Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Sustainable Society Leaders Can Learn From Groupon

Chances are good you've probably had a Groupon experience. For those of you who don't know, Groupon is an electronic deal-of-the-day website that is localized to major geographic markets worldwide. The concept is quite creative. Every day, Groupon sends discount coupon notices out to millions of deal hunters looking for a deal on product or services. If a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the deal becomes available to all.

If the predetermined minimum is not met, no one gets the deal that day. The coupon is for the goods and services of businesses in designated cities. Thus, if you were in Chicago, you could get 50% off Bob's Chicago hot dogs for that day, but only if you log in and get the deal from Groupon. Everybody wins. You get a deal on a hot dog because of the coupon you just purchased, Bob gets a deal because he's selling more hot dogs that day than ever before (and you now know about Bob's hot dogs) and Groupon gets part of the take from each coupon sale. While there may be some challenges with the Groupon model (ie: a small business could get overwhelmed), the spirit of the deal is that the collective participation of hundreds of thousands of people make it possible for this program to exist. It creates a win/win/win opportunity in a kind of "economic justice" framework.

Sustainable Society Leaders are the emerging new school of leaders looking for new and creative ways to bring sustainable, civil, just and personally empowering ways to our society and the environment. I'm thinking that the Groupon model provides a template for some creative leadership structures that would pass the sustainability smell test. The internet makes it all possible. Here are some ideas SSL's may want to consider...

Business Social Action Rider: What would happen if businesses were asked to provide a portion of their profits automatically to the social justice cause of their choice, and those social justice cause organizations were asked to provide on-site and web based promotions for those businesses and their products? I've implemented this structure in the sale of my books. For each book sold, $2 from each sale goes into a pool to purchase natural and organic foods at cost. Then, I have that organic food donated to homeless shelters around the country. The idea is that if we feed homeless people better food on the front end, it would improve their health instead of giving them fatty, sugary, unhealthy food that would further tax their compromised immune systems.

This, of course, would reduce the number of homeless people who end up in emergency rooms at hospitals, costing taxpayers up to $50,000 a year, per homeless person. Thus, the homeless, the shelters, the place I buy the organic foods from and the tax payers win. Not to mention, I sell a few more books. This process integrates profit with social action as the way it should be. Where we've run into trouble as a society is separating the two so that they are at odds with each other. The time has come for the end to that destructive conventional wisdom.

Global Farmer's Market: The challenge many backyard farmers face is that they grow enough for themselves, but they have plenty of surplus they'd like to get to market and earn a few extra dollars. What would happen if a group of these backyard farmers pooled their surplus together and started connecting with other small communities that would purchase their items directly? Perhaps a community group in the Netherlands could connect with a group of yam growers in Southern Uganda for their yams, or a neighborhood of backyard farmers near Omaha, Nebraska could connect with strawberry growers in Argentina for their seasonal product? It would create a global network of free enterprise entrepreneurs, maintain the integrity of their organic products and create international friendships at the same time. This idea wouldn't replace the modern system of food distribution, but it would create an alternative one that may be more in keeping with sustainability practices.

Green Business Investors: The Groupon model provides a way for qualified Green businesses to find individual investors for their products or services. In a kind of "deal of the day", consumers can get a short pro forma of that company and the opportunity to buy individual stock in it. Think of it as a kind of consumer-based public offering that's not just restricted to well-healed investors, but everyone who gets the notices. The qualified and participating business benefits from getting the investors it needs to expand services, the investor benefits by being able to participate on the ground floor of a quality venture, and sustainability practices get a shot in the arm when other businesses notice those companies who are thinking about our long-term survivability as a planet are getting preferential treatment.

Okay, maybe these ideas need some development work, but that's just the point. The Sustainable Society Leader must think of new and innovative ways of integrating our society so that all aspects of what we do are thinking about our long-term existence. This is not thinking 'outside of the box', because there is no box. Whatever we create need not have old school references such as 'the box' we once used. These are new ways of looking and old problems and nothing is off the table, including the innovative success of Groupon.

If Sustainable Society Leaders don't do this kind of wide open thinking, who will?

By Chet W. Sisk

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