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For many consumers across the globe, sustainability is essential in their purchasing decisions. As early as 2009, a study conducted by Time Magazine found that one out of two Americans would rather do business with a company that is mindful of the environment, even if it means paying a premium.

The interesting part about this study is that it took place in the heart of the recession. As the economy continues to correct itself, customer interest in all things green is on the rise. For these consumers, making educated and vetted choices about businesses with tangible green value has become a priority. Because there are very few universal standards of what it means to be green or sustainable, a good number of unethical businesses have engaged in what is known as “greenwashing.”

Greenwashing, in a nutshell, is packaging a product or service in a way that conveys sustainability and green practices when, in reality, there is nothing green or sustainable about the product. Alongside the increased demand for green products and services, we have seen a growth in businesses engaging in some level of greenwashing, from packaging schemes where colors convey a natural or green process, to outright business deception that has resulted in numerous class-action suits to protect consumer rights. This business environment calls for tools and resources that equip consumers to make proper decisions. 

Using the Resources Available to Confirm Environmental Practices

For a consumer who truly wants to understand the level of greenness practiced by a particular product or service provider, the research can often be overwhelming, and the tools that are available are not necessarily user friendly. One example is the Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services, managed by the EPA. While it contains important information, it is not necessarily a tool that could help a consumer find a retail business in his or her local neighborhood that embraces green practices.

Another alternative is working with existing review sites to conduct searches that might point consumers to businesses with green practices. Viable searches would probably include terms such as “organic restaurants” or “green dry-cleaning services.” When using this method, the consumer will likely locate businesses that have self-identified as having some sort of green practices, but he or she won’t be able to know how those practices compare against other establishments or how other consumers have assessed their green experience, unless a deep dive into the free-text portion of their reviews is done.

Say Hello to MilkCrate

Given the imperfect nature of the tools currently available, it is easy to see the need for a dedicated website that tackles the details that matter when it comes to operating in a green and sustainable fashion. The brainchild of Morgan Bergman, a student completing her Masters on Science in Sustainable Design, MilkCrate promises to be the Yelp for all things green.

Currently in its funding stage through Indiegogo, her vision includes the incorporation of social-sharing features, location-based data, reviews, promos, and coupons specially targeting those with a green penchant. Similar to Angie’s List, the app will operate on a membership model (at least in the beginning) but will also have a basic version available to all. Currently, version 1.0 is available with basic functions for the Philadelphia region, featuring over 2,000 businesses.

According to a study conducted by MIT in 2011, at least 70 percent of all businesses in the United States have included sustainability at some level of their core operational values. As for consumer behavior, per a survey conducted by Earthshare, 35 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for green, sustainable, and local services. Jumping on the bandwagon of sustainability is overall a good idea for your business and for your planet.

Let’s hope MilkCrate has sticking power. Having reviews specifically dedicated to green practices will most certainly facilitate business growth and generate new and valuable business leads within this segment.

Crystal Shuller

Crystal is the Director of Customer Happiness for ReviewTrackers. She's known around the office for E-mails that make everyone smile, and she has a bag of tricks and tips to help businesses solve their problems and delight their customers.

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