It’s hard to avoid shopping madness this time of year. Even more difficult is steering clear of products from companies that don’t share your respect for the planet or commitment to fair employee wages. But what if you could get cool, one-of-a-kind quality gifts for everyone on your list and help make the world a better place at the same time?
DoneGood, a new public benefit corporation (B Corp), has created a way to help you put your money where your values are. Its new browser extension and mobile app let you find ethical, sustainable and high-quality artisan-made alternatives when you shop for almost anything online — and often at exclusive discounted prices.
The idea, says DoneGood co-founder Cullen Schwarz, is to change the world by empowering consumers: “We believe the most powerful tool for change is the money we spend. We want to help people find better products that they can feel good about, make the world better, and save money at the same time.”
Tech tools for change agents
The free Chrome extension works quietly in the background while you search on Google, Amazon or big company websites.
“It takes five seconds to install,” says Schwarz who founded DoneGood with his friend Scott Jacobsen through the Harvard Innovation Lab. “After that just do the same things you were already doing to shop online. When a socially responsible company has a product like one you’re looking at, the extension shows it to you.”
This is what DoneGood’s browser extension will show you when you do a search for 'razors' on Amazon. You get the usual brands and a pop-up about sustainable and recyclable alternatives. (Photo: DoneGood)
If you search on Google or Amazon for “blue flats,” you’ll see the usual big-name shoe brands, like Nine West, but also social-impact brands like The Root Collective, which offers shoes handcrafted by women in Guatemala who are working their way out of poverty.
Likewise, if you go directly to a company website, you’ll receive suggestions for DoneGood alternatives that are similar to that brand. Visit a traditional site for dress shirts, for instance, and you’ll also learn about Tuckerman & Co.'s 100 percent organic shirts made in America by craftspeople who are paid a living wage. Make hotel reservation at a traditional booking site and TripZero will pop up, an alternative that allows you to offset your trip's carbon footprint.
Watch the browser extension in action here:
The company’s free app (iOS) works a bit differently, allowing users to search for responsible brands filtered by the issues they support. Specify products you’re looking for plus the values that are important to you, such as “Green,” “Minority/women-owned” or “Cruelty-free,” and you'll get a list of company links. (An Android version of the app is currently in the works.)
The people behind this pocketbook power
Schwarz and Jacobsen met while working in Washington, D.C. Schwarz was press secretary for the Secretary of Agriculture and Jacobsen worked at the Children’s Defense Fund. They bonded over their shared passion for conscious consumerism. “One day we were talking about how difficult is to find good clothes that aren’t made with child labor or in facilities that are poisoning the planet,” says Schwarz. “Over the next couple of years, we kept wishing for something that would let us feel good about where we spent our money and finally decided we needed to build it ourselves.”
Jacobsen got accepted to Harvard Kennedy School’s graduate program in 2014, and the duo decided to apply to the university’s Innovation Lab startup incubator. At first, developing DoneGood was a side project; Schwarz remained in his full-time job in Washington while Jacobsen finished his master’s degree.
“Once Scott graduated in 2015,” says Schwarz, “he decided not to get a job, and I decided to quit mine so we could work on DoneGood full time.” With their growing team, they put together a pilot project in Boston, an app that helps people find local, socially responsible brick-and-mortar stores, restaurants and other businesses. It garnered lots of publicity and accolades, and they decided to develop a social-impact-shopping app and browser extension for a national audience.
The company currently partners with hundreds of ethical businesses that it finds by scouring for independent certifications, such as Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and Certified B Corps, as well as via independent research.
It’s a win not only for small sustainable companies that often have trouble rising high enough in search results to get noticed by shoppers, but also for consumers who find it labor-intensive to look through all the disparate ethical and green certifications to locate do-good companies. So far, thousands of socially-aware shoppers have downloaded the app and browser extension.
Going forward, DoneGood will be continually updating and refining its tools, Schwarz says. Plus, the team hopes to roll out city-specific apps with local listings, similar to the one it created in Boston.
“The more we support companies that have a mission to make the world better, the more of those kinds of companies there will be, and the more other companies will follow suit,” Schwarz says. “It’s already happening — we just want to help speed up that progress.”