Friday, July 28, 2006

Confused? You will be!

It's not easy being green. Especially a lite one. You want to do what's best, but just when you think you're doing the right thing by doing what you're told, along comes advice that can often be completely at odds.

Hence, while not strictly green, I look at this from today's Mail, which is about energy, so it is pertinent:

The Government has urged energy customers to switch suppliers after British Gas announced further price hikes. It is the fourth price rise in less than two years and follows a 22 per cent increase in March.

Woo. The Government. And in the Daily Mail what's more. So it must be a good idea, right? On balance it seems to make sense.

But then.... you find something like this trots along from another direction, this time Martin Lewis' Money-Saving Expert (go to his site to get the full skinny):

British Gas Major Price Rise Don't listen to anyone saying 'switch supplier now!' - British Gas has just announced a 12.4% gas price rise and 9.4% electricity price rise effective 4 September. You'll read comments telling you 'switch, switch, switch', yet that message is pumped by companies with a vested interest in churning the market. Actually the sensible thing to do is sit tight!

I respect this guy, his sources and his advice a lot. So I think I'll stick with this.

But what about all the other 'official' 'You shoulds...' we get, especially in the e-area?

I don't want to be a Groucho, but...

... to quote Mr. Marx the eldest, I often feel 'I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member'.

I have been meaning to write about the whole 'free eBay'/swap arena for a while, and may soon do a formal review, but this - freecycle: TM, and R.I.P. - in today's Grist (an e-letter well worthy of subscribing to... for free) has moved me to put digit to keyboard now.

It’s always sad when something so fundamentally ‘good’, such as anything that’s not just talking about trying to save the planet but actually doing something (I’m big on tangibles) gets compromised – to any degree – by... talking. But I guess we all can't resist having opinions. So I simply advocate the notion of ‘whatever works!’, which does not exclude constructive criticism.

Freecycle is a true phenomenon, and certainly already has a firm foothold here in the UK. It is also about the only serious such initiative around that I'm aware of - not counting our little JunkkYard.

I'm pretty sure all the corporate, legalistic shenanigans would and possibly could not occur here, but we'll see. Academic anyway, as it hardly affects anything.

The issue seems to be cultural. Personally I had trouble (hey, ours is not perfect and we're always working on it... funds permitting) coping with the system Freecycle used/s and have given up with it. But a lot do. So if asked we will happily advocate trying JunkkYard AND Freecycle (and now a few others this post has made me aware of, if they are over here). Why not? They're both free, not exclusive and achieve the same result. And we gain from being helpful all round, so with luck will get revisited. So what is being defended here?

As a consumer you go where you feel comfortable. In the UK I sensed the same 'clique' tensions creeping in. When I could be bothered to read the vast numbers of daily emails, there'd often be sniping going on. Why so heavy? Who needs it?

For sure we're keen to create a community, and there is a Forum for people to engage, but mostly it's just a tool. Like some others mentioned, our model is much more Google or eBay. Donor/Beneficiary. Post/Surf. Offer/Collect. Beyond providing the matchmaking mechanism (and enjoying passive exposure to the traffic created) what other involvement is required?

We opened from day one with our hearts on our sleeves... well, our business model up there on our banners.

Much like Anita Roddick's sale of Body Shop, if you start as one thing, you can probably expect to cop some flak when you try and change the fundamentals. Especially having established with a super-ethical ‘no money involved’ stance, to trying to turn a buck, even if it’s just to keep funding the whole shebang. And moving from voluntary to sponsored will put a few supporters' noses out. Sadly the whole e-movement can be quite ‘purist’ in approach when it comes to making green, and beyond grubby money, standards of hotly advocated 'best practice' (who decides?) can also often alienate those who are a lighter shade and lives to get on with.

Frankly I can't quite see what’s the problem (being commercial that is). However, being uber-precious and especially getting the shark suits involved does not seem productive. I wonder who funds this aspect? And why? Does this suggest a another, possibly more financially-aspirational agenda?

If it is, consumer preferences and market forces will decide. Welcome to the club.