Great new idea!

7 07 2009

We just had a spectacularly beautiful July 4th weekend here in Seattle – temperatures were actually above 80, it was sunny and  sparkling.  It was just too much to post yet another bog about the dire state of our environment.  So I was floundering around looking for some great new environmental news to share.  I found some interesting stuff on LiveScience (Top 10 crazy environmental ideas) but Lucy Siegle’s list of 20 great ideas  in the Observer had  one that really got my heart pumping!

The idea in a nutshell:  rather than boycott a business – procott instead!

“The problem is that businesses will do anything for money,” says 27-year-old US environmentalist Brent Schulkin. “But what if that’s also the solution?”  This idea is not brand new – Diane MacEachern founded The Big Green Purse to empower consumers (especially women) to use their buying clout to protect the environment.  But Schulkin’s plan has an added dimension – that of adding the value of organization.

His idea was to encourage profit-hungry companies to do good by promising to spend more money with them. But he wouldn’t be making all the purchases himself; he’d bring a mob.

That was the inspiration for Carrotmob, his loosely organized group of conscious consumers.

According to  Schulkin, there’s an old saying that there are two ways to make a donkey walk forward: Either offer a delicious carrot out in front of it, or hit its behind with a stick. Think of businesses as the donkeys. Traditional consumer activism uses a lot of sticks, such as protests, lawsuits, boycotts, and so on. Schulkin’s idea is to use the carrot instead. Schulkin believes that we can get businesses to make big positive changes by offering them profits in return. It’s a positive model where there are no enemies and everyone wins.

To put his idea into practice, Schulkin visited 23 liquor stores in his Mission District neighborhood, and asked each one how much money they’d be willing to set aside for energy efficiency improvements from the profits of Carrotmob’s spending. The bidding started at 10%, and increased slightly until K&D Market offered the winning bid of 23%.

Next experts came in to inspect K&D and to offer suggestions for energy improvements. Using the internet, Schulkin puclicized the event  and nervously waited to see if any shoppers would show up.

With a bouncer at the door to ensure a safe number of people inside the little market, the line stretched to the end of the block. Store staff continuously restocked the shelves with liquor, cereal, organic peanut butter, tuna fish and other canned food. At the end of the day there were two overflowing barrels of donations for the San Francisco Food Bank and market receipts totaling $9,276, several thousands of dollars more than usual.

Schulkin’s idea is that we buy products anyway, so why not from a company that is doing good?  Ultimately he wants to create carrotmobs so big that they can negotiate with some of the globe’s biggest corporations.


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