I’m typically skeptical when big corporations launch “green” initiatives, automatically assuming that their newfound eco-consciousness stance is an attempt to grab today’s earth-minded consumer, and elevate their brand in the process. And more often than not, that’s unfortunately the case, using causes and environmental issues to create the perception of social responsibility, while their commitment only goes as deep as their marketing budget. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I connected with Erin Carlson at Yahoo about the launch of their new Green Innovations initiative.
Tapping into the 500 million+ users, Yahoo, dubbed the #1 green site by Comscore (April 2009), has created a program where users can submit green ideas for improving people’s lives — and the planet, in the process. A green idea can mean using fewer resources, reusing materials, or finding a better way to get rid of unwanted stuff. Once the ideas are submitted, users vote for the ones they like best, which Yahoo will invest in taking the product to market. In addition, the winning inventor receives $2,500 and a share of the sales, along with a chance to appear on the TV show “Everyday Edisons.” That’s already infintely more effective than some glossy print ad that simply says, “hey, we’re green” or bold “recycle me” letters on a plastic-lined coffee cup that isn’t even recyclable (sorry, I couldn’t resist a friendly dig at my favorite caffeinated beverage empire).
To get the products developed, Yahoo has partnered with Edison Nation who has expertise in reviewing products, handling intellectual property, and partnering with retailers to put the products onto store shelves. There is a nominal submission fee of $10 to help offset some of the cost of doing the review, but I think that’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to bring your green innovation to life, and will likely weed out some of the wacky inventions that would ensue with an entirely free open call.
Yahoo will be showcasing some of the great ideas at Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA on May 30 and 31. The do-it-yourself community has been hacking solutions to everyday problems with everyday materials, so they’re seeking to embrace those community ideas as well, which is further support for their commitment to this project — and the people behind the ideas. The program concludes on June 30th, so be sure to visit, submit an idea or vote for those already submitted and help give everyday innovation a chance to shine.
Can you share with our readers a little more about Yahoo! Green Innovations?
We’re excited about launching this program because it celebrates new ideas and engages our audience in creating a better environment. It doesn’t stop at just ideas because the best innovations will be made into real products, and the inventors will earn $2,500 and a share of the sales. Plus, the inventors could be on the PBS show “Everyday Edisons.”
Why did Yahoo! decide to launch this initiative?
We think there’s phenomenal creativity and innovation out there, and everyday people have solutions to our everyday problems. We want to get the right ideas in front of the right people – whether by making it easier to submit an idea or asking our audience to tell us which are their favorites. We also wanted to identify a new angle on the “green theme” and realized that some of the most creative solutions were from ordinary people driven by the new realities of our economy.
How does it fit in with Yahoo’s! other environmental efforts?
Yahoo! is committed to reducing our impact on the environment and also inspiring our audience to make changes in their lives to be more green. With an audience of 500 million people, Yahoo! is in a unique position to provide people with clear actions they can take to be green in their own lives. We’re also focused on reducing our own impacts through energy efficiency, waste reduction, and more. For more details on these efforts, see: http://forgood.yahoo.com/go_green/.
How are you involving the local community?
We’ve reached out to many of the most active green and do-it-yourself communities. For instance, we’ve connected with do-it-yourself groups on Y! Groups, partnered with Maker Faire, and reached out to key universities.
What has been the response so far?
So far lots of people are voting, and we’re getting some new ideas of innovations, too. This literally launched yesterday, so we’re hopeful that people are working on ideas to submit.
What types of green innovations have been submitted to date?
Some of my favorite ideas that have already been submitted include ultrasonic mosquito repellant, a solar clothes dryer, and a hybrid hair dryer. The top voted idea on the site right now is plant fiber diapers. Check out the idea gallery to see other innovations.
Can you offer some examples of how Yahoo! is “making it green” themselves as a company?
We have a wide range of examples in energy efficiency, commute alternatives, recycling, and more. For additional examples, see: http://forgood.yahoo.com/go_green/doing_our_part/index.html. We also have some uniquely Yahoo! examples like our Chuck the Cup program (encouraging people to use reusable mugs), our co-founders sumo-wrestling when we reached 20% resource reduction for Earth Day last year, and our green team of over 300 employees.
Do you have any plans to expand this initiative? If so, how?
We’re always paying attention to what resonates with our audience. If this gets a lot of attention, it will inform our programs coming in the future.
With so many companies greenwashing their products and tying their services to “green” issues to create the perception of eco-consciousness, how is Yahoo! demonstrating an authentic commitment to the cause?
Being green is a continuous learning process – for a company, as well as an individual. We’ve taken steps at Yahoo! to reduce our impacts on the environment, and we leverage our wide reach to encourage our audience to be green in their own lives. We also listen to our audience, for instance by reading the comments we receive on Yahoo! Green to understand what people care about. The field of being “green” will continue to change, so we’ll continue to learn and grow in our own company efforts to be green, too. In addition, we are laser focused on using our best assets to impact the environment, doing it in an open way, and sharing best practices.
What types of Corporate Social Responsibility efforts has Yahoo! implemented?
In general, we leverage our biggest asset, our audience, to connect people to causes and inspire them to give back. Also, we have programs in freedom of expression, accessibility, and more. Several examples of our CSR efforts can be found here: http://forgood.yahoo.com/social_responsibility/.
What green trends have you been observing in the digital space?
People are focused on how they can save money, which is no surprise in this economy. Our audience is also interested in surprising and delightful stories – homes made of shipping containers, unusual uses for ketchup, and a racecar that runs on chocolate. During these times, people are looking for stories that uplift and inspire them. That’s a big reason we’ve launched this program.
What do you think sets Yahoo! Green Innovations apart from other green initiatives?
It’s exciting to leverage Yahoo!’s audience and network to get people involved in green innovations. With promotion from our front page, to Y! Messenger, to Shine, we’re engaging a wide audience in being creative and surfacing the best ideas to make a positive impact on the environment. Also, it’s a simple, accessible, easy way for everyday people to engage with green.
One of the key questions in my litmus test to assess the authenticity of a cause marketing campaign is if the cause takes a backseat to brand promotion. That’s usually a red flag that the cause is simply a tool to advance the brand and lacks an authentic mission to fuel it. But what I like about Yahoo’s Make It Green initiative is that the green ideas are the focus, not the Yahoo brand. Is it Yahoo branded? Of course. Does Yahoo stand to reinforce its eco-position and strengthen its connections with environmentally conscious users? Definitely. But that’s a well deserved and organic by-product of what appears to be in genuine alignment with their brand. When it comes to cause programs, marketers need to remember that they’re branding the cause, not themselves; they are merely the vehicle facilitating change. And there is no greater brand message than being the company who made a positive impact on the world.