By Tina Venema 

It all started with a research question. My Sustainable Canada (MSC), an organization mandated to connect people and organizations with more sustainable products and services was curious: in a time of increased environmental awareness, are consumers getting relevant decision-making guidance on energy and water consumption at point of sale for large ticket items such as washing machines?

After conducting in-store ‘green secret shopper’ research in 38 stores across 10 retail chains in and around Waterloo Region, MSC discovered that a gap and opportunity existed. Sales personnel in the stores did not have the tools to compare and contrast the environmental performance of products in their store.

MSC wanted to create a product comparison tool to help retail sales teams guide consumers to make better ‘sustainability-based’ buying decisions on big-ticket household appliances and electronics. So how does a not-for-profit organization without internal IT development resources and a tight budget make this happen?

Tania Del Matto, Executive Director of MSC, says the choice was pretty easy when it came to deciding whom they wanted to work with. They were interested in partnering with someone to not only develop the tool, but help them evaluate the validity and value to consumers as well as explore opportunities for commercialization. The Communitech Apps Factory model was very appealing to MSC who were starting at ground zero with no in-house technical expertise. “The Apps Factory took us through the whole evolution, from conceptualization to prototyping the tool, educating and guiding us along the way. It was wonderfully efficient for us to have the same team that assisted us with conceptualization and wireframing also develop the prototype.”

“The Apps Factory team was fully engaged from the get-go,” says Tania, “It was wonderful.”  The team took the vision provided by MSC and transformed it into a workable plan and wireframes that were used with project partners; University of Waterloo, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Best Buy Canada to collaborate on both the look and user experience.  Moving from wireframes to prototype was seamless. “We really appreciated the phenomenal communication and service-oriented approach of the Apps Factory team. If there were hiccups they were solved quickly and they consistently provided us with development options for meeting our limited budget.”

Working with an organization in the local community was also a real plus for MSC. The Apps Factory and their Communitech network proactively supported MSC in preparing for, and ultimately being successful in raising funding through Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Social Innovation pitch competition. “It was an extremely competitive environment and we were one of only five entrants to be funded. The Apps Factory was there to help us prepare for the pitch and provided on-going support at the actual event. Our collaboration with the Apps Factory and Communitech lent us valuable credibility that we believe played an important role in our success.”

Today, MSC is gearing up to launch a pilot study in Future Shop stores in Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph. Best Buy Canada is excited about the possibility of improving their customers experience at point of sale as well as sending a clear message to consumers at large, that as a socially responsible corporation, they care about the environment as well as empowering consumers to make sustainable choices

So what does the future hold for the little green app that could? After the pilot study is complete, MSC will evaluate the data from both consumers and retail sales staff and decide whether to re-build the application from scratch or continue building from the prototype.  The wheels are already turning at MSC in regard to other product types/consumers that could benefit from the tool such as car dealerships. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is certain. However MSC decides to proceed they will be doing it with The Apps Factory.

About The Author