Worldchanging business

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.

Ethical labeling in fashion

Way back when I was thinking about setting up a fair-trade fashion label, I thought about how we would measure our footprint and social outcomes, and how to present that to customers.

Seems Timberland has had a crack at just that, although Joel’s post shows the short-comings of such labeling schemes. Kudos for making the effort, which breaks from traditional approaches. Hopefully they can address the shortcomings of the system that Joel points out. Certainly food for thought.

Related: I have caught up with an ex-WWF employee who has been designing clothes for some time and is wanting to have a shot at setting up a label. We’ve touched base and plan to meet in the coming weeks to share info and just generally chat. I hope that her energy can mebbe get something similar to the huméco concept off the ground. Nothing’s happened yet, but the missing link with huméco was always the design side (along with a number of organisational mistakes on my part), so I’m pretty excited to be able to pass on some experience, info and contacts to help get this off the ground.

Worn again

Treehugger: Born Again – More Than Just Funky Footwear:

Worn Again take materials like charity store coats, ex-military parachutes, prison blankets, car seat scrap leather, old towels and recycled rubber, crafting them into some funky looking trainers (that’s British for sports shoe).

Looks interesting, except for one chink in the armour: “They openly tell you a factory in China will make them, but one that honours international standards of social accountability, quality and environmental management.”

I’m extremely sceptical of such claims. But credit for being so up-front about it. My question would be – does the factory allow snap inspections by third-parties to verify/audit their operations? Somehow, given the Chinese political climate, I doubt it.

Make Poverty History

BrandChannel: Make Poverty History – Passion statement:

“Brand” and “charity” — many people still feel uncomfortable uttering these words in the same breath. Some of the members that make up Make Poverty History’s coalition still feel uneasy about combining the two. But as Live8 (a worldwide series of concerts staged to focus the world’s attention on decisions being made at the G8 summit) proved in July, Make Poverty History is a brand, and a powerful one at that.

Coles stocks fair trade

Ang and I went to an Oxfam presentation the other night and someone there mentioned that Coles was about to stock a fair trade coffee brand. Last night we found it – Scarborough Fair coffee. Keep an eye out for it if coffee is your kinda thang…