Grassroots Greening and the 'Mob

First, there was Carrotmob. This spring, in a not very publicized move, San Franciscan Brent Schulkin (after incubating the idea for some time) went to 22 food & liquor stores in his neighborhood, trying to see which ones would agree to make energy efficiency improvements if he could bring in a lot of customers at an agreed-upon time.

After a bit of bidding up, Schulkin got K&D Market to pledge to put 22% of profits toward greening. Through social networking and old-fashioned word of mouth Schulkin got a few hundred people - basically a mob! - to shop there on March 23, bringing the store's 3-hour sales up near $10,000. A fifth of that will pay for a new efficient light system inside the store and a number of smaller energy-saving improvements.

Carrotmob begat a number of other initiatives. A 'podmob' in Vancouver raised a few thousand dollars at a local sushi restaurant in return for the owners agreement to spend on new menus that would highlight 'best, go slow, avoid' fish choices for sushi as well as other greening. Inspired, a group of Dutch enthusiasts started Strawberry Earth online magazine and started planning events at local cafes to get the greening going.

The Carrotmob concept has even been spotted in Finland, where "Porkkanamafia" already had its first two events in Finnish restaurants - 3,250 Euros ($4,170) of extra profit at Helsinki's Juttutupa restaurant, of which 51 percent will go toward energy efficient lighting and kitchen appliances, and nearly 2,500 Euros ($3,207) for lighting at Cafe Europassa in Tampere.

Carrotmob and its spawn are classic win-win solutions because they play on people's needs - you gotta eat and buy toilet paper - as well as on their desire to do good. It aggregates consumer power in a more positive way than a boycott and creates real, green change.

Now some of the folks who brought you Carrotmob are trying something riskier and more exciting - a for-profit business combining social networking with sustainability initiatives. The six-month old company Virgance recently purchased a community solar-power initiative that it plans to roll out in 20 U.S. cities with enough eager consumers.

Virgance's 1BOG (1 Block Off the Grid) congregates consumers together to negotiate better rates for solar equipment and installations. Another good case of amassing consumer spending for positive change. With Carrotmob, 1BOG, and a philanthropic/people partnership idea called Lend Me Some Sugar, Virgance has the beginnings of a model for a new type of cool sustainable capitalism to emerge. Power to the people!