Finnish researchers trial blockchain-backed app that details information about food impacts

05 Aug 2022 — Researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have developed and tested a pilot app to help consumers evaluate their shopping choices and offer new insights about the impact of certain foods.

“For example, many participants said the app was an eye-opener about the high emissions associated with cheese,” says Shreya Sood, who developed the index together with Ruta Jumite.

She adds that the app helped people begin to question their assumptions about certain protein sources.

“Overall, users in the pilot project felt that it could help translate sustainability goals into actions. It motivated them to consistently make sustainable choices and created incentives to eat in a climate-friendly way, ”says Sood.

Blockchain for good
The study is part of the EU-ATARCA project, which aims to create and promote “anti-rival tokens,” a blockchain-based technology that encourages the sharing of digital goods.

The Food Wellbeing Index produced by Aalto’s Creative Sustainability Program (Credit: Aalto).Blockchain technologies can be used to reward individual choices, the researchers highlight. In the long run, they indicate these tools could provide policymakers with a means to recognize individuals’ constructive sustainability impact.

In line with the study, the design researchers from Aalto’s Creative Sustainability Program developed a “Food Wellbeing Index” to capture the social, environmental, health, and economic consequences of food choices.

The index integrates several variables to give a holistic overview that reflects the sustainability impact of dietary choices. In the long run, the integrity and transparency of this information can be supported through the use of blockchain throughout the supply chain, highlight the researchers.

Piloting the app in Helsinki restaurants
Building key food impact information into an app gives consumers clear and easily actionable information, as was seen in a pilot study at the University of Helsinki’s Unicafe restaurants.

“For vegan-curious participants, the index influenced rethinking their meal choice after viewing the impact on various variables, making them feel empowered to make a positive change,” comments Shood.

“Vegan participants, on the other hand, got a sense of being appreciated for their default choices.”

In addition to giving users information to guide their individual decision, the app also uses anti-rival blockchain tokens and a distributed ledger to measure and aggregate choices, showing users how individual actions add up to a collective effect.

Because the aggregated data from the app reflects the food choices and aspirations of the community, the researchers note it can be used to identify gaps and shortcomings that need to be addressed by policy-making directed at sustainability.

The Food Futures research team is planning to run a second pilot experiment in the autumn.

Over the last year, consumer-facing platforms to enhance the visibility of food sourcing impact have been brought to light.Crystalizing the impact of food
Though consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental and health impacts of their food choices, many people are unsure what changes they should make, note the Aalto University researchers.

“People often feel that they do not have enough information to guide their decisions, and it’s also hard to see the impact of individual consumption habits,” they stress.

Over the last year, consumer-facing platforms to enhance the visibility of food sourcing impact – such as on-pack carbon labels – have been brought to light as consumers increasingly demand transparency.

Earlier this year, The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano) teamed up with Dutch cheese mark designer Kaasmerk Matec and digital tracking developer p-Chip Corporation to embed trackable silicon microchips – the size of a grain of salt – directly into a food- safe parmesan casein label placed on cheese wheels.

In other moves, PepsiCo is trialing technology from Security Matters – an invisible “marker” system enabling both physical and digital tracking to identify, track, and sort packaging waste, which is logged onto a blockchain system. This is done to enable monitoring of closed-loop recycling, authentication of sustainability claims and improve waste sorting.

By Benjamin Ferrer

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