(Mega)bytes of green

Green Web sites don’t want to wait for the ‘shock’ to come. They want to make it happen.

If Anderson’s over-active Blackberry is any indication, Green Options never sleeps.

If Anderson’s over-active Blackberry is any indication, Green Options never sleeps.

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

green building

When David Anderson’s ultimate Frisbee team needed a sponsor, he had the perfect solution. His virtual company, GreenOptions.com, would sponsor team Contra, and the Web site’s name would be displayed sideways on the jersey shorts. That way, when a player performed a tough horizontal layout, the Green Options logo would look badass.

Ultimate Frisbee players are a target demographic for the Web site—enthusiastic about the environment, politically conscious, young, affluent, what Anderson and site co-founders Shea Gunther and Jeff McIntire-Strasburg call the “early adopters” of the green movement.

But, really, Green Options has no target demographic. As a catchall portal, the site aims to attract the green novice, expert and people in-between. The site helps visitors learn how to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle without drastically sacrificing convenience and comfort. With blogs, news on clean technology, discussion forums and lifestyle guides, the site reflects a growing attempt in the online green world to bridge the gap between environmental information and real-life application to propel the green movement forward.

“We find specific ways to connect our content to people’s lives,” said Anderson, a Sacramento native who now runs Green Options out of his Berkeley apartment.

Simply telling people that global warming is happening isn’t enough to permanently change behavior, Anderson said. People need continued education about the implications of the climate crisis, incentives for choosing eco-friendly alternatives and suggestions for realistic options. They don’t want academic research regurgitated. They want the how-to manuals and do-it-yourself tips.

“As sustainability becomes more mainstream and more people start blogging about green issues, there’s been a real shift toward more practical information. People don’t just want to follow the news about sustainability and environmentalism; they want to put these ideas into practice in their own lives,” said McIntire-Strasburg, who is also the guy behind Sustainablog, one of the original sites in the green blogosphere.

Green Options publishes posts on biodegradable diapers for stay-at-home moms, green beer for frat boys and simple tips for the rest of us, like washing clothes in cold water, unplugging a cell phone charger or using a canvas shopping bag.

“We talk about empowering people and this is the way to do it,” McIntire-Strasburg said.

The site, which launched publicly in February, receives roughly 2,500 unique visits a day and 150,000 hits a month. About 30 people contribute to the site, with a dozen of these writers providing regular content.

Anderson spends most of his days waking up at 6 a.m. to accommodate his East Coast writers and works through the evening. The random ultimate Frisbee tournaments bring him brief reprieve, as well as stopping work long enough to grab some Thai food. His goal is to eat at every Thai restaurant in Berkeley. The city has about 30 places for him to choose from. He’s been to eight.

Now, the Green Options guys have more on their plates. The company recently launched Planetsave.com for people who already agree with green arguments. While the site is currently content-based, the founders hope to eventually provide services through the site, such as microloans for environmental entrepreneurs in third-world countries. Planet Save is now one more green Web site in a burgeoning mix.

When McIntire-Strasburg started Sustainablog in 2003, Worldchanging.com and Treehugger.com didn’t exist, Grist.org hadn’t yet introduced its Gristmill blog, and “the few of us blogging green were definitely out in the wilderness,” he said. Now hundreds of these blogs exist, and green items are being incorporated into blogs and sites that aren’t necessarily environmentally focused.

“Hopefully, this contributes to the long-term viability of these ideas, rather than playing into the notion that green is a fad,” McIntire-Strasburg said.

But as the green online space explodes, even information junkies are looking for easy ways to sort through the overload. Enter one-stop shops, like Green Options, and the consolidation of blogs and green sites into larger networks.

“I think we’re going to continue to see consolidation,” McIntire-Strasburg said. “Not in terms, necessarily, of bigger blogs gobbling up smaller ones, but rather bringing them into networks where they can do what they’ve done while having access to bigger audiences and perhaps more sophisticated technical resources.”

The Discovery Channel recently bought Treehugger for $10 million as part of Planet Green, the company’s green initiative, which will premiere in 2008. Earlier this month, three major online green players—Zaadz, a social-networking site, and Lime and Gaiam, both lifestyle media companies—recently unified under the Gaia.com banner, to launch in the fall. Anderson doesn’t see this merge as companies on a juggernaut quest to block out smaller players.

“They’re just trying to build the green movement, too,” he said. “It shows these markets are reaching critical mass.”

Whatever happens, he thinks the green movement is on the right track, moving along on an exponential curve, traveling slow at first before accelerating to an inflection point. And he thinks the online world can help push it along.

“It’s not going to get to that point until there’s a real shock to the system,” he said. “Once that happens, the immediacy will be forced into people’s minds. It’s not real now. We’ll do anything we can to accelerate when that shock comes.”