Though many students appreciate the low cost and convenience of online shopping, few stop to consider where the products they are buying come from. Keeping increased ethical concerns from online customers in mind, USC alumnus Jonathan Hecht helped found Impakt, an ethical shopping extension, in January.
Hecht said it’s easy for individuals to make online purchases without knowing where a company makes its products or what kinds of materials it’s using.
Impakt, a browser extension for Google Chrome and Firefox, lets users know what they should be aware of for any specific product or retailer. Impakt works everywhere from e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon to online retailers like Best Buy and Macy’s to brand and company websites like H&M and Sephora.
As a former clerk at the San Francisco public defender’s office and USC Gould School of Law graduate, Hecht realized that he wasn’t suited for the legal field and left it.
“I quickly realized that being on the front lines wasn’t for me — I wanted to make systemic change,” Hecht said. “What eventually led me to Impakt [was] really trying to make a change directly at the lower level.”
Hecht worked with fellow entrepreneurs Nida Nizam, Ridge Montes and Chris Shaffer to found Impakt.
“[We] realized that when we were trying to make a difference, everyone was going through the same struggle,” Hecht said of the Impakt team formed. “So, we really wanted to find a way to empower people to make a change.”
Hecht explained that the extension works by flagging products that are made by a company that exploits child labor or contributes to climate change, for example. The extension also recommends alternative products that are more likely to match the user’s values.
Hecht said Impakt uses algorithmic machine learning to gain access to public and government data along with industry studies and reports from universities, non-governmental organizations and market researchers.
Impakt also uses recently published news articles from established news sources to provide information and verify company scandals and lawsuits.
Hecht said that online shopping has become a political act, since users purchase products from companies that support different political causes.
“The thing is we are giving money to these political causes without actually knowing the implications — it’s sort of going in blind,” Hecht said. “Right now, we are just empowering users to know where their money is going instead of giving it to people that they may not otherwise be giving it to.”
Hecht said the Impakt browser extension allows users to rank causes based on what they feel is most important and best aligns with their principles. Impakt then filters the alerts and recommendations, Hecht said.
The Impakt team supports causes that include environmental sustainability, ending child labor and animal cruelty, diversity in hiring and management and American-made products. The extension has a premium membership option of $1 per month with more features, but environmental sustainability and child labor are two causes available for all users.
Hecht said Impakt faced challenges building financial and public support. Before partnering with prominent NGOs, nonprofit organizations and the NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.
“The technical challenges haven’t been there so far,” Hecht said. “We are pretty much just combining a series of solved problems into an elegant solution. The problems have had more to do with attraction.”
Impakt’s Kickstarter was launched in September, through which the company aims to raise $29,950 to accelerate development.
“It’s only been five days and we are halfway there, so I am pretty confident that we will reach funding,” Hecht said. “If we don’t, we’ll figure something else out.
“The Impakt team plans to release access to the platform to beta testers in next March and to investors in May.