Over at Worldchanging, it seems a very interesting discussion has popped up [1, 2] around what it means to be an ethical business. I haven’t read the comments that prompted the note on that first article (which, I might add, shows just how strong the Worldchanging.com concept is – that they can post something, hear the comments, and make an appropriate public statement as they did) – but I certainly will check them out when I have a few moments to spare.
We were discussing a green product/company guide (which is kind of hinted at in the second post) about two years ago with our office partners when I was working at NETaccounts. Never came to anything (like so many good ideas that don’t have time to grow). Worldchanging.com suggests a bottom-up approach to reviewing a company’s ethical/environmental credentials. I think this is totally worth exploring – I’d use it, and I know lots of other people would too.
The problem, I see, is one of opinion vs. research. Jamais suggests that the “community also keeps tabs on each other’s accuracy, helping to weed out unreliable or astroturf entries.” This is the Wikipedia model, which works to a point. But can the community stop abuse of this system by corporations with enough $$ to either legally contest the statements of the site or to have employees who monitor the site, creating perpetual edit wars?
We are seeing these issues with Wikipedia, and so far I’ve not seen any solutions proposed. It’s all about the wisdom of crowds, but with some way to stamp authority or limit changes in some way once results are reasonably stable.
I also think about how businesses like Lanfax Labs, who carry out research into the environmental indicators of laundry detergents, would fit into this model. Scientific studies of a product’s environmental credentials should, in my view, carry more weight than my opinion about a product on the basis of advertised specs. So my thought is – how do you build a solid reputation system into this type of thing, maintaining the grass-roots/bottom-up approach that has made Wikipedia the success that it is.
It’s a very interesting idea, and one that’s sorely needed in my view. Hopefully those Worldchangers (more so the commenters than the contributers) can come up with something a bit more concrete to work with over time.