GREENtrepreneurs: RecycleBank Shows Kids it Pays to Go Green!

recylebank.jpgShaping Youth sent Rebekah Cohen, one of our newest correspondents (Rebekah has a Masters in Child Development from Tufts University, and media chops on the “commercialism in schools” gig) to cover this week’s MIT/Stanford Venture Lab event which was called “GREENtrepreneurs” all about helping people go green and the consumer/tech market.

Her assignment? Find out how GREENtrepreneurs can apply to children…And how kids can engage at their own level to see the benefits of going green. (see U.K. based Green Girls Global and their pals at Green Guys Global (not to mention a slew of links to other eco-resource blogs) to get a vibrant snapshot of how youth are shaping the green sphere of influence along these lines…

I wanted to attend Greentrepreneurs myself, but I’ve been ping-ponging from conference to conference this week (reports to come). First, it was the S.F. Fresh Focus/Do GooderTV teen winners of the sex ed video contest, then I zoomed up to the Champions of Change “Network for a Healthy Ca.” obesity/wellness summit in the state capitol. Whew…Back in the S.F. Bay area now, but backlogged, as usual.

In addition to Rebekah’s feedback, Sustainablog added great insights on Tuesday’s VLab panelists too, including KPCB (VC capital w/Al Gore & John Doerr as partners) GreenPlug (bridging electronic media devices and their power sources with greentech) and our favorite, Recyclebank where you literally ‘get green’ for going green

I did a bit of research and found RecycleBank featured on the EPA site with some remarkable outcomes using their computerized bins in Philadelphia…VERY impressive…

greenmoney1.jpgHow can we reframe an MIT/engineer-speak, post-graduate forum into a child-friendly, eco-kids ‘best practices’ lifestyle shift fueled by excitement and energy of “getting green for going green?”

Easy. Children, recycling the concept of peer to peer marketing…

First we take the bigger questions that Vlab asked:

How will green tech solutions transform your life and living space?

What are the green tech trends for 2008 and beyond?

Is green tech ready for mass market?

What types of consumer green tech start-ups are getting funding today?

What are the opportunities for aspiring “greentrepreneurs”?

How do US greentech trends compare with other countries?

What role will government play in promoting consumer greentech?

Then put a Shaping Youth focus on the positive potential:

How can we take these trends and track them into lifestyle habits, instilling change in early childhood to develop sustainable behaviors?

In the case of RecyleBank, they use a ‘rewards’ point system and coupon credits, where kids can earn up to $35 a month by ‘recycling’ their points/rewards back to support businesses aligned with going green. (That’s co-founder Ron Gonen, at left)

gonen.jpgHere’s their FAQ, some of their partners (I could see this being a HUGE social entrepreneur opportunity at the local level) and some of the Philly press buzz. And without further ado, here’s Rebekah, with cleantech trends, consumer products, and a keen eye toward how children can take up this cause firsthand…

It Pays to Go Green, Literally! Love this idea. (my daughter would be ‘all over this’ as they say in kidspeak)—AJ

Green Money for Green Behavior by Rebekah Cohen

Everyday I feel like I hear about another company Going Green.

It seems that the color green is magically redeeming companies that have long been on the defensive concerning unsound practices, from outsourcing labor to employee treatment, but when we see positive trends, they need to be acknowledged and applauded.

After all, if it’s good for the environment, economical for the consumer and lucrative for the company, then perhaps as a society we ARE moving in the right direction, environmentally speaking…

In the end, does it really matter if this sudden change of heart is making more money for the rich guys? It’s also making way for the ecologically innovative business-minded techies to collaborate and create products and services that will help lead consumers down a clean and practical path to a safer and healthier environment. Even more, in some cases, it’s giving consumers a chance to jump in and reap some of the benefits.

To explore this rapidly growing field of adventure capitalist going green, I sat in on the GREENtrepreneurs —Green Tech for the Consumer Market presentation and panel discussion at the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB).

Some of the projects these VCs were cranking out were mind blowing. When I was not too distracted deciphering the somewhat esoteric language of the software developer, engineer, economist, etc., I was nodding my head, thinking “Wow, that’s exactly what we need!”

By far, one of the coolest presentations was Ron Gonen’s program RecycleBank. Essentially, this organization works with municipalities to pay the consumer for recycled goods using a point system. The points translate into a monetary value (x lbs = x points = x dollars) that can be used at cooperating stores (e.g. Walgreens, Starbucks, Petco, etc.).

This is all tracked by an identification code on the individual recycling bins and then recorded by the recycling truck on pick-up day. A person can then go online and monitor their points.

The company profits by charging the city 50% of whatever they’re saving on landfill space.

That is, if more people are recycling due to the program, the city saves money on garbage disposal and, in turn, pays RecycleBank 50% of their savings. The company also makes money by advertising the partnering stores on the website.

It’s an ingenious idea because everybody gets something out of it: the consumer gets material incentives, the city saves money, the company makes money, and this process is directly benefiting the environment.

So, how can you get your kids to take advantage of some of these programs and Go Green?

Well, I think Gonen’s organization had a good idea when they began offering green money for green behavior.

I’m not advocating bribing children into becoming environmentally conscious citizens; but I am suggesting taking these kinds of programs and turning them into a game that just so happens to have real benefits and real rewards.

For example, if RecycleBank is available in your neighborhood (they’re not yet national), you could put your kids in charge of recycling and tracking points. This would allow them to earn some of the points and use them at their own discretion…

Yes, I agree it would be great to be able to instill children with a sense of social responsibility without having to give them something in return. But the fact is, many adults’ concerns for the environment are not at the top of the list, so why would we expect this of children?

And children can still learn the ecological value of recycling while receiving something of monetary value —not to mention learning the importance of work (maintaining, recycling, tracking points, etc.) and money (x lbs = x points giving you x amount of dollars to spend at x store).

Thinking broadly, this kind of program could be expanded and implemented in schools and community organizations where children would have the opportunity to directly participate in improving the environment while simultaneously having a chance to earn something for their efforts.

—By Shaping Youth Correspondent Rebekah Cohen

Rebekah makes a strong case for incentives and rewards as positives, much like any corporate sales environment…it’s not ‘bribery’ any more than stickers for a job well done…it’s economic incentive with an ethical imperative to boot.

Great idea. Thumbs up. Count us in!

greenappleworld.jpgBy the way, their caliber of sponsors sends a ‘brand consistent’ message. This would lose all steam for me if some opportunistic hack like a junk food company tried to get in the game to glean kids’ eyeballs and find a new conduit for cross-messaging.

As it is, their sponsors are solid, on message, and marketing in a similar vein. Bravo!

Visual Credit: EPA website photo of RecycleBank co-founder Ron Gonen

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