Carrotmobbing, coming to European stores soon
Carrotmobbers describe their method to get local shop owners to think green as a reverse boycott.
The phenomenon is initially American, but already a local chapter has been formed in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. The philosophy is simple: rather than boycotting shop owners for not doing enough for the environment, carrotmobbers use their consumer power to reward those that do.
What's new about carrotmob - the name comes from the carrot rather than the stick approach - is that it concentrates not on large corporations but on small neighbourhood businesses: the grocery store, the supermarket, the local restaurant.
"Everybody shops but it is not organised," Niel Staes of the Flemish chapter explained. "When you do organise shopping, you can get the shop owner to make an effort in exchange for your business." For instance: get the shop owner to invest some of the proceeds in saving energy.
"Instead of telling the shop owner: we're not going to buy from you anymore until you invest in making your shop more sustainable, we will go to his store on a particular day with a bunch of people to shop. In exchange we ask that part of the money we've spent is invested in green management."
Money set aside
Carrotmob was founded in the US by Brent Schulkin. In a short film on the website, Schulkin recalls his first Carrotmob action in March 2008. "I went to 23 liquor stores in my neighbourhood (...) I asked them what percentage of the money that we spend are you willing to set aside for energy efficiency improvements in your store. (...) When the dust settled the highest bid was 22 percent." Schulkin says the action was a success: the store's turnover that day went from 1,800 to more than 9,000 dollars, enough for the owner to spend some money on making the lighting and the cooling installations in the store more environment-friendly.
Consumer action with social or political agendas are nothing new, says Evelien Tonkens, a professor of active citizenship at the university of Amsterdam. "You can see Carrotmob as a variation on the boycott of South-African oranges in the 1970s. The difference is that carrotmobbing is more active and more positive."
Buy stuff anyway
And that is precisely the point, says Staes. "We wanted a positive action that would appeal to the kind of people who normally wouldn't sign a petition or get involved in activism. They're simply buying stuff that would have bought anyway."
Staes founded the first Belgian Carrotmob in Antwerp in June, and he says the response has been good. "Our Facebook group had seven-hundred members in two weeks time." Since then a second chapter has been founded in Hasselt, and Ghent and Turnhout are showing interest. The movement is also gaining ground in France, Germany, Finland and Canada.
Internet success is nice, but are these people also going to join actual carrotmob actions? Tonkens thinks they might. "Peope are willing to spend their money more consciously; they just need a little help."