Design for sustainable consumption.


Eco Cart focuses on revealing a deeper understanding of how users interact with products in a retail environment. It also explores user discovery and awareness when purchasing eco friendly products. It is the result of a design process George Paravantes and I undertook to changing consumer behavior and the perceptions of sustainable consumption.

Observations and interviews

One of the first steps we took was to go out and see what people actually do in retail space. We observed people while they shopped and recycled and studied their behaviors. We observed both ends of users, ones who genuinely cared and others that were apathetic. Another approach we took was to observe the amount of waste that people generate in a day. It was interesting to note the products and packaging people used and discarded. Furthermore the amount of awareness people had when it came to consumption or resources to make certain products.

The opportunity

Our observations made us realize that customers spend the least amount of time needed in retail space and do not show willingness to spend time to learn about the sustainability factors of the products they purchase, yet the same consumers would be spending hours per months to maintain efficient recycling. We see a great opportunity to address this issue at the very heart of shopping experience, the retail space. While evaluating various retail experiences we began to realize that the shopping cart was an area with great opportunities to focus on, while offering the most potential to incorporate various behaviors.

Shopping cart with behavior

We used explorative sketches to discover and see what kind of scenarios and behaviors a cart would have in different retail experiences. We talked to many people and observed how people use the shopping carts, shared our ideas and got feedback from them.

A tool for behavior change

We discovered that the most direct way to expose the green shopping status to the user would be using the haptic feedback on the shopping cart. Shoppers are in contact with the shopping carts and haptic feedback can be used to inform them with a minimum visual distraction. Besides our Low-Fi user tests revealed that using only visual output would not be as effective since users can easily ignore extra visual information in the shopping environment where there is a high level of exposure to visuals. However a time controlled embedded visual display would be still valuable to visualize a general overview of the eco rating. When placing a product in the basket, users are able to review the eco rating of the product on the embedded display. This is accompanied with some tactile feedback on the cart, which is a real-time reaction to the shopper shopping behavior when is comes to sustainability; both to the latest purchase and the overall purchase in the basket. The cart is constantly notifying the users of the consequences of their decisions and reminds them of the possibilities to change their behavior when they can make a change.

Eco-rating system

We looked at developing a rating system that would be credible and offer consumer at a glance information quickly about the eco impact of a product. From our user research and tests we came to conclusion that by simplifying the factors into five major ones, it would be easier for the users to see the effect their purchase causes. We designed five color coded labels: Energy used to produce the product, Transportation, Recycling factor, Fair trade rate, and Overall carbon footprint. These labels are displayed in a playful way on the cart handle and are easy for consumers to perceive. This is to make sure the visual information dose not confuse the users and the information is available at glance.

Eco-rating display

The five eco-rating labels are displayed in a playful way on the cart handle and are easy for consumers to perceive. This is to make sure the visual information dose not confuse the users and the information is available at glance.

Video scenario

Video scenarios is an appropriate way to capture, communicate, and iterate eco-cart interactions in context. Particularly when it comes to visualizing the behavioral and social impacts. The purpose of the video scenario we made for Eco-cart is to narrate and give context to the Eco-Cart in a retail environment. We decided to film in parallel the experiences of two extreme uses, the eco conscious shopper and the indifferent negative shopper. The cart reacted to shoppers in both negative and positive behaviors.

Prototyping the experience

As part of our experiment, a shopping cart prototype was made to reproduce and discover behavioral aspects of the cart. The Steering angle, along with braking ability, and shaking of basket were attributes we incorporated. We used tags on various products and programmed them to make the cart react positively or negatively when placed in the basket. If the accumulation of many negative products occurred then the cart would begin to act more erratic. Shaking the basket, changing the steering angle, changing the angle orientations and breaking power are some of the behaviors we simulated on our prototype. We used different fiducial tags that are detected by the camera mounted underneath the basket. The cart reacted to shoppers in both negative and positive behaviors.


We also introduce Eco summary, which is a summary of the user overall purchase. Our solution is to add a visual summery similar to embedded display on the shopping cart to the receipts. This includes more detailed figures of eco rate for users review. Scaling the system so it incorporates a reward function over time for good environmental shopping is meant to help create a win win win scenario for retailers, customers and environmental issues.

The impact

There is a potential for designers to influence consumers behavior in a more sustainable direction. Creating awareness is an important factor to promote green behavior. What is crucial is to give this awareness to the user at the right time and in the right context. Eco-cart uncovers engaging interactions and touch points that make retail experience more of an opportunity to educate customers and make them more aware on the bigger picture of sustainable consumption, while making it a playful and easy to choose the more eco friendly products. The project aimed to redefine our retail experiences and help consumer vote with their currency in not only choosing the right eco product but also send a message to manufacturers to find more sustainable ways to create these products for consumers.