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Ecounit – An Effective Way to Shift Consumer Behavior Greener Without a Stick

| Wednesday June 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments

ecounit.jpegPeople, when asked, generally want to do the right thing. But outside their own desire and a vague sense of “you should,” how much and how fast do people change their behavior when it comes shopping? For many, not fast enough.
How can that change?
One promising answer is Ecounit, one of the top 10 startups featured in last week’s New Venture Exchange at the Sustainable Brands Conference.
Ecounit is building on a simple, well thought out premise: Most stores want to save money on operations. Most want to make their customers happy and make more money. Ecounit’s first project seems to be helping them do all of these, well.

Grocery bags cost money. They take resources. They’re not always recycled. How do you get your customers to use their own bags, cutting out a cost for you, while rewarding them for doing it? Ecounit creates a customizable loyalty system for stores where customers accrue “ecounits” for every reusable bag they use. Over time, these can be redeemed for things like planting trees, benefiting local non-profits, or for discounts on items in the store.
How effective is this?
In their pilot store, reusable bag use increased more then 77% in the two months following a base level count the previous two months. All this, at minimal cost to the store, inspiring increased customer loyalty. They’ve also found that customers who participate tend to buy much more then other shoppers.
Some might say, why not just tax people per plastic bag used, as in how Ireland has done it? According to Ecounit founder Kent Ragen, stores have found that time and resource intensive to maintain. Ecounit does all the work for them. What about using FSC certified or bioplastic bags? Possible, but at this point, more expensive then regular bags. Why not just find a way for less to be used, with a carrot rather than a stick?
You also might say, one pilot store does not a program prove, and how will they get in to the big, chain stores, where massive impact is possible? They have relations with Catalina Marketing, a behavior based marketing firm that works with 23 of the top 25 grocers. Ecounit’s system can be customized, as a standalone system, or integrated into the existing one at the store.
How does Ecounit make money, and who pays for it?
Ecounit gets paid either a fixed management consulting fee for running the program, or on a per unit accrued basis. Who pays for it depends on who is benefiting from it, i.e. the grocery store reducing their bag expenses.
This is just the start for Ecounit, as their next step will be to find ways to change what goes in the bag as well.
Readers: Where are you seeing effective tools/programs for shifting people’s behavior to more sustainable? Comment below please.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums.


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