CarrotMobGlobal Warming. Climate Change. Environmental Disasters. We hear these phrases again and again, so often that we feel overwhelmed – powerless and tiny – in the face of the oncoming doom.

We feel like there’s nothing we can do – what, after all, can our seemingly insignificant efforts do to stem the insurmountable tide?

Well, there is a way! We might think we have no power over the way companies do business – that there is nothing we can do to stop the blatant disregard for the environment that is the hallmark of so many companies out there.

Profit will always come first, after all, and it would be unrealistic and idealistic to imagine that that’s likely to change… Right?

Carrot Mob CampaignRight. But what if being environmentally friendly was more profitable? Instead of punishing companies for not being green, why not reward companies that are?

We all have to spend our money somewhere, but we get to choose where that will be… and if enough of us choose together, we create a collective buying power that businesses can and will notice.

That’s the premise behind a new San Francisco-based movement called Carrotmob:

“Carrotmob organizes consumers to make purchases that give financial rewards to those companies who agree to make environmentally friendly choices.”

And here’s what it’s all about:

“Our goal is to improve the world by helping companies embrace socially responsible choices. Our primary focus is the environment. We recognize that corporations must keep profit as their top priority. Historically, this fact has meant that the environment has suffered, since companies have made more money by harming the planet.

We are going to put rewards in place that will make environmental responsibility the more profitable choice. Companies will do what we want, not because of negative pressure, or morality, or a boycott, or a petition…there are enough sticks out there. We need a big juicy carrot. They will do what we say because they won’t be able to resist the profits.”

A big juicy carrot… I like it! And they’ve already shown that the idea can work. In a recent campaign in San Francisco, founder Brent Schulkin tested the system by approaching 23 bottle stores in his neighbourhood and asking them what percentage of a day’s sales they’d be prepared to spend on energy-efficiency improvements for their shop.

Carrotmob queueThe winning shop (ie the one that pledged the largest amount towards making themselves more environmentally friendly) would then be visited (on a specific day) by the members of the Carrotmob, and be the happy recipient of their collective spending money.

It was a resounding success! On the day of the campaign, the selected shop had a queue that stretched right around the corner, and made almost double the amount they were optimistically hoping for!

Over 20% of that money, spent by normal people like you and me, buying the things we’d be buying anyway (unlike here, bottle stores in the US sell more than just alcohol – toilet paper, cat food, drinks, lightbulbs – you name it), was used for making “eco-friendly improvements, like replacing energy-wasting lights and upgrading ancient refrigerators”.

It was a one-off (in this instance), but it certainly made its point: the collective spending power of ordinary folks really can make a difference – together we can make companies change the way they do business and (yes, I’m going to say it) together we can save the planet.

The beauty of Carrotmob is that the principle (we’ll spend at your place, if you promise to help the environment in some sustainable way) can be applied just about anywhere – right here in Cape Town, for example.

In our urban environment, we all have to spend money to survive – but wouldn’t it be great if we knew that money was going towards something that made the world a little bit greener, a little bit healthier, and a little bit happier?

Obviously, it’s going to need to be more than a couple of one-off campaigns to make a real difference, and there are likely to be challenges here that the guys in the US might not encounter, but I certainly believe the potential is huge, both locally and worldwide, and I plan to support Carrotmob wherever and whenever I can.

Wouldn’t you?

PS: If you do nothing else, watch this video (the longer version, if you can) – it’ll inspire you.

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