Who are HowGood and What is Their Role in Climate Impact Labelling?

HowGood is an American sustainable food rating company based in Brooklyn, New York. It comprises the world’s largest database on sustainable food. It develops markets and operates a program in grocery stores designed to provide a sustainability score for food products using up to 60 industry-specific indicators.

HowGood was co-founded as “Scryve” by Alexander Gillett and Arthur Gillett in 2007. Starting in 2014, HowGood’s food sustainability ratings were made public with their mobile app, available to iPhone and Android users. On September 17, 2014, HowGood closed a $2 million round of funding from participating investors including FirstMark Capital, Highline Venture Partners, Serious Change LP, Jake Lodwick and Joanne Wilson.

Picture yourself in the grocery store, wheeling a cart along a linoleum grid divided by walls of mainstream food products. Now imagine if those walls and their contents could talk. Rows of grandstanding packages would shout buzz words and phrases from left and right to the likes of ‘all-natural,’ ‘certified organic,’ ‘local’ and ‘non-GMO.’ in one figurative food fight of superlatives. These foods and beverages, making up a $600 billion industry, want your attention, and given that roughly 54% of consumers note an interest in purchasing based on sustainability, these products are deftly projecting values from greener pastures.

But if one apple touts organic certification, and an adjacent apple boasts local sourcing, which green reigns supreme? And what grocery store offers the singular scale for weighing the overall benefits? HowGood, an independent research organization based in New York City, has toppled the food industry’s many scales of sustainability to answer these questions through a more nuanced, easy to understand system.

Starting in 2007, by Alexander and Arthur Gillett, the co-founding brothers have assembled a network of industry experts, farmers and academics to create a new rating system altogether, one that encourages grocery shoppers to purchase the most sustainable foods on the shelf. The best part about HowGood? It’s working, and it’s leveraging the majority’s interest in supporting sustainable food to make it happen.

“HowGood’s goal is for everybody to understand the far-reaching implications of their decisions and to apply the weight of those implications in the microsecond before they choose what to buy. We want consumers to consider individual purchases on a macro level; spending $5 on your grocer’s most sustainable 1/2 gallon of milk might seem negligible, but if we encourage 100,000 other shoppers to purchase a likeminded gallon of milk today, that’s a $500,000 investment in the sustainable food economy. Producers follow the money, so we’re enabling individuals to lead the way with conscious purchasing decisions.”

HowGood’s Research Methodology

HowGood has 17 years of research on global food supply chains. The team consolidates and analyses findings from over 600 accredited data sources and certifications. These include a range of resources such as international frameworks, NGO guidance and standards reports, peer-reviewed life cycle assessment studies, journal articles, academic conference proceedings and texts, aggregated commercial databases, targeted industry studies, NGO research, government publications, and news reports from reputable outlets.

HowGood employs the most industry-recognised methodologies and incorporates the latest scientific research. Metrics and impact assessments are updated on an ongoing, iterative basis, making HowGood’s platform the leading-edge tool for product sustainability. In turn, HowGood is able to provide impact assessments that are accurate, comprehensive, and the most up-to-date. Through HowGood’s sustainability intelligence platform, Latis, they are able to scale this approach across products, brands, and the entire food industry.

HowGood assesses the social and environmental impact of 33,000+ ingredients across eight sustainability metrics, on an impact spectrum from negative to positive. HowGood’s eight core sustainability metrics capture holistic sustainability impact:

    1. What is the carbon footprint of growing this ingredient?
    1. How does the growing of this ingredient help or hurt global biodiversity?
    1. How much energy is used in the factory processing of this ingredient?
    1. How much blue water does it take to grow or raise this ingredient?
    1. What is the overall labour risk involved in growing or raising this ingredient?
    1. How much land does it take to grow or raise this ingredient
    1. How does the growing of this ingredient impact the soil where it’s grown?
    1. How do the ingredients in this product impact the welfare of animals?

HowGood has developed the world’s largest product sustainability database through an ongoing process of exhaustive data collection, analysis of peer-reviewed science, and a progressive heuristic approach to mapping and assessing sustainability data.

The foundation of HowGood’s data is a diverse and continuously updated collection of data sources, including peer-reviewed journal articles, academic conference proceedings and texts, aggregated commercial databases, targeted industry studies, NGO research, and government publications.  They use a mix of qualitative and quantitative data sources and for each source, they perform a data certainty assessment. This process is completed for every impact metric in the HowGood system, and for every ingredient on which there is accurate and verifiable data.

Once the data has been collected and analysed, they map every single ingredient to its source crop animal or material. Using global import/export data and HowGood industry partnerships, they then map each source crop to its corresponding geographic location to account for the specific on-the-ground practices, impacts, and risks in each locale.

If they are unable to find a perfect match for a particular ingredient, they use an internal proxying protocol to identify the most appropriate comparable data. On-farm impacts of GHG emissions, land use, blue water usage and deforestation are multiplied by the ingredient concentration of the product’s ingredient to account for the total amount of material required to grow or raise the ingredient.

Students Playing a Part

Chartwells Higher Education and HowGood have found that using climate labelling for dining hall menu items significantly increased student demand for low-impact meals. Chartwells partnered with HowGood in May of 2022 to measure the sustainability of its menu items. Metrics including emissions, processing, water usage, soil health, land use, biodiversity, and animal welfare were used to evaluate the social and environmental impact of foods listed on dining hall menus on partner campuses, revealing these impacts to dining hall-goers.

As a result of the program, Chartwells recorded a 37% rise in the production of recipes that received positive HowGood ratings. As student demand for low-impact recipes increased, Chartwell’s nationwide menu items with positive HowGood ratings rose from less than a third to nearly half of all menu items.

“We were thrilled to be the first and only food service provider to introduce holistic climate labels to university dining halls,” said Monalisa Prasad, director of sustainability at Chartwells Higher Education. “The feedback so far from students and campus partners has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re continuing to improve the program by offering a broader range of low-impact menu options and making positive impacts easier to understand through measures like simplified iconography.”

In order to improve recipes based on their emissions-reducing potential, Chartwell’s culinary team used HowGood’s Latis platform. The online platform offers insights across eight sustainability metrics for more than 33,000 ingredients, with 600 vetted data sources used in impact analyses. With this data informing food labelling, consumers are able to better comprehend the full scope of their purchasing decisions’ emissions impact–an understanding that consumers appear to care about increasingly more across industries.

In the travel and tourism industry, consumer demand for environmentally conscious options has increased, and the hospitality sector has responded with the Hospitality Alliance for Responsible Procurement to implement sustainable supply chains. Demand for eco-friendly products has also led to expected growth in the green packaging industry.

Some companies have also come under scrutiny by consumers for marketing their brand as a carbon-neutral option without full transparency over how emissions reductions are made. For instance, Delta was sued by a customer earlier this year for supposedly misleading carbon neutrality claims.

HowGood said its online platform responds to consumer demand for transparency and increased preference for sustainable products, and the results of Chartwell’s labelling program also appear to reveal rising consumer interest in environmentally friendly purchasing.


In a groundbreaking trial conducted at Kavanagh’s Budgens Belsize Park in London, the integration of electronic shelf-edge labels (ESL) showcasing product sustainability attributes has yielded remarkable results, with the store reporting a notable 25 percent increase in sales. As TheGrocer reported, this initiative, a collaboration between ESL manufacturer SES-imagotag and sustainability intelligence provider HowGood, aimed to enhance consumer awareness of sustainability aspects.

Specific product attributes such as Climate Friendly, Water Smart, Clean Label, Minimally Processed, and Fair Labour were highlighted on the ESL. The outcome was striking, with products featuring these eco-credentials experiencing an average sales uplift of 25.8 percent. Particularly noteworthy was the significant surge of 45.1 percent in products labelled as ‘Fair Labour’ Alexander Gillett, CEO and co-founder of HowGood, emphasized the significance of this technology as a “modern solution for retailers looking to capture the quickly emerging market of eco-conscious consumers.” The positive impact on sales, coupled with the broader accessibility planned for the UK retail landscape, marks a transformative step towards informed and sustainable consumer choices.

“The global retail landscape is changing, and this partnership will enable forward-thinking retailers to clearly communicate their value to customers, remain dynamic in their in-store marketing, and drive revenue while having a very significant and meaningful impact on the planet,” he said. The use of ESL has been on the rise the world over and rightfully so given the several advantages they provide over traditional labels. With less reliance on paper labels, the ESL comes across as an environment-friendly solution for stores of almost all sizes. These can be managed via a centralised control center which means less staff is needed for the individual upkeep of each label. Plus, they have excellent visibility too while consuming the least power.

HowGood supports you in making bold sustainability claims backed by rigorous, vetted data. Many times customers do not have insights into where their ingredients are processed. In this case, the location of the processing facility in relation to the farm location is determined by specific research on the nature of the crop, economic considerations, and processing specialization. Most crops are processed on or near the farm where they are grown. In this case, the same location as the farm will be chosen. There are a few specialty crops which tend to be processed away from the farm in specific regions. HowGood assesses which crops fall into this category by analyzing trade data and checking EcoInvent for references, where available. Encouraged by the success of the trial, SES-image tag and HowGood are poised to introduce this capability to all retailers in the UK. This initiative will empower shoppers with direct access to “reliable and transparent data on more than two million products” through smart digital displays within stores.