood-screenshotJacobsen and co-founder Cullen Schwarz, a former press secretary at the Department of Agriculture, began working on DoneGood last September at Harvard’s Innovation Lab. The app, initially for Apple’s iOS operating system, just appeared Monday. They haven’t yet raised outside funding for the company, which they expect will generate revenue by allowing businesses to communicate with shoppers or offer discounts through the app, Schwarz explains. Garrett Parrish, DoneGood’s chief technology officer, is an undergrad student at MIT. (He was on a list last December of “14 Incredibly Impressive Students at MIT,” published by Business Insider.)

Schwarz said that DoneGood doesn’t generate any ratings for businesses itself: “Our job is to put existing information into one place, and make it easy for people to use.” So far, the startup is using data from 18 different sources, including The Humane League, JP Local First, and the list of certified B Corporations.

“The long-term vision,” Schwarz said, “is to create a new kind of marketplace where businesses aren’t just demonstrating that they have a good product at a low price, but a positive social impact to a large community of people who care about that. Are products locally made, organic, sustainable? How are workers paid? A large and growing numbers of folks want to make sure they’re supporting businesses that share their values.”

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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