The Hidden Cost series reflects on common products and their unintended consequences. Inspired by the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH), a concept of quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness, Hidden Cost hopes to shed light on some of the ways in which everyday products and occurrences affect our lives at large.

Ultimately, the Hidden Cost series is designed to make viewers think about life expenditures in an abstract way. Much of the data accumulated with regard to cost is either in direct correlation with spending money or intangible to the average person. For example, you may read that people spend an average of $316,000 on healthcare in their lifetime. The money spent is quantifiable, albeit bafflingly extensive at times. However, few spend time quantifying how many days humans sleep, laugh, or talk in an average lifetime. The Hidden Cost series garners attention to these abstract costs, hoping to make viewers more aware of how they interact with the world around them.

Many of the videos utilize a grading scale, which reviews each of the products through three lenses: health (physical and mental wellness), environmental wellness, and economic wellness reflecting on each category in terms of its local and global impact. Local refers to a product’s immediate and personal impact on the consumer, while global refers to the impact multiplied over populations and/or previously overlooked consequences affecting a global community. Each category is given a grade that is then averaged out to reach an overall grade.

Though inspired by GNH, Hidden Cost also takes inspiration from the principles of a social return on investment or SROI. SROI is a principles-based method for measuring extra financial value (i.e., environmental and social value not currently reflected in financial accounts.

Hidden Cost does not follow all the rules of SROI. Though researchers with humanities and social sciences backgrounds curate our program, we do not claim to be able to construct a measurement tool that truly involves all stakeholders, nor do we follow the monetization principle. We only take inspiration from GNH and SROI. We are not data crunchers or economists. We are not interested in measuring a product’s overlooked economic value; rather, we are interested in the hidden and intrinsic quality of a product to add value to our local and global community. As such, we acknowledge that the grades we produce are subjective evaluations and are intended only to provide another data point for consumers.

Like a classroom report card, we grade the products we review from A to F. Here’s how to interpret the grades:

  • A — The product has a high social return on investment.
  • B — The product has an above average social return on investment.
  • C — The product has an average social return on investment.
  • D — The product has a below average social return on investment.
  • F — The product has no social return on investment.

1 A Guide to Social Return on Investment, Society Media (2009) p. 9