Purchasing power
Durango Carrotmob created to turn profits ‘green’

SideStory: The grassroots spread

A carrot adorns the window at Stonehouse Subs, where Durango’s first-ever Carrotmob meets this Saturday. Carrotmobs happen all over the country and are way to encourage local businesses to put profits toward going green. Stonehouse won Carrotmob rights in a recent bidding war./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Kinsee Morlan

When Audrey Crane moved to Durango from San Francisco, she already had an environmentally friendly mindset. She thought outdoor-loving Durangoans would be on the same page, but one of her early experiences here kind of shocked her.

“The first company I worked for didn’t even recycle paper,” explains Crane, who now works as a freelance graphic designer and spends the rest of her time as a mother of two. “I was surprised. And once I brought it up and told the company that I was physically incapable of throwing away a piece of paper, they were totally cool about it and they started recycling. They just hadn’t thought about it yet.”

And that’s sort of the overall attitude of people in Durango, says Crane. “People are positive about the environment,” she says, “but not really active.”

Crane’s own personal call to action was partly due to having her own kids, which made her really start to think about what kind of world she’d be leaving behind, and partly due to an internet video by the Carrotmob, a hip, young environmental activist group that originated in San Francisco.

In the video – before and after some pretty ridiculous-but-hilarious dancing – Carrotmob founder Brent Schulkin comes on screen and says provocative things like, “The problem is that corporations will do anything for money; but what if the solution were that corporations will do anything for money?” Schulkin explains his new method of environmental activism by summing it up in one powerful but pretty basic conclusion, “We can harness the buying power of the casual consumer.”

The dancing made Crane laugh, but the message made perfect sense. After the video ended, she was officially inspired.

“I had seen the video a couple of years ago,” she says, “but I watched it again recently – I don’t know why – and I just thought: we have to do this.”

And so she did. Using various online parenting groups as her starting point, Crane got together a grassroots volunteer base made up almost completely of women and moms. That was in August, and the group has been meeting every week since, doing things like contacting local businesses and drawing big orange carrots on the sidewalks of Main Avenue in an attempt to start building the buzz.

The idea behind Carrotmob is simple: Get local businesses to join a bidding war and whichever business agrees to donate the biggest percentage of a single day’s proceeds toward some sort of environmental upgrade gets the Carrotmob’s help in boosting that single day’s profits. The ultimate goal is to make stores more environmentally friendly, one Carrotmob at a time.

The first mob took place in March 2008 in San Francisco. A liquor store won with a promise of putting 22 percent of a single day’s earnings toward energy upgrades. On the day of the Carrotmob event in San Francisco, environmentally conscious consumers lined up around the block to spend their money at the liquor store. The mob raised enough cash for the store to completely redo their outdated lighting system.

Because of the success of the first event, Carrotmobs began to spread. There are currently active mobs in more than two dozen cities around the world. Durango is the smallest city yet to take on the Carrotmob challenge, a fact that makes Crane both nervous and excited.

“Usually Carrotmobs pick one industry to help get the competitive spirit going,” explains Crane. “Like liquor stores or bookstores, but we couldn’t do that.”

Instead, Crane and her crew decided to hit up cafés, retail shops and a few restaurants that would be able to get lots of people in and out pretty quickly. It took some time for the concept to catch on among the business owners, but once it did, it took off. Stonehouse Subs, the 12th Street sandwich shop in Durango, eventually won the bidding with a promise to put 35 percent of a day’s gross receipts toward making some sort of environmental upgrade.

Last Saturday, the Carrotmob invited Mike Frisoni, an environmental analyst and consultant from Annadel Building Solutions, and Catherine Mercier a technical analyst from Ecos Consulting, to tour Stonehouse and give the restaurant’s owners recommendations for improvements.

“Mostly we looked at lighting, reducing water consumption, refrigeration, reducing their air infiltration rate and energy-efficient appliances,” said Frisoni, who noted that since the owners were renting and the building itself is historic, there’s not too much that can be done to the actual structure itself.

“We also talked about using timers for plug loads,” added Mercier. “Everything you plug into the wall that doesn’t need to run 24 hours a day – speakers and things like that – you should put them on timers or unplug them when they’re not in use.”

Stonehouse owners Marla Moon and Heidi Malverg said they got involved with the Carrotmob because they know there’s lots of room for improvement in their old building.

“We’re probably going to go the route of fixing our light fixtures to the more green light bulbs and fixtures,” said Moon. “Also, there are a couple of leaky faucets we have that we’ll change to low-flow so they don’t waste as much water. We might look into weather strips on the windows and just focus on the air coming in and out.”

The official Durango Carrotmob event is this Sat., Oct. 24. Not by coincidence, that’s the same day 350.org, an international climate campaign with the goal of getting the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from approximately 387 parts per million to 350 parts per million, is holding its International Day of Climate Action.

“There are climate events in hundreds of countries across the world that day,” said Crane. “So, it’s kind of cool because if you look on the 350.org site, you’ll see the little dot in Durango because the Durango Carrotmob is part of all that.” •

Consumers who want a percentage of their cash to go toward helping Stonehouse Subs make energy upgrades should show up to 140 E. 12 St. between opening and closing (with cash to make the line move quickly) on Sat., Oct. 24. There will be entertainment between 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.