Yahoo launched a big “green” initiative today, including a contest and two related websites — green.yahoo.com and better.yahoo.com/planet — helping to build consumer-user awareness about global warming and energy conservation, etc. It’s a laudable effort but one that takes on a different cast when viewed in the competitive world of search. In that context, TechCrunch has a somewhat cynical post on the subject.
Microsoft previously gave money to UN refugee agency ninemillion.org for every search performed between January and April. And there have been many minor search sites (e.g., ZotSpot) that have offered to donate money to charitable organizations as an incentive to use them.
But Yahoo and Google (and soon Microsoft) are battling it out for what might be called “green cred.” Even though most people in the U.S. (Europe is different) aren’t quite as concerned with the nuances of carbon offsets and the like, concerns about global warming and the environment (at a high level) are now very mainstream. Younger audiences and selected influencers, in particular, are very interested in the “social responsibility” of these organizations and might be inclined to support one site vs. another if it were perceived to be more environmentally progressive.
There’s plenty of survey and other empirical data to support the case that being green is good business today. For example, Whole Foods Market, purveyor of organic products and produce, is the ninth most popular brand in America according to BrandChannel.
Last year, Yahoo launched a Green Autos section in Yahoo Autos. I don’t believe Yahoo’s motives here are cynical or purely about marketing. Clearly there’s a belief in “doing the right thing.” But there’s also strategic, competitive importance to being out in front of environmental issues.
There’s a defensive element too. Witness Apple, which just did something very similar in trying to establish/maintain its green credibility with buyers, under pressure from Greenpeace.
All this indicates that some green cred is now an important component of attracting (and retaining) audience segments to your product. Let’s see whether and how Google and Microsoft respond.