Modern society is fixated on metrics—GDP, trade deficits, salary—to explain the world around us. This is the only approach for overtaxed brains to interpret a world on steroids.
Although external indicators of value dominate the discourse today, of increasing interest to consumers are intrinsic indicators of value claims Jeffrey Hittner, founder of IBM’s CSR consulting practice and now founder of Ethikus(blog)—a new web-based social venture. Intrinsic indicators gauge sustainability practices by businesses that provide value to more than just the consumer, extending to the neighborhood or the entire planet. By offering local businesses a transparent platform, Ethikus is going to determine and promote relevant indicators of commitment towards sustainable practice to conscientious consumers who base purchasing decisions over more than just price. This kind of metrics aggregation is possible only today for both technological and social reasons. Only now does the technology exist to cheaply aggregate such live-streaming information and allow the tracking of individual purchasing behavior to high resolution. Socially, this coincides with a greater awareness and interest amongst consumers to spend their money at businesses that share their sustainable values.
Most intriguing about Ethikus is its potential to provide a new framework for modern consumers’ purchasing behavior. Easier said than done, successful implementation involves negotiating between varying interests amongst consumers on one side, and discrepancies in what businesses consider to be sustainable aspects of their operations on the other. As Hittner puts it, “Everybody has a different definition of what sustainability means. Is it community engagement, employee treatment, the cleaning products used? For a bar it could be something as specific as providing intoxicated customers with a ride home.”
The initial phase of launch will have Hittner lining up businesses to participate on the Ethikus platform. The next step will be to find parity between consumer preferences and business features to provide structure to the noise, thus moving the discourse forward. At this point he is uninterested in applying his own rating system to the businesses (much to my consternation. I believe it’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it!). Instead, Ethikus will provide salient information and leave the decisions up to the consumer.
As these consumers begin voting with their wallets, other businesses in the area can see what features an increasingly successful competitor is offering—thus pushing the entire sea level of sustainability up. Consumers resonating with a business on an ethical basis are more likely to return, as well as weather price volatility. With repeat customers being the top profit generator for any business, they will compete amongst themselves to improve their sustainability practice and implementation, thus presenting a better face on the Ethikus platform.
Ethikus is currently in pilot phase in the NYU and downtown NYC area. The team includes a growing group of eight interns from across four Northeastern universities who have been helping with signing up and mapping sustainability practices for over 50 local retailers across New York’s East and West Village neighborhoods in advance of Ethikus’ launch in the next two weeks.
ACTIONABLE STEP: Whether you are a small business owner or an intrigued consumer, head over to Ethikus to sign up and be notified once the service launches.
This article was written by me for publication on Care2.com