The green web – sowing seeds of change online

2 Oct 2008

Climate change is happening and getting people to think green – whether in business or in the home – has a knack to it. It is quite a social thing because it involves a change in lifestyle, and a rethink of how you view your world and the people around you.

If you are in the business of helping others reduce their carbon footprint, then thoughts will naturally turn to a fast-growing market share: the online social network.

According to Forbes, among the 20 most trafficked sites on the web right now are social movers and shakers YouTube and Facebook – in there with staples like Google and Yahoo!.

When David Hayes and business partner Peter O’Brien were running a conference last year in the Mansion House on environmental issues such as fuel scarcity, a thought suddenly struck Hayes – while their message was reaching 500 people in one room, the best way to reach out to an infinite number was to create a social networking site that connected environmentally conscious people together.

“While sites such as Facebook and Bebo are ego-centric networks, we thought that they presented a great vehicle for touching upon a greater amount of people. We figured if we got meaningful dialogue going, we could combine it with a social site focused on this alone,” Hayes explains.

A strong niche website or web application with a clearly defined purpose can make for a successful business, according to Ray Walsh, senior development advisor with Enterprise Ireland. He lists Hayes’ and O’Brien’s Edenbee as an example of a well-timed play into this market.

“Enterprise Ireland will help us with the phase-two development of Edenbee as it begins to move beyond just being a social networking site,” Hayes says.

“We will be receiving assistance in developing the business along the lines of marketing, and basically getting us to where we ultimately want to go.”

So far, the site is currently in beta-testing mode, and development is based heavily on crowd wisdom: “We launched a few months ago and we purposely planned to have no marketing so as to concentrate on user feedback. So far, from the data we have been getting back, our users love the idea behind it and have helped us come up with ideas for new elements on the site such as instant messaging.”

Edenbee already knew it was on the right track when other sites in a similar vein began popping up such as in the US, but what was different about the Irish site is that unlike others, it wasn’t catering for those already in the business of being green.

“We didn’t want to preach to the converted: we were aiming for a wider audience, so we incorporated this into our design ethic and in the relaxed approach to dialogue and interaction on the site,” says Hays.

“Of course, there exists a stereotype of tree-hugging hippies pushing environmental messages on others, but we aim to be friendly and approachable.”

From the Irish perspective, we are 85pc dependent on fossil fuel, so Hayes hopes initiatives like this will bring about change. However, he doesn’t necessarily see networking as the solution, but rather as the platform for which Edenbee can help people manage ‘energy profiles’ in the same way that online banking is de rigeur for most people’s financial needs.

“Yes, it’s a social network, but it is the vehicle with which we aim to create an online energy profile where people can set goals and also monitor their energy output from the home, the car and air travel,” explains Hayes.

Edenbee is currently in talks with UK site for frequent business travellers to combine both their carbon calculator tools and help users share data. The main aim is to have one place on the web where people can log in and see their energy outputs, which can then potentially be fed in through sources such as in-car Sat Nav.

The future for Edenbee? Well, it is directly linked to the future of the planet. As Hayes sees it, as individuals, businesses and governments increasingly realise the importance of setting green goals and tracking their carbon footprint, they will begin to use their online presence and wireless technology to connect up all their energy outgoings.

“Right now, and in the near future, this is not just a green issue – it is a practical issue,” Hayes observes.

Non-renewable energy is becoming increasingly expensive, so when it comes to sustainable energy and climate change, people don’t just want to save the planet – they want to save money and this website may be just the ticket.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: David Hayes and Peter O’Brien, co-founders of Edenbee