Sourcemapping

Goodlifer: Sourcemapping

“We believe that people have the right to know where things come from and what they are made of.” That is the driving force behind a new opensource website called Sourcemap. Developed by a team at MIT Media Lab, Sourcemap is a platform for researching, optimizing and sharing the supply chains behind a number of everyday products.

Sourcemap enables users to contribute to and share ideas about sustainability. Whether you are inviting people to an event, buying ingredients for a recipe, or designing a product, your choices have a significant impact. Some decisions have impacts that stretch across the world, whereas others are entirely regional. Understanding the reach of our actions and facilitating positive change is fundamental to improving economic, social, and environmental conditions.

Globe view of where parts from a typical laptop computer were sourced.

Globe view of where parts from a typical laptop computer were sourced.

What does this mean for you? Well, for example, you can find out that the IKEA bed you bought last year was put together with parts from wide-ranging parts of the world, and has a footprint (247.42 kg) almost five times that of the bed’s weight (50.5 kg)! Even worse, a typical laptop computer has a footprint of 1496.83 kg, a scary number considering at least one of these can be found in most U.S. households today.

You may be surprised to find that a Toyota Prius has a lower footprint (236.16 kg) than that IKEA bed (assuming the sourcemap is accurate). Of course, that does not take into consideration the shipping from Tsutsumi, Japan to where you buy it. But it is a good starting point. On the bizarre side of things, a sourcemap of a Secure Detonator (bomb) made in Texas shows us — with a footprint of 45644.23 kg — that sourcing parts somewhat locally matters little if the product you are making consists of nothing but bad stuff.

Sourcemap of the Toyota Prius. You could use this as a starting point and then calculate the final footprint once the car is shipped to your location.

Sourcemap of the Toyota Prius. You could use this as a starting point and then calculate the final footprint once the car is shipped to your location.

Knowing this, often depressing, backstory of the stuff you buy is very important. But, sourcemaps are also being used for good. A small-scale brewer in Scotland put a map together to argue the viability of a bottling plant in the northern part of the country, so that the brewers no longer had to ship their products great distances to be bottled. South End Open House is Cambridge, MA uses a sourcemap to show where their food comes from. A great visual for any consumer with locavore tendencies.

This sourcemap was put together to argue the viability of a local bottling plant in the northern part of Scotland.

This sourcemap was put together to argue the viability of a local bottling plant in the northern part of Scotland.

This sourcemap shows where South End Open House's food comes from. Imagine if everything we eat had a detailed map of ingredients like this?

This sourcemap shows where South End Open House’s food comes from. Imagine if everything we eat had a detailed map of ingredients like this?

Sourcemap is an opensource project that, like Wikipedia, relies on volunteers to grow and fine-tune the database. The hope is to develop a sourcemap for every product and service out there. It is supply chain publishing platform dedicated to transparency and will help consumers make informed, sustainable decisions. Businesses can use sourcemaps as a diagnostic and marketing tool that helps to plan for and advertise a long-term outlook. We should all know by now that saving energy and materials saves money, and healthy, unpolluted communities become prosperous markets. Sourcemapping also enables companies to respond to shifting supplies, communicate honestly and openly with customers, and plan for the future. A bright green future.

Top image: sourcemap of a typical laptop computer.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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