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an event in which a large group of people gather at an environmentally-friendly shop or business and demonstrate support for it by buying products
'The first carrotmob in Portland, on this past Father's Day, turned out to be a huge success. (What's a carrotmob? It's positive economic activity designed to incentivize micro-efforts at small business sustainability …)'Loaded Orygun 23rd June 2009
'Carrotmobbing, in European stores now … The philosophy is simple: rather than boycotting shop owners for not doing enough for the environment, carrotmobbers use their consumer power to reward those that do.'NRC International 7th July 2009
a carrotmob rewards businesses with mass custom if they promise to use a proportion of their profits to become greener
If you'd like to support an environmental movement but wouldn't say no to a piece of takeaway pizza, then a recent event in Portland, USA, might just have been the ticket. On 21st June 2009, hundreds of consumers gathered en masse at Hotlips Pizza, tripling expected takings and thereby providing the company with the financial resources to make energy-efficient improvements. "Eat pizza and save the earth" was the slogan emblazoned on posters advocating participation in a carrotmob.
The latest take on environmental activism, the carrotmob is essentially a kind of boycott 'in reverse'. Instead of refusing to buy products or services from businesses with little or no environmental conscience, a carrotmob rewards businesses with mass custom if they promise to use a proportion of their profits to become greener. A carrotmobber is correspondingly one of a large group of consumers who suddenly buy products from a business because it is making environmentally responsible decisions.
The carrotmob is the brainchild of Brent Schulkin, an activist turned entrepreneur based in San Francisco. In March 2008, the first carrotmob centred on a San Francisco convenience store, after Schulkin had solicited bids from 23 stores in the area to find the business that would promise to spend the highest percentage of profits on more energy-efficient lighting. The 'winning' store, at which the crowd spent more than $9000, later fulfilled its pledge to spend 22% of the day's takings on installing a greener lighting system. Since then, similar carrotmob events have sprung up in other US cities, and the carrotmobbing environmental movement is beginning to take off in Europe, galvanised by social networking services and a dedicated website: www.carrotmob.org. The general perception seems to be that, with carrotmobbing, everyone wins – the business makes more profit, there's a positive impact on the environment, and the consumer has done their bit for the eco-cause with the minimum of effort – just by showing up and making a purchase that they would have made elsewhere.
The expression carrotmob takes inspiration from the (also relatively new) noun compound flash mob. First emerging in the summer of 2003, a flash mob is a large group of people who, summoned by some kind of Internet-based communication, gather en masse in a pre-determined location, briefly perform some mildly humorous activity, and quickly disperse again, the whole thing intended to be a kind of practical joke. A carrotmob therefore develops this idea by cleverly exploiting the money-making potential of the crowd, creating unexpectedly large profits and thereby sweetening the pill of investment in greener business practices.
Though the use of the word carrot might carry a tenuous link to an environmental movement conscience with its positive associations of vegetables/healthy eating etc, its use in carrotmob actually links back to the idiomatic expression carrot-and-stick, (a mixture of promises and threats used to persuade someone to do something). Rather than a stick (a boycott), companies are offered a carrot – something (in this case, custom) that is promised as a way of encouraging them to do something else (i.e. invest in protecting the environment).
This article was first published on 30th July 2009.