The internet is the most open form of media available to the public, and at its core it proliferates the sharing of ideas. Environmentalism is no exception to this. The online medium allows people to shout about issues close to their heart (or wallet) and have their opinions heard on a grand scale.
The openness of the web allows a free flow of information between the public and policy makers. E-petitions, for example, can be used by campaigners to appeal for change to legislation in the UK. Other avenues like social networks have increased the public voice in mainstream media, as news programs now routinely read out Twitter comments. Almost every social bookmarking site out there has a sustainability/green section for the spread of eco-friendly news.
There’s seemingly no end to the tips, guides and calculators available for the environmentally conscious surfer. Large scale schemes like ActOnCO2 help to raise awareness of simple changes people can make to save energy, while more specialized independent resources provide in depth information on issues such as water conservation. One can compare the carbon footprints of cars in an instant or find a home for unwanted goods, preventing unnecessary landfill. Seemingly dull concepts can often come alive thanks to the interactivity of the web, making it easier to attract a wider readership.
Movers and shakers
Social movements can gather momentum rapidly online. 350.org describes itself as “A global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and push for policies that will put the world on track to get to 350 ppm” (parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere). The site has helped to organize climate-change activists across 188 countries and played a part in the rejection of plans for Canadian oil pipelines.
Earth Hour, which started off with Sydney residents turning off their lights for one hour in 2007, quickly turned into a worldwide climate awareness campaign. Earth Hour harnessed the full potential of the web to convey a message, and in doing so managed to gain the participation of 2 billion people. The site now provides a resource for the energy saving community to share information and organize future action.
The Color of Money
The Eco-movement has also demanded that businesses sit up and take notice. Environmentally friendly business models have prospered online. What used to be considered as boring corporate social responsibility is now a potentially lucrative business model for start-ups. The added value of an eco-brand is tangible; making a customer feel good about themselves will make them feel good about you! By its very nature, online commerce is more eco-friendly; less paper, saved trips to stores and distance-working are just some of the benefits.
Online collaboration and sharing services are prime examples of how the openness of the web can facilitate a green business model based on linking users and improving efficiency. There are sites to arrange car shares, to discover “leftovers recipes” or to find delivery services with spare capacity. If there’s an idea to reduce waste, increase efficiency, prolong the life of or recycle goods, there is probably a business opportunity to be had. Many of these schemes would be impossible to arrange without the platform of the internet.
There are plenty of bespoke online retailers offering all manner of green goods or fair-trade fancies, but without access to some of the internet’s most useful tools such as personalized eBay stores and Twitter accounts they wouldn’t be able to reach such a wide audience. Through the majesty of online commerce we can all be the proud owner of a driftwood table lamp.
To highlight the achievements of green start-ups there are numerous accolades to be had for serving the greater good. The Green Awards, Observer Ethical Awards and many more can boost the credentials of green companies doing great work. These prizes help ethical businesses with innovative solutions get off the ground, providing an even bigger impetus for potential eco-warriors (as though saving the planet wasn’t enough!).
While creating opportunities for green companies online, the web also exposes some of the questionable activities of big business. Freedom of information has demanded that large corporations be more transparent about their actions, emissions and purported green credentials, leaving exploitative firms open to scrutiny. Sites like Stopgreenwash, employing the phrase “clean up your act not your image”, are set up to expose the campaigns that companies use to try cover up their tracks.
The web provides a space for all voices and offers near-unlimited opportunities for green start-ups, not-for-profit awareness blogs or modern-day second-hand marketplaces. “Green” isn’t going anywhere soon and there are ample opportunities, it’s just a matter of finding the right shade.
Robert Matthams is Managing Director and founder of Shiply.com, the online transport marketplace that matches people moving things with transport companies who are “going there anyway”. By filling spare capacity in vehicles Shiply estimates it has helped to save over 34 million otherwise wasteful truck journeys.Subscribe to the Podcast