The labyrinth that is New York's local business scene just became more navigable for conscious consumers thanks to ethikus
, the city's new compass for ethical shopping.
Ethikus.com uses weekly suggestions to promote small businesses representing all things green and good. These vendors are chosen using a comprehensive audit system to determine whether they meet the site's strict standards on sustainability and fair labor practices. When room for growth is identified, ethikus uses its network and resources to help businesses reach a new set of ethical benchmarks.
The website currently supports local, sustainable vendors in the lower Manhattan area, and this May, the group will hold a city-wide event called Shop Your Values Week
to celebrate hundreds of these like-minded small businesses.
This event, along with the website as a whole, will serve as far more than a promotional vehicle. Founders Jeff Hittner and Jon Schwartz believe ethikus represents a movement — an online community through which good intentions can be translated into new, long-term consumption patterns. Considering that Jeff founded IBM's Corporate Social Responsibility Consulting practice and Jon is a tech guru skilled in designing websites and databases, the initiative has a lot of promise.
Read their interview below to learn exactly how ethikus is advancing ethical commerce in New York.
MNN: What value does ethikus provide responsible, sustainable businesses?
Ethikus: Ethikus is a platform for businesses that do good to share their efforts with a community of people who want to support businesses that share their values. We also provide resources for businesses to make further improvements, whether that be an energy audit, signing up for composting, or connecting them with local community organizations. We work in the unique space between consumers, businesses and nonprofits in hopes of furthering efforts for a more sustainable NYC.
How do you help responsible businesses gain exposure within their local communities? Have you seen your efforts translate to new customers for your partners?
First we highlight featured businesses in an email to a growing community of consumers who care about businesses that support community, environment and employees. Second, we do a unique video interview with the business owner in which they describe their values and efforts along with promoting their business on our social networks and blog. For example, one of our first featured businesses, Zerza, had a party of 20 ethics students dine at their restaurant because their professor, a member of our community, had seen them featured on our site and decided to host her class there because of their ethics and sustainability efforts.
Could you explain the screening process you go through to determine whether local businesses are ethical and sustainable? What sorts of information or reports do these businesses share with you?
We have a mobile app that allows us to walk into a store or restaurant and survey them on our smart phones or iPads. The survey can also be completed online. We survey four core areas: Environmental mitigation, community engagement, employee support and product sourcing. For example, we ask if they use chemical-free cleaning supplies, whether their employees are given formal training, and if their products are local and organic. When we film the video with the owner, we often discover additional innovative practices that people should know about.
What are your primary goals for your upcoming event, Shop Your Values Week?
To create a movement. We really should call it the Shop Your Values Movement. We want to help people make better purchasing decisions — better for themselves, their community and their environment.
During this week, we'll concentrate our audience's attention on stores and restaurants that are actively supporting their employees, environment and community. We expect to drive change on the business side as well by requiring 20 percent of businesses that want to participate but don't qualify to commit to and implement sustainable business practices.
By encouraging our community of local businesses and shoppers to make commitments beyond the week, we will hopefully enable a movement that supports long-term sustainable consumption in our neighborhoods.
Have you noticed any trends in how businesses may struggle to advertise the value of behind-the-scenes sustainable actions?
Part of the reason why ethikus was created was to fill four gaps:
— Some businesses still don't know how important it is to have these practices
— Others don't know there's a consumer interest in their good practices
— Even more don't know where to access the resources to help them make the changes towards sustainability
— And some have done amazing things but just don't promote it!
What we want to do is help businesses with all these things!
What do you view as the greatest challenge for start-up green businesses? Do you feel it's more often an issue of cost, communication or accessibility of resources?
If you're talking about ethikus, it would be access to funding, simply put. While there is hype about green or social investors and investments, our experience is that the money is looking for far more mature businesses than those truly at the startup stage.
While fostering a tight-knit community around the concept of sustainable business, do you feel that ethikus could inspire greater accountability and consistency among consumers and vendors alike?
Absolutely. That's exactly what we're doing! And it goes beyond accountability. On the consumer side, we believe the 3 largest barriers to sustainable consumption are lack of information, perceived higher prices and complacency. These can be addressed by what we're doing with our directory, our initiatives like Shop Your Values Week, and our continued outreach to businesses and consumers. On the business side, by surveying businesses and connecting them to our community and sustainability partners, we aim to support improvements in business practices. We all have a shared set of goals, and we know that the best way to achieve them is to collaborate and bring people together.
To get involved with New York's community for ethical, local businesses, follow Ethikus on Twitter
, "Like" them on Facebook
, and visit their website
for green shopping inspiration. You can also attend one of their bi-monthly Meetups
, at which you'll join other socially conscious shoppers for brainstorms and discussions.