Want to Live Sustainably? There’s an App for That
Find Green is bringing conservation to the consumer-choice space.
Conservationist Leah Karrer spent all of 2016 adopting a different habit every month for what she called a year of living sustainability, with the calendar divided up into Plastic-Free January, Meatless March, Car-less June, and so forth. Through her work in international conservation, Karrer was already deeply familiar with the effects of climate change, pollution, and other environmental woes – and the large-scale changes required to curb those effects. But focusing on the personal level made her see things in a different light – especially during Put-Your-Money-Where-Your-Mouth-Is December, which “made me realize the power of the customer,” she said. It was an experience that ultimately inspired Find Green, an app for both finding and reviewing environmentally friendly businesses.
While it was clear during Put-Your-Money-Where-Your-Mouth-Is December that having consumers demanding sustainable choices was a powerful idea, Karrer saw that trying to find restaurants and clothing stores and other businesses in the Washington, D.C. area that were already making eco-friendly decisions was by no means easy. Looking for a place to eat, for example, “I would Google or look on Yelp for ‘environmentally-friendly,’ and nothing would come up.” With Find Green – one of the finalists in Round One of Conservation X Labs’ recent prototyping competition, the Con X Tech Prize – Karrer wants to change that by putting sustainability front and center in the consumer-choice platform space.
Connecting green-minded people with green-practicing businesses through a 'Green Yelp'.
Eager to add new members
The app was supported with the prize money from CXL and created with the efforts of a team of dedicated volunteers, including Marie-Therese Maurice (founder of One Minute For Earth), Nicholas Huart (t4tp), and Tom Hammond (UNEP). Like a green Yelp, Find Green connects users with sustainability-minded businesses, and offers eco-minded customers a platform for reviewing their services and the varying degrees of eco-friendly options that businesses offer. It is currently being tested by users in D.C. and is available for download for iOS on the App Store. As the company grows, Karrer said she envisions it becoming like a “green-shaded filter” that helps users find the environmentally friendly choice in any consumer setting, for any product or service.
“You go into a mall and you can't tell between the Gap or Ann Taylor which one is the environmentally friendly decision,” she said by way of example. “Imagine wearing green-shaded glasses that allow you to do that.”
In addition to the prize money that came through the competition, CXL and Find Green have established an ongoing relationship; Conservation X Labs is now serving as a fiscal sponsor for Find Green. Furthermore, Karrer said, “We found the Digital Makerspace really useful for connecting with other experts,” as well as forming new partnerships, securing an app developer, and finding a number of mentors who are now advising Find Green on things like business planning and marketing.
One of those mentors is Dr. Mather Carscallen, a green-tech entrepreneur who runs the algae-growing startup SabrTech. He said that unlike other more traditional, hardware-based conservation solutions, an app like Find Green is able to create change very quickly. “They're able to say, ‘we're having as sustainable impact on the planet’ almost immediately,” he said. “In essence, they're able to launch immediately and allow a large customer base to access more sustainable products.”
And, as more people are opting to make decisions on what they consume based on sustainability, the number of options will continue to grow. “Clearly the planet is in a state of crisis in terms of environmental degradation, and while we've seen positive response and efforts to confront this, most of those efforts have been from the government and nonprofit sectors,” Karrer said. “We recognize that in order to be successful we need to have the private sector engage.” She believes that showing the private sector that there’s a market segment that wants businesses to adopt eco-friendly practices, will help compel them to do so. She gave the example of Starbucks, which recently announced that it would phase out plastic straws following vocal feedback from consumers.
In addition, Find Green helps band together green-minded individuals who want to spend their money in businesses that support their values, as being the lone vocal patron can be a lonely experience, as Karrer found during her “Year of Living Sustainably”. She once tried to convince a favorite café near her house to stop giving out plastic straws, which the manager declined to do. When Karrer said that she would stop coming as a result, “they clearly didn't care,” she said. “If I have a way to bring together different customers so we're not feeling so alone, that makes a big difference.”
But as Carscallen said, change can come quickly: D.C. passed a ban on plastic straws last year, and has said they will fine cafés and restaurants that are still using them beyond July 1. Find Green is providing data to the city on which establishments do and do not continue to provide them, and it is giving the same information to Our Last Straw, a local business alliance, to help encourage compliance with the ban among business owners. On this issue at least, individual consumers like Karrer are now decidedly not alone.