This ex-journalist is making sustainable shopping mainstream

Joanna Hand is an ex-journalist and TV director, writer of children’s stories and co-founder of Giki, a new charity founded with Joanna’s husband James, which aims to help consumers make better choices about the products they buy.

Simpleweb is working with Giki on a new app that shoppers can use to find a range of information on products before they buy them, including how sustainable, how fairly traded and how healthy products really are.

We spoke to Joanna to find out about hers and James’ journey so far, the idea behind Giki and the future of sustainable shopping…

Television, charity and children’s books

Joanna spent a few years in Paris working as a journalist for The Independent, before returning to the UK and embarking on a career in television. It was her TV career that afforded Joanna opportunities to explore other passions.

“I worked on a documentary series for Channel 4 about flooding called Deluge” says Joanna. “That was the first time I really became aware of climate change from a detailed scientific perspective.”

Joanna spent a stint on BBC’s Panorama and the Money Programme, moving on to Channel 4 News. It was with Channel 4 News that Joanna worked on a piece about carbon trading, which got her in touch with sustainability charity CDP, who she went on to work for.

“CDP is essentially a climate change charity” Joanna explains. “They work with big investment organisations to get large and medium sized companies to measure, report and manage their climate change and environmental information and strategies. The idea was to get the business community thinking more about how they were going to manage their impact on the environment.

“It was really interesting working with investors to encourage companies to focus on these issues, and without the influence of the investment community it would have been much tougher to get companies to start thinking about sustainability. It was really in the vanguard, founded in 2001 when climate change was not considered a business issue in any way shape or form.”

Joanna left CDP after 5 years when she had her second child. Since then, she has held a number of charity board positions, including being the chairman for Streetscape, a social enterprise helping the long term unemployed get back into the workplace through landscape gardening apprenticeships.

Joanna has also recently written a children’s novel inspired by climate change, which she is aiming to publish in the next year. “It was a great exercise” she says, “creative writing uses a totally different part of your brain.”

“James’s career has been much more consistent!” Joanna says. James Hand has worked at Asset Management firm Investec for 17 years (he is currently the firm’s Co Chief Investment Officer), having started his career as an analyst at Schroders. His work at Investec has involved (amongst many other things) looking at environmental, social and corporate governance from an investment perspective.

Founding a charity

The idea for Giki had started growing while Joanna worked at CDP. “I was particularly interested in how the consumer can use their spending power to influence change” she says.

The idea for Giki was inspired by Joanna and James’ own experiences of trying to buy products that fit with their values. “I found it really difficult when buying anything to know the impact of the product, how it was made and the effect it could make on my home” explains Joanna. “If I buy a cleaning product for example, I want to know what it’s emitting in the house. I realised that if you want to make buying decisions that are in line with what’s important to you and what your values are, it’s really difficult and it’s really time consuming. You have to do a lot of research and often it’s not always easy to get to the bottom of what the right products are for you.”

Joanna found herself talking to a lot of people about making buying decisions in-line with your beliefs and eventually her and James started talking about coming up with something that could create real change.

James’ motivation lay in the possibilities of using big data as a force for good and the first step in developing the idea was to see what data was already available that could be used to help buyers make more informed decisions. Once they Joanna and James were satisfied that they could provide useful and accurate data, they started to think about how they were going to communicate that.

“There’s a lot of information out there already in magazines and online” says Joanna, “but I don’t think when you buy a product that’s necessarily the quickest and easiest way to gain the information. We wanted to create something as close to the point of sale decision as possible. It needed to be user friendly because we knew if it wasn’t and if it wasn’t compelling and it didn’t enhance your day to day life, no one was going to use it.”

“One of the big challenges of buying in line with your values is that there are so many other challenges that get in the way” says Joanna. “You might be in a rush, the products you want might not be available, you might have kids tugging on you when you’re running round the supermarket. An app gives you the option to find information right there while you’re choosing a product.”

The future of Giki

While Joanna and James have a three year business plan for Giki, Joanna is aware of and open to the fact that things change. “I have learnt through various experiences that over-planning, and over-egging things is a waste of time” she says. “You can plan ahead and think of lots of scenarios and then a curve ball can come in and you end up going off on a totally different track.

“We want Giki to be mainstream. There are quite a lot of organisations that already exist to support people who are extremely engaged on these issues. We would really like to make this a mainstream issue, and help people discover what good looks like. We want people to appreciate how better understanding the products that they’re buying really benefits them.

“In terms of big dreams, it would be fantastic if this could be part of a movement that enables us to have access to sustainable products across the spectrum. A movement that creates a demand for those products that companies respond to, such that sustainability within products really does become the mainstream.”

We’ll keep you up to date with Giki’s progress on the Simpleweb blog. In the meantime, you can find out more and register early interest at iamgiki.co.

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