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Carrotmob nibbles away at consumer – business barriers

Making a profit while protecting the environment might seem impossible to some businesses. However, the activist group Virgance would disagree.

Last year, the organization launched its “Carrotmob” project, which aims to increase businesses’ environmental awareness by offering a carrot instead of wielding a stick.

The concept is simple: Carrotmob combines consumer buying power with businesses’ need to make a profit to create a win-win form of activism. In exchange for spending a percentage of a day’s earnings on improving their environmental practices, businesses recieve free advertising as well as a mob of committed buyers.

The first Carrotmob event took place March 29 in San Francisco. The group went to local liquor stores and asked each how much of its profits it would be willing to spend on improvements to make its store more energy efficient. The highest bidder — at 22 percent — won an organized network of customers at its doorstep.

The group spread the word as best it could — telling friends, creating a Facebook event and even planning a free concert to draw more people. The turnout surpassed expectations: In just a few hours, the store made more than $9,000 — double the amount predicted and enough to completely redo its lighting system.

Virgance co-founder Brent Schulkin said he was inspired by the book Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold.

“It got me thinking about the power that can be created just by connecting groups of people into networks, and spurring those networks into action,” Schulkin said.

He said companies jump not only at the chance to make money, but also at the chance to improve their reputations.

“In an age when companies are desperately trying to be seen as authentic and good, they have plenty of motivation to try and please an authentic grassroots network of consumers like us,” Schulkin said. “They know we have great power when it comes to defining their reputations.”

Schulkin and his team filmed the first Carrotmob event and released the video on the Internet. Since then, several Carrotmobs have sprouted up in places like Kansas City, Brooklyn and Helsinki, Finland.

While Schulkin is proud of these accomplishments, he said Virgance has bigger plans for the mob.

“After spreading and growing the mob with these local events, eventually we hope to start planning Carrotmob events that target large corporations,” he said.

As well as positively impacting businesses and consumers, Carrotmob can also play a role in the classroom. Alex Hernandez, a sociology graduate teaching assistant, showed the Carrotmob video to his Contemporary Social Problems class during a lecture about corporations and their “money first” mentality. He said he hoped the video would show students that anyone can make a difference.

“It clearly demonstrates the fact that we as citizens have options when it comes to bringing about change that (don’t) rely on violence or simple protests,” Hernandez said.

After watching the video, students were asked to come up with their own form of positive activism.

Hernandez said Carrotmob’s concept of “positive cooperation” provides fertile ground for new ideas on social change.

“Too often when students hear the ‘doom and gloom’ that sociologists tend to talk about, they start to become pessimistic — or worse, apathetic — about the major social problems facing our society,” he said. “However, through this video and Carrotmob’s example, they can clearly see that change is possible and can even be fun.”

For more information on Carrotmob gatherings, visit