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March 19, 2012
Every day, most of us turn on a tap and expect clean water; we plug in an electronic device and it comes alive; we flick a switch and have light. Given the ease with which all of this happens, it is not surprising that we sometimes forget that there are many communities throughout the world that don’t enjoy these same basic services and conveniences.

When it comes to energy, Netherlands-based Do the Bright Thing is being proactive in spreading the use of solar power to those in need. Its model is similar to that of Ark, a company that turns consumers’ online activity into donations for charity. Instead of donating to nonprofits, Do the Bright Thing invests in solar energy. Do the Bright Thing runs an ecommerce portal that links to etailers offering consumer electronics, home appliances, clothing, office hardware and supplies, and books, music, and disc media. Every purchase made through Do the Bright Thing helps pay for the generation of solar energy in areas of need around the world.

Consumers sign up on Do the Bright Thing and then gets access to over one million products from more than 500 online retailers. Marked next to the price of each product is how much energy was used for its production, a figure calculated by Do the Bright Thing. Solar panels are funded by a combination of affiliate marketing revenue and bank loans; the panels eventually produce amounts of solar energy to equivalent to the amounts of energy used to create the purchased products. Do the Bright Thing has established affiliate partnerships with Amazon.co.uk and hundreds of other retailers.

Retail prices of goods on Do the Bright Thing are in keeping with other retailers, so it doesn’t cost more to shop through Do the Bright Thing. The company keeps 20 percent of the affiliate fees and invests the rest. Through a partnership with Fair Climate Fund, five percent of that investment goes to solar panels for developing countries. Within 60 days of their purchases, consumers receive emails with details on where the solar panels they helped fund are being installed and generating electricity.

Here is a mind-boggling statistic, according to the Do the Bright Thing: If all the tablet PCs being purchased worldwide this year are being bought through Do the Bright Thing, the result would supply four million households with green energy for a year. It’s definitely something to consider when making your next online purchase.

Social Media Meets Social Good
There are now many companies that give back in a variety of ways; TOMS Shoes is one that springs to mind immediately as a pioneer. Sevenly is a new company with a different approach to giving back. In March 2011, two young entrepreneurs left their six-figure ventures to chase a calling they believed could change the world. Dale Partridge, a 25-year-old serial entrepreneur known for innovative branding, and Aaron Chavez, 19, known as one of the top social media gurus in the country, got together and categorized the world’s greatest problems into seven causes: hunger, water, slavery, aid, disaster, medical, and poverty. Their goal was to create a simple business model that allows everyone to give. “We figured, if we can help people give, we could get them to care,” says Dale. Chavez notes, “We were tired of people not caring about the hungry, sick, enslaved, and forgotten.”

Every week, Sevenly partners with a new charity affecting one of the seven causes and releases new, limited-edition awareness T-shirts and hoodies for that cause. Over the course of the week, for every item of clothing sold, the company gives $7 to that week’s charity (which is approximately 30 percent of a $22 T-shirt). Seven months after its June 2011 launch, the Fullerton, CA-based company had sold nearly 27,000 T-shirts and raised about $200,000 for charity. All Sevenly products are manufactured in Fair Trade facilities in Nicaragua, China, and Peru and printed, packaged, and shipped in California.

Over 85 percent of Sevenly’s sales are driven from social media. "Sevenly is a connector," says Ryan Wood, the company's director of public awareness and partnerships. "What [our customers] appreciate most is that we connect them with charities and causes they wouldn't otherwise know about.

“A T-shirt is simply the vehicle for what we hope is a lifetime connection and passion for a charity and cause." Wood says. Sevenly first selects important causes to fund and then finds specific charities that seem to be operating most effectively in those spaces. 

This could be a great way for a company to support a cause, while creating teambuilding and employee engagement. Teams could work together to create and build strategic plans, encouraging the purchasing of T-shirts. Alternatively, groups could be given details on Sevenly’s model and tasked to create their own for-profit social-good companies.

Quote of the Month

Ethics is the new competitive environment. —Peter Robinson, CEO, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s largest retail cooperative, commited to green building, community grants, ethical purchasing, product sustainability, and promotion of Canada-wide parks and protected areas

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent incentive and event planner, freelance writer, speaker, and instructor with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, a member of Meeting Professionals International, a Site Classic 2012 committee member, a 2012 Site Southern California board advisor, and a member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at geraldine-g@cox.net, 

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Her Twitter address is @ggbrit.