Environmental Shopping Websites

This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2251, , as a feature article, in both their print edition (on pages 28 and 30) and their website.

While some Luddites might consider the Internet to be a seductive yet dehumanizing tool that further separates mankind from the natural world, the "Net" is clearly bringing together environmentally conscious and active people and organizations. In essence, it is making it much easier for physically distant individuals and groups to communicate, plan, and organize get-togethers, such as ecological rallies, beach cleanups, and guided tours through protected areas.

Moreover, even the most diehard environmentalists need to function in a material society, and this necessitates making choices from among all of the available products and services. The Internet has the potential to greatly facilitate promoting "green" products and services, i.e., those which have the least negative impact upon the biosphere. This could take the form of an item being made only of organic components, or manufactured so as to minimize toxic emissions, or shipped using recyclable materials.

Given the strong interest throughout developed nations in protecting the earth's resources (or at least claims to such interest), one would think that there would be a large number of companies online offering environmentally sound products and services. However, there seem to be remarkably fewer than one might expect. Perhaps this is a result of that niche still remaining an untapped market, or perhaps one that is perceived by typical businesses to be too small for exploitation (to use an environmentally unfriendly term).

Regardless of the small number of such websites, I will discuss the larger and more promising ones in this article. The reader will likely see that it does not take a tremendous number of such businesses to collectively provide the average consumer with worthwhile choices. Just as with recycling and other ecological efforts, it is the sum of many minor steps that can result in major progress.

Catalog Sites

Perhaps the most extensive website devoted to environmentally responsible products, is EcoChoices Natural Living Store, which consists of 13 separate virtual stores, each one devoted to a particular usage of consumer products: They include EcoAnimal (pet products), EcoArtWorks (crafts, painting, and penciling supplies), EcoBathroom, EcoBedroom, EcoBicycles (featuring the eGo Electric Cycle), EcoBodyWear, EcoByDesign, EcoDaySpa, EcoKitchen (from drink coasters to refrigerators), EcoSofa, and EcoMattresses (latex mattresses, even in the shape of a tomato!).

The EcoPatio store features a proverbial "better mousetrap", more specifically, the Humane Mouse Trap, which ensnares the lucky mouse in a box made of green, see-through plastic. It is endorsed by American and foreign humane societies and animal rights organizations, likely because it does not kill the critter, and possibly because it measures a generous 3" x 7" x 2.5". (That seems not much smaller than some studio apartments that I have lived in, none of which were endorsed by any humane societies.)

EcoToyTown has all sorts of toys for children in age ranging from 19 months to 13 years. The emphasis is on non-competitive games, in which all of the players work together to achieve a particular goal, such as climbing a mountain, exploring space, or developing a community. These games have at least one major advantage over traditional competitive games: In the latter, two players of widely disparate skills will probably not have much fun competing against one another, unless the game has an effective means of handicapping. In a co-operative game, two such players can work together, each contributing as much as they can.

Another well-known eco-business on the Internet is GreenHome, which offers apparel for men and women, appliances, bedding, furniture, and home furnishings, as well as products for lighting, pest control, pets, children, the bathroom, and the kitchen. Reading the website's pages describing the business and its staff, it is evident that GreenHome, like the last business considered below, was started as a one-person shop, in their home, and was grown by people who have a strong interest in protecting the environment at the same time that they are creating a new enterprise.

In addition to the relatively sizable online businesses discussed above, there are some smaller eco-friendly websites which specialize in products for a particular field. For instance, ECOnomically Sound focuses on items use by the hospitality industry. One question that comes to mind is how businesses with such limited numbers of products, can generate enough revenue to remain financially solvent. Perhaps the lower expenses of an online business make it possible, or simply delay the day of reckoning.

A Dynamic Alternative

While the aforesaid companies may offer a wide range of environmentally oriented products, they all share a common weakness: Each one is essentially a static online catalog, with no way for website visitors to learn the impressions of other visitors, or discuss the products in any sort of forum. This is one area where San Diego's own PristinePlanet.com really shines. Users of the website are welcomed, even encouraged, to rate the products and services offered, to share their own opinions in the form of user reviews, and to discuss any of the offerings in an open forum.

As editor of the website's newsletter, I was able to spend some time with the principal of PristinePlanet.com, Cathy Finn, to learn more about how this young but growing eco-business intends to help protect the environment while not ending up in the e-commerce "compost pile". In a recent interview, Cathy explained that an interactive website can provide much greater value to the website visitor, because they can learn from other people's experiences with the offerings. As further input, people can nominate organizations that they feel would be worthy additions to those already listed.

Cathy noted that the website's primary goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to make a difference on the planet, by educating themselves with facts and figures before they make their next purchase. In essence, they can make their everyday shopping dollars truly "green".

As a result, busy consumers can easily learn about ecologically responsible organizations, including products and services that they use on a daily basis, or need just for special occasions, such as gift-giving. For example, visitors to PristinePlanet.com can discover unusual offerings from Greenfeet, which sells natural and sustainable products that the average shopper might not otherwise ever hear about.

Regardless of which websites you use for learning more about ecological products and services, you will know that your purchases — and recommendations to others — can have a positive impact upon the world. As daily consumers, every one of our purchases is, in effect, a vote with our dollars. Just like in a political election, your one vote may seem insignificant, but if enough people vote in the right direction, then it can have a tremendous impact in changing the world in which we live, and the one that will be inherited by our children.

Copyright © 2004 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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