One Tuesday morning, an East London bar announces its’ intention to spend 20 per cent of the day’s takings towards improving sustainability and incorporating environmental upgrades into the business.
Word gets out, and social media is used to organise a ‘flash mob’ of patrons to visit the bar. That night, the place is packed with socially conscious customers seeking to reward the business’s environmental commitment. Trade is brisk. Ridiculously so, meaning that even more cash goes towards the eco-friendly improvements.
This is CarrotMobbing; a new way of encouraging ethical practices in small businesses where ethical consumers unlock their bargaining power as a group. CarrotMobbers use the term ‘liberating’ their capital.
The Carrot not the Stick
For decades, the puzzle of how to drive change towards more sustainable and ethical business practices has dominated debate among conscious consumers. So far, the dominant tactic has been to punish poor practice by boycotting or protesting, which has a limited response.
But CarrotMobbing moves away from that ‘stick’ approach to punishment and instead uses the ‘carrot’ – hence the name – technique of rewarding suppliers and businesses with loyalty in exchange for ethical and environmental improvements. And it does it in a way companies understand – with hard cash.
The movement began in 2008 when Brent Schulkin cycled around 23 convenience stores in San Francisco promising more customers if they pledged to invest some of the proceeds towards energy efficiency. At the store that pledged the highest offer, he ‘made it rain’ money.
Schulkin was attempting to make the established concept of consumers ‘voting with their feet,’ more effective. ‘In the past when you wanted to say, ‘Let’s reward this one business,’ Schulkin told The Guardian shortly after his first CarrotMob endeavours, ‘you would have no easy way of knowing whether every-one else was going to reward them too, that it wouldn’t just be you.’
Today, whether it occurs organically, or in pre-arranged collaborations between business managers and lead activists, it is easy to generate a swell of participants in a short space of time using platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even TikTok
Large scale CarrotMobs can be arranged with longer lead times, or smaller events can be created in a matter of hours.
On the face of it, CarrotMobbing works because it ticks a large number of positive boxes:
- CarrotMobs are easy to organise and participate in
- They are a no pressure and no danger form of activism without legal or social grey areas
- They generate immediate financial and promotional reward for ethical practices
- They create social events for like-minded people to get together
- They create attractive occasions which may engage previously dormant or casual activists
- They create networking opportunities for ethical campaign groups and individuals
- They create word of mouth awareness of both the cause and the business
- They encourage more businesses to create and announce new ethical commitments
- They generate an improved image for ethical campaigners as congratulators rather than saboteurs
The list could go on, but the major supporting factor for CarrotMobbing seems to be that everybody wins. It is a voluntary form of activism that creates simple encouragement for change rather than using negative confrontations, or polarising demands.
In comparison to boycotts, protests, demonstrations, or even more extreme forms of activism, CarrotMobbing is inclusive, friendly, positive, and palatable even to those who may be in opposition to the cause. In addition to this, it seems to be effective. Even if the impacts of CarrotMobbing are only felt on a small, or local, scale, they are immediate and easy to recognise. If the movement grows, who knows how much those benefits can grow too.
While there are now established groups and networks for already initiated CarrotMobbers to arrange and discover upcoming events, anybody can create a mob using tools such as Facebook Events, or by circulating details via post sharing and hashtags. This democratises the concept and allows it to grow organically and find its place in each community, large or small.
As a relatively new movement, there is currently little data that measures and demonstrates the true impact of these generated moments of positive pressure, but it is hard to argue any negative side effects or outcomes such events may bring.
Time will tell, but from today’s perspective, the question is clear. Could CarrotMobbing finally be the tool activists have been looking for to drive real ethical progress in everyday business practices?
‘I see CarrotMob franchises all over the world translating good into profit,’ founder Schulkin observes. ‘At that point, I think we have critical mass to take on the larger companies. We are the economy, we decide who gets rich.’
Although there have been no reports of CarrotMobbing in the UAE yet, it’s likely some forward-thinking businesses will adopt the practice in the coming years. Ethically-minded consumers can wield their purchasing power for good encouraging businesses to pursue more socially responsible practices.