In today’s globalised world most products you see on the store shelf were probably made from parts sourced from all over the world. As we become more aware of the environmental impact of transporting these parts, it is important to have easily accessible information on how a final product comes together. Sourcemap is a project of the Media Lab at MIT, and it allows users to easily visualise what components go into a product, how they are shipped, and what the environmental impacts are. The Sourcemap about page gives an overview of the service:
Sourcemap is a tool for producers, business owners and consumers to understand the impact of supply chains. Our site is a social network where anyone can contribute to a shared understanding of the story behind products. You can simulate the impact of manufacturing, transporting, using and throwing away products using our Life-Cycle Assessment calculator. This web-based tool uses linked data from geological and geographic resources. Each ‘Sourcemap’ can be used to help market socially- and environmentally- conscious products and to buy carbon offsets.
This coverage at TreeHugger.com foresees an interesting future for the Sourcemap project:
Imagine a future in which pointing a PDA at a product bar code returns an instant readout of product source and environmental footprint to inform the buyer’s decision. This future could be reality with SourceMap. Designed as a “collective tool for transparency and sustainability,” SourceMap aims to be the Wiki of visualizing supply chains.
The web site uses a mashup of the Sourcemap data and Google Maps to display a product supply chain. With a bit of digging you can find some examples of just how complicated these supply chains can be.
Sourcemap also gives developers access to their service via a JSON REST API (our Sourcemap API profile). Documentation is a little bare, with developers having to work backwards from documentation that is generated automatically from Sourcemap deployments. However, since the project is only a beta at this point, hopefully the documentation will improve. KML files are also available, allowing the information to be displayed on Earth browsers such as Google Earth.