Why Kickstarter's green products push is a bigger deal than you think

Daniel Hill

To understand what impact Kickstarter could have on industry and supply chains, consider the 9,500-plus projects the crowdfunding platform helped launch in its design and tech categories alone in 2018. That’s more than 26 projects a day.

Not all lead to a new global success like Allbirds – nor are they intended to. In some cases, a successful creation on Kickstarter may also be sold and incorporated into another company’s product line, as was the case with the famed Pebble Watch, which sold to FitBit in 2017.

The exact impact of Kickstarter products on the world is hard to predict. But we think the rapidly growing platform is uniquely positioned to become a real and lasting force in the development of environmentally sustainable design and manufacturing processes worldwide – and that means it would also have an impact on far-flung supply chains.

Kickstarter just took a major step to prove this point.

Sustainability embedded in projects from Day 1

The world’s largest funding platform for creative projects, Kickstarter recently began to ask innovators in the Design and Tech space to make sustainability commitments at the inception of their projects.

Most companies do it the other way around: They build their business first and then, maybe years later, try to implement sustainable sourcing, energy savings or emissions reductions when such changes are harder and more expensive to make.

By engaging creators from the beginning, Kickstarter is helping them embed environmentally friendly practices in the core of their business model from the very beginning, which means they can reduce their impact on the planet down the line.

16+ million investors add up to change

But the company’s impact goes beyond efficient business models. The voluntary commitments creators make will reach Kickstarter’s vast network of creators and supporters. So far, 16 million people worldwide have poured $4.1 billion into 157,000 successfully funded projects, and the community continues to grow.

Many of these players are familiar with Kickstarter’s incorporation as a Benefit Corporation, which requires the company to consider its impact on society in addition to its shareholders, and they share those values.

The push by a crowdfunding, worldwide commercial platform to evaluate and reduce environmental impacts can become a model for how to manufacture and source truly sustainable goods for a global retail market now topping $31 trillion.

Much of that retail market is made up of smaller companies like those launching on Kickstarter – companies that, together, can create meaningful change.

EDF Climate Corps worked together with Kickstarter to develop an information hub for project creators as well as the space where they’re asked to publicly commit to environmental practices. So far, the commitment section has been added to all project pages within Kickstarter’s Design & Tech category – the lion share of the platform’s projects. Plans are under way to expand it to other categories soon.

For Kickstarter, it was a natural, but significant step for a company committed to helping creators make environmentally conscious decisions. “These new features are our biggest step yet toward fulfilling that commitment,” Perry Chen, the company’s chairman and CEO, said when the new features were recently announced.

Project creators check boxes to indicate their product will have a long-lasting design, consist of recycled products, will be manufactured in environmentally friendly factories, use sustainable distribution channels and so on. It’s all with the goal of reducing their project’s impact on the planet and to, in Kickstarter’s words, “stand out to potential backers.”

The beginning of a trend?

If recent surveys are any indication, young consumers are more tuned into sustainability when they shop than previous generations have been. In the United States, 68 percent of people born after 1995 said they had bought at least one eco-friendly product in the last year – higher than for any other group.

This is also the global generation that’s shopping, networking and engaging online. Are they getting the attention of businesses and investors? You bet. It’s why we think Kickstarter’s sustainability push could snowball into something really big.

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