Vote with your dollar

In early 2006 I started a blog called Change Your World, with the sub-title “Little, everyday things you can do to make your world a better place”. I then wrote a whopping six posts before running out to things to talk about (read: getting lazy). The goal of the blog was not to be another (annoying) voice cheerleading “Yeeeay recycling! Yeeeay organic!” to “save the world”, but to point out that doing things like recycling and eating organic is better for YOU; believe it or not, it’s usually the selfish thing to do.

Further, it was an effort to get folks (including myself) thinking about the “net impact” of a product/service; about all the externalities associated with production, raw materials, transport, and so on. My opening post argued that buying recycled, eco-friendly toilet paper reduced cancer risk (possible dioxins and formaldehyde in regular tp!) while improving children’s health, preserving the environment, and saving water. It’s a bold call (I was unemployed at the time if that explains anything), but these days a growing number of folks are talking about the “total cost” of a product; for example, here’s a NYT article that talks about “food miles”, or how far food has traveled before you buy it.

To that end, though resolutions come and go I intend to make an effort this year to be (even more) conscious about how I “vote with my dollar“. Each time I spend money, I voice support for what I buy (these days, I really, really support San Francisco’s bars/clubs). Buying recycled toilet paper is not only better for me and better for my world, but it also sends a (small) message to the folks over at Charmin that I care about me and my world — and that they should too if they care about their profits (or the profits from a  Ultra-Soft 16-roll pack, anyways).

This year, I’m going to make more of an effort to vote organic and free-range (over processed and themeatrix). And to vote local (over food transported from across the globe). And to vote fair-trade (over, um, unfair-trade).

You get the idea.

For anyone interested in everyday impact, here were the six posts I made to my “change your world” blog:
Volunteer your PC through the World Community Grid
Reach for the Nalgene instead of the Evian
Don’t just search…GoodSearch!
Changing the world is as simple as changing your homepage
Loan $25 (or more) to change lives through Kiva
Wash your hands


A quick note on Manav Sadhna (amazing non-profit operating in India)

When several of your closest friends (whom you also happen to deeply admire as people, not the drinking buddies) (no offense dudes!) get involved with a non-profit (I hate the word ‘charity’), it says something powerful about the organization. Two of these friends, Seema Patel and Premal Shah, actually went to India at recent points in their lives and spent several months on location working with the organization, Manav Sadhna, which “is comprised of a young group of dedicated individuals working for the upliftment of poor and needy children.”

Last week, Seema and my buddy Dev hosted a fundraiser for Manav Sadhna in LA and were able to raise over $3,500. Here was the reply from the Uncle that Dev sent the check to (for my non-Indian peeps, ‘Uncle’ is a word used in respect for older fathers…call a younger father an Uncle at your own risk):

For sure this funds will go long ways and help many kids and mothers for our 32 on going projects…For example Shanta ba and her blind son slept hungry for 2 days last year because she couldn’t see any more and not work at age of 78! She came to MS community center for help. $42 gave her an eye operaton in govt hospital and $4 gave her the glasses she required after that. In two weeks she was all smiles and actually work and see the face of her widow daughter’s daughter!

Yeah.

They don’t accept donations on their site yet, but if you’d like to donate you can send money to Dev via PayPal and he’ll pass it along; his email addy is dev@devdugal.com.

(mp3 audio of this blog post)


The next good thing: PROJECT GOOD

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last few years it became cool to be what is now (affectionately) called “socially conscious”. Folks being conscious of their social impact is nothing new, but buying organic/fair trade/green used to get me branded as a treehugging, free-love-loving, ganja-smoking hippie (which, umm, may or may not be true) — yes I live at Haight/Ashbury, but c’mon people, I own an SUV*!

Marketers have given this raaapidly growing segment of our population a nice name. We are the LOHAS market, which according to the Wiki is an acronym for “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability that…in year 2006 was estimated at $300 billion…market [domestic].” Did you catch that? Let me repeat: $300 BILLION. A few weeks ago at GreenFestSF I got a glimpse of alll the different things people are doing to get your dollars and grow that market, including everything from “green” mattresses to anti-oxidant wonder juices to ethical investment funds. But unlike other market opportunities (like, say, oil) this market is all good because it’s all GREEN, right? Psh.

Home over Thanksgiving I picked up my wonderful hometown publication, The Sacramento Bee, to read the following unsurprising headline: Many ‘green’ claims may be shady. Umm…you think? And many claims, even if they’re true, are waaay over-hyped as the most AmAzInG thing when in fact they’re quite mediocre; not to name names but one bottled water company (Ethos) donates a nickel a bottle towards international water development projects, and they charge $1.80 a bottle…you do the math. Clearly, there needs to be a way to figure out what’s really good, and what’s not so good.

Project Good

Enter PROJECT GOOD.

It’s not here yet, but Project Good will be a marketplace where you can see how legit — or good, if you will — products really are. You know a rug is Fair Trade if you can trace that rug back to the smiling rug maker in Afghanistan who made it. You know how much of your money is going where you want it and how much is going to line the pockets of sharks trying to play you a FOOL (sorry, got a bit carried away) if there is transparency. You know you want something like this…well, Project Good is coming.

You can learn a bit more about Project Good at projectgood.com, a placeholder site for the marketplace which will be launching soon.  Project Good is a collaboration of eBay and World of Good, and the product of years of work; I highly encourage you to sign-up …

[alright, I think it’s time for full disclosure…I’m consulting for Project Good on marketing, specifically to help drive sign-ups and interest pre-launch — so yes, by signing up you’re doing me a favor : ), but no, I’m not misleading you about the potential of this marketplace. It is the brainchild of some close friends who are truly building something amazing (guys, don’t let me down here!)].

So sign-up and stay tuned….

* Which I never drive…and even still, it’s carbon neutral : )


Good Magazine & “Steal This Idea”

First off, I want to make a plug for Good Magazine. Great content, wonderful community, and the best part is that when you subscribe 100% of your money goes to one of 12 non-profits (Kiva just recently became an option!). Plus, you’ve gotta love their tag-line: A magazine for people that give a damn.

The reason for this post is to highlight a section they have called “Steal This Idea”, which I love. Folks with ideas for something / anything that’ll somehow make the world a better place can write in with those ideas, and then the editors pick the ones they like and profile one per issue. What I wish they’d do different is make it more of a democratic process and allow readers to vote on the ideas. An open flow of innovation between Good Magazine’s self-selected readership could spark some really big things, and help GOOD ideas become GREAT ideas. Yeah? You with me?

Oh fine…I’ll be honest. I submitted an idea and it didn’t make the cut : (
Luckily I have a blog and can self-publish! : ) Ready? Here it is:

Everyone has stuff lying around they want to sell but don’t have time to, right? So this is what I propose: A win-win-win for (1) people with stuff they want to get rid of, (2) the Salvation Army, and (3) local non-profits.

Step 1: Someone with stuff he/she wants to get rid of takes 5 minutes to list what he/she has and the condition that it’s all in on a simple website, and indicate which of the participating local non-profits he/she wants to benefit (minimum $100 value per item).
Step 2: The Salvation Army comes by and picks up the stuff.
Step 3: While the stuff is in the Salvation Army warehouse, the non-profit specified lists the items on eBay and tries to sell it.

If the stuff sells, the Salvation Army sends the goods out, the non-profit gets the proceeds of the sale, and the person gets a tax write-off for the selling price of the goods. If the stuff doesn’t sell, the Salvation Army gets the stuff and the person gets a much smaller, but still better than zero, tax write off. Yes, I know the Salvation Army has some very particular beliefs which I don’t necessarily agree with, but my understanding is they do a good job of taking donated items and giving them to those in need, and I’ll bet a lot of people hold on to higher-value stuff — and this might incentivize them to move those items as well. Ideally the stuff sells and local non-profits have a new, high-value revenue stream : )

I (sorta) tried to start this back in 2003, but (very) quickly realized it was more work that I was willing to do. Sad, I know. Have an idea you’re not going to make happen, and don’t have a blog to publish it so you can show off how clever you (think you) are? Send ’em into Good: stealthisidea[at]goodmagazine.com