Green Social Network Startups Tap Competition to Fight Climate Change

Can the power of social networks on the web be leveraged effectively to fight climate change? That’s a question a lot of companies — from startups to Yahoo to Facebook — are wondering, and it’s still very unclear. But the uncertainty isn’t stopping young firms like Carbonrally and Climate Culture from working on new deals and projects that leverage competition to encourage users to cut energy consumption and fight climate change.

Last week, Carbonrally CEO Jason Karas told us that the one-and-a-half-year-old company has sealed deals with both eBay (s EBAY) and Seventeen magazine to create competitions and challenges targeted at the partners’ user communities. For Seventeen magazine, Carbonrally has created a print and web-based campaign in which teenage girls can join teams to take actions that will reduce carbon emissions, like giving away an item of clothing, or buying something online instead driving to the store (yeah, these aren’t really “challenging” per se, and we’d hope that teenage girls would be interested in taking more substantial actions). For eBay, Carbonrally is working on its new green marketing push, “eBay Green Team,” and eBay has sponsored Carbonrally challenges, too.


Both partners are significant coups for the young company, and Karas tells us that in the week since the deals launched, Carbonrally’s user base grew by 30 percent. He also said that the idea behind creating challenges around carbon-cutting actions is to leverage Internet users’ desire for teamwork, socializing, competition, and the satisfaction of completing individual tasks.

Carbonrally is just getting started — it raised an angel round of funding and is in the process of raising its Series A — but it will be interesting to see how effective this method is at bringing in users and changing their behavior. At this point most of the challenges seem a bit light, and few ask users to make difficult sacrifices or change more substantial behaviors like giving up driving.

Like Carbonrally, startup Climate Culture bases a lot of its strategy on competition and teamwork. The New York-based company has spent the past three years amassing extensive data on energy consumption habits in the U.S. and has used that data to create two kinds of software and online services: 1). white-label online services for utilities to offer their customers carbon-reducing tools, and 2). the web site, which features a carbon-reducing virtual world, complete with avatars and weapons with which to shoot dastardly emissions molecules.

In association with its virtual game site, Climate Culture recently launched the contest America’s Greenest Campus, whereby college students sign up and pledge ways to reduce carbon emissions. Climate Culture is working with the Department of Energy and SmartPower, as well as universities including Stanford, Harvard, Penn and Yale, for the contest. The college with the most participants and the largest carbon-emissions reduction wins cash prizes. Like Carbonrally’s service, Climate Culture is betting that the desire to socialize through teams and healthy competition will be an incentive to take action to fight climate change.


At this point, who knows whether it will be online contests, video games, Facebook applications, or any of the myriad other online tools that will be powerful enough to leverage social communities on the web to fight climate change. But we’ll be trying to figure out what will work at our Green:Net conference in San Francisco this month. Carbonrally’s Karas will be speaking on our “The Green Web Effect” panel. Come check it out!