Can Conspicuous Consumption Be Good for the Planet?


TreeHugger has encountered the notion of conspicuous consumption before, and what we consume as individuals and as a society can be a tricky topic. It isn't very green to buy stuff all the time, but we all need to eat, clothe ourselves and furnish our lives, so we want folks to know that there are green options available for lots of things we all buy. But what if everything each of us bought helped the planet?

That's the idea behind Carrotmob, a San Francisco-based organization that wants to use mobs of shoppers as the carrot for inspiring and driving greener business practices. They stage a "buying spree" at a particular local business, with the agreement that a percentage of the revenue from those couple hours of buying goes to energy efficiency upgrades and other greener business practices.Carrotmob is the brainchild of Brent Schulkin, who organized and held the first event last Saturday, March 29th, using web-based campaigns at Facebook and MySpace to help generate buzz. And it seems to have worked: a couple hundred shoppers showed up at a convenience store in the Mission district to buy stuff they'd use -- toilet paper, wine, cookies, etc. -- eventually, with the idea that they were helping invest in the store's greener future.

Schulkin asked over 20 convenience stores in the Mission to bid on what percentage of their revenue during the "mob sale" they'd be willing to put toward green renovations; the store that bid highest -- it happened to be the K&D; Market this time, at 22 percent -- got to be the host for the first sale. Store manager David Lee said he plans to change out the store's light bulbs and make the wall-to-wall beer and milk fridges more efficient.

The store rang up $9,400 during the four-hour event; Lee said an estimated 11 percent of that sum will go to cover tax and CRV (California Refund Value), and then 22 percent of what's left, or about $1,840, will go toward renovations. That's a lot more than this store would likely have spent otherwise, but, according to Lee, not nearly enough to address the problem of the 23-year-old fridges. So they'll start with the bulb replacement and go from there.

So, a couple of questions pop to mind: Carrotmob hopes to repeat this process, so will people continue to turn out and spend money "investing" in convenience store upgrades? And, will it generate enough to make a difference? Schulkin seems to think so, but it's still too early to tell for sure.

We're of two minds about the idea. On the one hand, it's great to see that businesses can have such an easy win-win scenario (they sell more stuff, and can easily take a small step toward greening their business) dropped in their laps, and that the planet can benefit; on the other hand, it seems like it will take a lot of events over a long period to create really meaningful change, and a lot of chips and beer will have to be purchased in the mean time. Check out a video of founder Schulkin below, and learn more at ::Carrotmob via ::Wired

See also: ::Daniel Akst on Conspicuous Green Consumption, ::Alternative Energy Mansions and ::The TH Interview: Morgan Spurlock, Producer of "What Would Jesus Buy?"

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