The Launch of by eBay

September 3, 2008

Online auctioneer Ebay , known more for its bargain prices and bidding wars then social entrepreneurship, has partnered with fair-trade start-up World of Good Inc to launch a new “green marketplace” . This new online store will feature brands and products that provide consumers with an opportunity to support sustainable practices as well as a variety of important causes.

The site uses a unique product labeling system called Goodprint, which classifies products as People Positive, Planet Positive, Animal Friendly, or Supports a Cause, then further breaks down the type of impact purchasing that product will make. For instance, items ranked as People Positive can also be classified as providing economic empowerment, preserving tradition, providing self-empowerment or increasing quality of life. In a similar fashion, eco-friendly products can also be classified as supporting eco-friendly production, energy conservation or environmental conservation. Users can also sort products by these classifications, an interesting and potentially very useful feature.

In addition to this labeling system, once you have chosen to take a closer look at a particular product, you can read detailed information about the item’s seller and producer, as well as gain more information about the item itself via a pop-up box that, despite its slight awkwardness, nicely allows you to stay on the item’s main page. And, since an item’s classification is only relevant if it is based in actual fact, the consumer is also provided with the item’s “Trust Providers”, organizations with a stated vision for promoting social good that verify not only the product but the sellers and producers as well. Each trust provider has a “profile” within the World of Good community. Many of these profiles seemed to be a bit bare. However, they do provide space for future articles, discussions and answers to consumer questions. At launch time, the listings on the site featured products from over 70 countries, all of them having either environmental or fair-trade certifications - an obvious prerequisite.

So how successful will this new online marketplace be?

From an environmental and human aspect, it is hard to tell. But there is no question that there is a market for these kinds of products. The Natural Marketing Institute estimates that the U.S. market for brands that emphasize social and environmental awareness was $209 billion in 2005, with a projected rise to $420 billion in 2010. (Statistics come from this article on ) In addition, eighty-nine percent of American consumers ages 13-25 would switch from one brand to another connected to a ‘good cause’ if the products and prices were comparable and more than two-thirds of Americans say they consider a company’s business practices when deciding what to buy. These statistics are according to a 2007 Cause Evolution Survey by Cone Inc., a strategy and communications firm specializing in “cause” branding. Cone Inc. defines "Cause Branding" as a 'business strategy that helps an organization stand for a social issue(s) to gain significant bottom line and social impacts while making an emotional and relevant connection to stakeholders.'

With sellers paying fees to list items and giving a commission on successful sales, and with the items also being blended into search results on eBay proper, eBay itself certainly stands to make quite a bit from this new venture. Along with profit, however, the site does have the potential to help consumers align their social values with their shopping decisions as well as promote these kinds of products to consumers that otherwise may not seek them out.

For further information, read an interview with with Robert Chatwani, the engineer of the World of Good and eBay collaboration on TreeHugger here .

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