Consumer Data Doing Double Duty in Spend Management

Spend Matters is pleased to present a guest post today by MetalMiner columnist Taras Berezowsky.

Much has been made about our private data being collected and shared online, and now, the reclamation and repurposing of that data is becoming an extremely hot topic of discussion. As opposed to those who chafe at the thought of their "private" information floating around in the cloud for companies to use (and abuse) as they wish, there are those who are creatively brainstorming how to make it work for them, rather than against them.

One such idea, covered by Rob Walker in his "Consumed" column in last Sunday's Times, goes right to the heart of a consumer's buying and, more importantly, recycling habits. Indhira Rojas, a graduate student of design at the California College of the Arts, prototyped something called IndexR for her thesis, which is basically a tracker for consumers to know exactly how what they're buying can be recycled. According to the article, "as of 2008, the typical person discards 4.5 pounds of stuff per day, 1.5 pounds of which are recycled."

Instead of simply grabbing a shopper's data at the point of sale, Rojas calls for companies to share the data with the consumer in an easily accessible way (a digital itemized receipt via a mobile app, for example) so that the consumer can be better informed when it comes to getting rid of their cardboard boxes, Tropicana cartons or sardine cans. You can watch video of Rojas presenting her findings and introducing IndexR here.

In a way, this idea essentially proposes a greening of your own personal supply chain. If you can cut out the waste in the chain -- or at least have more knowledge of how to efficiently dispose of the waste -- then you're contributing to cost savings on both the production and consumption ends. IndexR would be another step to make the conversation between producer and consumer a more interactive one, rather than the traditional "one-way" data conduit that exists now. "What Rojas envisioned with IndexR is ... a system that would address disposal uncertainty and inefficiency by engaging all parties," Walker writes. Green-minded consumers -- who, after all, still end up buying just as much stuff as those not so green-minded -- can have more of a stake in spend management for the overall supply chain by having access to better information.

"There are a lot of reasons that IndexR will probably never exist -- but there are even better reasons to consider why something like it should," Walker writes, and I'd have to agree. Why not create a niche for companies between producers and consumers that come up with more inventive and cost-efficient ways to recycle? Why not allow the data already collected to do double duty for product producers? Projects like IndexR ultimately lend themselves to big ideas that, when appropriated by parties with the right kind and amount of capital, could turn into profitably innovative businesses.

--Taras Berezowsky

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