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The green movement is bigger than your crunchy granola friends from college. And the web is a tool to meet, inform and motivate people who want to make the world a better place. At our afternoon web panel at Green:Net, participants shared captivating observations about how […]

The green movement is bigger than your crunchy granola friends from college. And the web is a tool to meet, inform and motivate people who want to make the world a better place. At our afternoon web panel at Green:Net, participants shared captivating observations about how their audiences and members are taking green action online.

Moderator Alexis Madrigal of Wired.com started the panel on a rich vein: “The Internet can spread knowledge, but can it get people to do something?” The panelists replied that that they’ve found different emerging interest groups that can be motivated in different ways.

Moms seem to be one of the largest and most actionable groups on the web from a green perspective, said panelists from startups Carbonrally, GoodGuide and Zerofootprint. They care deeply about health risks for their kids. The best way to resonate with moms is to talk in terms of toxics, not environmental impact, especially considering widespread greenwashed marketing, said GoodGuide CEO Dara O’Rourke, whose company offers information on products’ health and social impact.

Erin Carlson, the director of Yahoo for Good, had more nuance to offer after looking at what green content attracts an audience on Yahoo properties like its main page and portals for cars and jobs. She split out three main profiles within that audience:

  • Deep green: 23 percent of audience. Skewed female, metropolitan, in it for the long term
  • Trendy: 24 percent. Green to look cool. Skews younger and multicultural. Responds to messages about “everybody’s doing it.”
  • Practical: 13 percent. Older, in more rural areas. Doing more, saving time.

“People do not respond to doom and gloom,” said Carlson. “They do not respond to celebrities talking about green.” She described Yahoo’s strategy of grabbing people with a sexy headline — say, a world naked bikeride — that leads to an article about alternative transportation.

Carbonrally founder and president Jason Karas described an emerging demographic to his site’s highly interactive personal impact competitions — young people. After a promotion from Seventeen magazine, some 6,000 young girls have taken to the site to start a social movement. They are rabid users of social web tools, with far more messages and interactions on the site than their older counterparts.

There are plenty of opportunities to put understanding green-leaning users to work. Carlson used her observations of the relatively passive audience at Yahoo to suggest that more interactive products like Zerofootprint and Carbonrally might benefit from not using the term “carbon” quite so prominently. She said, for example, that as a rock climber she’d personally be more motivated by information that was described in terms of impact on rock climbing destinations rather than pounds of carbon.

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By Liz Gannes
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