What if there were an organization that offered ethical, environmentally friendly products and services and could fund itself by sharing the difference between retail prices and wholesale costs?
By Amy Kenny
Published January 08, 2009
It started in the bathroom. Two years ago, Todd Bulmer was looking for an affordable, high-efficiency toilet, but couldn't find one for any less than $320.00. Of course, one supplier joked, if you want to buy ten, I can give them to you for $200 each. Ten cost the same as six.
Bulmer called his bluff, bought ten and started to wonder how many more green products were being sold with similar markups. What if there were an organization that offered ethically sourced products and services, a corporation dedicated to reducing the ecological footprint of individual households, one that could fund itself by sharing the difference between retail prices and wholesale costs?
Fast forward two years. Bulmer has taken a leave of absence from his job as a high school science teacher so he can focus on pushing The Ethical Consumers Cooperative - the organization that he and his neighbour, Mike Pattison, developed with the help of the Skydragon Community Development Cooperative.
The ECC started as a sign-up sheet on a bulletin board at the King William Café, but Bulmer and Pattison (currently co-directors of Skydragon) quickly realized the Internet is a far more effective tool for such an effort.
When it comes to going green, how many hundreds of people turn to Google for tips, advice, starting points, product reviews and research? The web provides easy and immediate answers, but even green companies have marketing departments. How can environmentally minded consumers tell the difference between pure fact and PR fabrication?
"Our hope is that the answer here is community," Bulmer says. "For now, we are [offering advice] ourselves and largely counting on as much reliable third-party data as we can gather."
The ECC depends on information collected by a small team of volunteers and recommendations from the Ontario Natural Food Co-Op - a group whose ethical purchasing protocol has been setting standards for 30 years.
Since the ECC is primarily an online entity, the idea is that once numbers increase, members will offer ever cleaner, more efficient and local options via a wiki-style, self-moderated online forum.
Bulmer is aware that some people will view the organization as a green Costco, join simply to score easy, online savings, and assume a passive position when it comes to online debate and discussion. However, he is also certain of the ECC's potential to attract (and act as a tool for finding consensus among) like-minded individuals.
"All of the decisions [the ECC makes regarding] suppliers will be 100% transparent and democratic," Bulmer says. "I'm confident that it will reflect the best thinking and intentions of progressives and environmentalists in Hamilton."
Though the ECC's official launch is January 14, their site has been live since late in December 2008. Visitors to ethicalconsumers.ca will find significant savings on household hardware items including dual flush toilets, tankless water heaters and water softeners.
The site also offers ethical food and personal care products like wheat and gluten-free cake mixes, Cocoa Camino chocolate, Green Beaver soaps and lotions, organic peanut and almond butters, olive oil and dressings, recycled facial tissues, juice, tea, soda and much more. ECC members will even enjoy deals from local all natural cleaning service, Clean by Nature.
An annual membership with the ECC costs $60.00. If you're interested in finding out more about the organization, take your questions to their site launch at Skydragon on Wednesday, January 14. Check with Skydragon closer to the event date for information on start times.