Carrotmobbing

Goodlifer: Carrotmobbing

As the old saying goes, there are two ways to make a donkey walk forward: offer a delicious carrot in front of it, or hit its behind with a stick. Bad behavior should be punished but, more importantly, good behavior should be rewarded. This is the guiding principle of carrotmobbing. It’s very simple: a group of people gather (using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter) at a retail or service establishment that has agreed to put a set percentage of the day’s proceeds toward environmental improvements and buy their wares.

There’s an old saying that there are two ways to make a donkey walk forward: Either offer a delicious carrot out in front of it, or hit its behind with a stick. Think of businesses as the donkeys. Traditional consumer activism uses a lot of sticks, such as protests, lawsuits, boycotts, and so on. We want to use the carrot instead. We believe that we can get businesses to make big positive changes by offering them profits in return. It’s a positive model where there are no enemies and everyone wins. So that’s what the Carrot means. The mob refers to the large group of consumers who come together to achieve this common goal.

A carrot is always better than a stick. A young carrotmobber in Bremen, Germany. Photo by carrotmobbremen, Creative Commons.

A carrot is always better than a stick. A young carrotmobber in Bremen, Germany. Photo by carrotmobbremen, Creative Commons.

Neither I nor the people behind Carrotmob suggest that we should try to shop our way out of the mess we have created. However, by putting collective purchasing power behind a company that aligns with our values, we can use our dollars to vote for the kind of change we would like to see in the world. Carrotmobbers only buy stuff they would ordinarily purchase, like toothpaste and beer, just in a deliberate location.

Carrotmob at Queen Street Grocery in Charleston, SC. Photo by Charleston's TheDigitel, Creative Commons.

Carrotmob at Queen Street Grocery in Charleston, SC. Photo by Charleston’s TheDigitel, Creative Commons.

Carrotmob was founded by Brent Schulkin, who believes that rather than protests and boycotting, what can really make a difference is harnessing consumer buying power for good causes. “Who else besides the government is powerful enough to help save the world? Business! The problem is, corporations will do anything for money. But, what if the solution is, corporations will do ANYTHING for money? If we start organizing what we’re going to buy, then suddenly we can combine all our money and get this huge amount, that we can use to negotiate with.”

To organize the first carrotmobbing, Schulkin went to 23 liquor stores in his San Francisco neighborhood and told them that he would assemble a group of people that would come and spend a lot of money in one of these shops — the one that agreed to put the highest percentage of profits toward energy efficiency improvements. The highest bid, 22%, came from K & D Market. Experts from the San Francisco Energy Watch Program visited the store in advance to determine what improvements could be made. Then, Schulkin set a date and told people to come shop. The worries about whether anyone would show up were quickly put aside as a long line formed outside K & D Market, around the corner of the block. Hundreds of people came and together spent $9276.50 (compared to the usual daily average of $1800-3000), double the owners’ prediction. This was enough for to completely retrofit the store for optimal energy efficiency.

A large crowd formed outside K & D Market in San Francisco, for the first-ever Carrotmob. Photo by meganpru, Creative Commons.

A large crowd formed outside K & D Market in San Francisco, for the first-ever Carrotmob. Photo by meganpru, Creative Commons.

A recent Carrotmob in New York brought supporters out to the improv comedy club The Pit, with 100% of the $1,038 revenue going toward green improvements at the popular Chelsea Club. The first UK Carrotmob took place at the Redchurch, a bar in east London that promised to put 20% of the day’s sales toward on-premise environmental upgrades. Carrotmob.org does not have any data of how much money the bar made on that night, but data for many past carrotmobbings can be found on the website.

Carrotmobbers outside Guse Hardware in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by 350.org, Creative Commons.

Carrotmobbers outside Guse Hardware in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by 350.org, Creative Commons.

Because of the grassroots nature of carrotmobbing there are no written contracts, it’s all done via verbal agreements. So what about enforcement? What if a participating business wouldn’t follow through on their commitment? “They are participating because they believe that Carrotmob has the power to give [the business] a good reputation, so it should be obvious that Carrotmob has the power to hurt their reputation as well. If Carrotmob members were to discover that they had been deceived, that business’ reputation would instantly go from an A+ to an F. That sort of reputational damage would cut deep. That fact should be enough of a deterrent to make sure promises get kept.”

Schulkin envisions eventually being able to take this concept directly to manufacturers, offering huge sale volume in return for environmental improvements. Sales would pay for (all or part of) the improvements, and people get what they want. “There’s never anything negative about it. We never attack anyone — because we don’t need to — it’s positive cooperation. The best company wins, the consumer wins and the planet wins.”

As in all popular movements, it’s all about the numbers. If enough people show up in support, change is inevitable. Says Schulkin: “We are the economy, and we decide who gets rich. It’s consumer power, and we have to respect it.”

Top: Recent Carrotmob at Que Pasa Amigos in Bremen, Germany. Photo by carrotmobbremen, Creative Commons.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Thank you for the profile, Johanna! I’ve been obsessed with this for a while – let’s Carrotmob here! xx

  2. I’ve been meaning to write about it for so long. It’s such a great concept.
    So let’s do it! Do you have any good candidates?

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