Taking a step beyond the certified- green-label: what if you had a personal agreement with a business that the money you spent would go towards sustainability? “If people really vote with their dollars, shouldn’t there be an election day?” asks Brent Schulkin, an activist turned entrepreneur who co-founded the company called Virgance. The company got its start after Schulkin brought folks out to stores in a new consumer action called carrotmob, a “method of activism” that encourages businesses to spend their revenue on socially-minded endeavors.
Schulkin launched the first carrotmob event in March of 2008 in San Francisco, CA after being inspired by Howard Rheingold’s Smartmobs, which examines the potential influence of what we know today as social media (Rheingold wrote his book in 2002). In particular, Rheingold felt that the internet and other forms of technology would open up opportunities for people with common interests to temporarily cluster together.
Using this potential influence to push social and environmental responsibility, Schulkin asked liquor stores in his neighborhood what percentage of sales they’d be willing to put toward green building improvements, promising the store with the highest bid that they would gain the promotion of carrotmob and subsequently get “mobbed” by shoppers on a future, coordinated date.
The winning bid was 22%. With the endorsement of carrotmob, shoppers lined up around the block –breaking the lucky stores’ previous sales records. The resulting video of the event went viral, inspiring folks around the world to start their own carrotmobs.
Last December marked the first carrotmob in Brooklyn, captured on video by current TV. Another mob recently descended on Hoboken, and carrotmobs are currently spreading to Finland and France, as well as throughout US and Canada– the progress is all compiled by Virgance in a handy list of blogs. While some sites provide little more than announcement of intent, some mobbers are documenting their progress with video and even garnering the support of companies like ZipCar.
Carrotmob is currently still a volunteer grassroots effort. Virgance is the umbrella organization that hosts the website for carrotmob, but has yet to create a standardized a mob manual, and can’t afford to put someone on the project full-time. In the future, the company would like to offer financial incentives to build and live sustainably to more than just businesses. Currently, Virgance is focused on a bulk-buy solar project called 1BOG.