How the sci-fi future makes sustainability crucial

[This article was originally published on the blog of BSR, a sustainability consultancy, and is reprinted with permission.]

As science continues to accelerate around us, the visions of the future are being overtaken by the technologies of today. The personalized ads that popped out of screens for Tom Cruise in Minority Report are being turned into a reality by tech companies such as IBM and NEC.

In his new book Existence, David Brin shows us how a virtual world can overlay a physical world and enable people and information to interact at the same time. Google glasses are now launching us on this journey towards a seamless, real-time overlay of data and information on top of reality.

The “last mile” in the sustainability world is consumer awareness, engagement, and choice. Consumer behavior reinforces corporate sustainability practices through purchasing decisions, but in order for consumers to make informed decisions, they need information.

Today, apps such as Good Guide attempt to inform consumers through technology—for example, a photo of a barcode links to product safety, environment, and social indicators. In China, a new app that informs consumers about food safety issues was recently released. And, QR bar codes, which allow quick linkages from product to web, are springing up everywhere.

If we add these bits of today’s technology to the next generation of engineering, the opportunities for consumer awareness, engagement, and understanding are profound.

It isn’t hard to envision Google glasses continuously scanning and correlating bar codes and presenting the data to users in real time. Google alerts won’t appear in your inbox, but instead will pop up in the glasses when you encounter products and services you've identified as relevant.

Next page: How high-tech glasses might help consumers comparison shop