Green Living on the Web — Will Martha and Oprah Join the Fray?

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by: Joel Makower

What to make of the recent onslaught of green-living websites? There's been a steady stream of launches coming from both small and large organizations. Even some old stalwart sites have taken on a new green sheen, sporting slick new features. And there's more to come.

But the latest generation of sites are decidedly different from the earlier ones. Several come from big media organizations: Hearst, Yahoo!, National Geographic, NBC. Each seems to have discovered green consumers, lavishing them with a rich array of articles, tips, and hands-on advice (and more than a few opportunities to buy or win stuff).

The latest to go live is iGoGreen, a section of the popular site, produced by NBC Universal, a division of General Electric. The site represents the first articulation of GE's Ecomagination initiative in the media space. (GE is a client of the sustainability strategy firm GreenOrder, with which I am affiliated.), for the uninitiated, is one of the leading women's sites on the Web, garnering 13 million to 17 million monthly viewers. Its new green site presents the same look and feel as the rest of the site, serving up both original content as well as that from Grist, Treehugger, IdealBite, and Greenopia. It offers what you'd expect from iVillage: tips, contests, self-assessments ("Where are you on the green curve?"), polls, and factoids. It's slick, but not overly so.

iGoGreen is joined in cyberspace by two other recent entrants from large media companies: Yahoo! Green, and The Daily Green from the Hearst Communications. The Yahoo! site has more of an activist feel — the home page encourages you to "fight global warming" by signing on to a pledge and by picking and choosing actions that are, at once, specific and vague ("Make sure your walls and ceilings are well-insulated.") Beyond that are news and columns, though I found these unimpressive. Example: the first installment of a monthly column by eco-whiz-kid Amory Lovins was a frustratingly short 220 words. (Amory, for those who know him, can expend that much verbiage simply talking about his dog.)

The Daily Green, for its part, is of a similar ilk as iGoGreen, but with a strong focus on food and gardening, or so it seems from the content currently gracing the home page.

Who else? There's the venerable Ed Begley Jr., whose recently launched site, Fixing the Planet, is basically a discussion board on a range of green solutions: transportation, clean power, garden and yard, and more. These forums offer "various ways to get immediately started on the path to changing the way you live and having a greater collective impact," as Ed himself (with Tim Matteson and Joseph Gutwirth) explains on the home page. It's a tad eco-geeky — but then again, so is Begley.

Two stalwarts have been updated. The Green Guide was acquired last year by National Geographic, which has brought its considerable resources to beef up the content-rich, consumer-information site. And the venerable Care2, which boasts more than 7 million members, has launched a green living section, with information on everything from public transportation to pet behavior.

There's more: Consumer Reports' Greener Choices site; IdealBite, the daily e-mail green tip service; Lime, the "healthy living" site with green tips galore; Treehugger, Grist, G Living, and on and on.

As I said, there's more to come. I've gotten advance word on several new green consumer sites, from venture capital-backed start-ups, from major corporations, and from grassroots, entrepreneurial types. All are planning launches in the next few months.

Where will it all lead? Can the public — not to mention advertisers — sustain all of these sites? Will Web surfers soon tire of "green living" and move on to something else? There's plenty at stake here — untold millions in investments, and millions more in ad dollars pledged by makers of cars, cleaning products, cosmetics, and countless other goods and services.

Above all, will it make a difference? Will these myriad sites inspire and incite the citizenry to transform their purchases and behavior in ways that move markets toward sustainability — and move the needle on climate change and other challenges? Or will they lull us into green acquiescence, the belief that doing a few "simple things" is sufficient to address our planet's environmental ills?

It could go either way. Green-living sites could be a powerful means of transforming the culture, taking environmental actions beyond the crunchy set to make them safe and sensible for the vast middle market. Or not.

And what about Martha and Oprah — will they soon join the burgeoning online green community? And Rupert, too.

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