Green Thing is a non-profit public service that aims to inspire people to lead a greener life. 

Founder Andy Hobsbawm and CEO James Alexander will both be speaking at Econsultancy’s Online Marketing Masterclasses event tomorrow. (There are currently a few places left…)

I’ve been asking Andy and James about Green Thing’s approach to marketing and social media…

When did you launch Green Thing?

October 2007, though we were discussing/planning it in various forms for a year beforehand.

How has it grown and developed since launch?

We re-launched one year on in October 2008 based on a lot of learnings in the first 12 months. We made changes to focus more on our core philosophy of ‘Creativity vs. Climate Change’ – using great creativity to inspire people to lead a greener life. There were various changes in strategy, site functionality and design and content including branding and identity (e.g. moving from these monsters to these ones 😉

In terms of the difference Green Thing has made, since launch people from 202 countries have since tuned in 4.1m times to Green Thing’s messages and content, told 48,067 stories, and on average Green Thing is helping to inspire or remind people to save twice as much CO2 per month that they otherwise would. 91% of people have positive things to say about Green Thing and/or their experience of interacting with the online content and tell an average of 10 other people about Green Thing.

Can you explain  Green Thing’s mantra of Creativity vs Climate Change ?

You can see a 3min TED Talk we did about ‘Creativity vs. Climate Change’ here, but in a nutshell, creativity is used to cast powerful consumer spells making us live unsustainable lives (the way we get around, the things we buy and eat and throw away, the energy we use, and so on), we try to use it to create an equal and opposite creative force which inspires as many people as possible in as many countries as possible to do the Green Thing.

We do this by reframing sustainable living as smart, sexy, fashionable and fun and something worthwhile on its own terms. For an example, see our latest campaign and first sustainable product – Glove Love.

How have online communities and social media been important tools for Green Thing?

Green Thing is, at heart, a social proposition. As we say in our manifesto “If Green Thing is about one thing, it’s inspiring green action. If we all contribute to Green Thing, it will become as creative, as credible and as inspiring as it can be. If we all do the Green Thing, it will make the biggest impact it can make.”

We’re trying to inspire and ultimately normalise sustainable behaviours which involve a greater sense of community and valuing a contribution to something greater than yourself: the environment.

I think this is in tune with one of the primary energies online which reflects a greater societal trend – the search for greater meaning in our lives and the need to be inspired by and contribute to something that matters. There are also interesting models for pro-social behaviours online in communities and social networks – these are socially structured environments that embody the values of sharing and reciprocity in the experience of participation.

How do you use Twitter? How useful have you found it?

Twitter has been great for adding 10,000 more members to our community pretty quickly and being able to have instant conversations with them about a range of subjects. Whether that’s getting feedback or input on things we’re working on or helping to spread the word about things.

What has worked for you when using video to promote Green Thing?

We use Tube Mogul to syndicate across multiple sites, we distribute content with partners like Green.tv, and we do online seeding and pr (e.g. The Sun regularly features our videos), we advertise on media channels like Spotify plus promote through our own media channels:  email, site, to Twiter followers, Facebook members and YouTube subscribers, and so on.

I’m told that you haven’t spent any money on marketing. If so, how have you achieved this?

Mainly by begging, borrowing and stealing everything we can 😉 One thing about having incredibly limited resources is it forces you to be more resourceful. We exist mainly on the kindness of strangers – people we meet and enthusiastically explain what Green Thing’s mission is, who then generously offer to help us. I think our call to arms of ‘Creativity vs. Climate Change’ resonates with people in the creative industries, the idea that creativity can be an incredibly powerful force to catalyse change and mobile new behaviours, to make ideas simple and sharp, to make them connect, to make people want to act.

What advice would you offer to other charities and non-profits when marketing themselves cost-effectively on the web?

One of our key strategies early on was called “100 cups of coffee” – that’s since become “1000 cups of coffee” 😉 Simply the idea that when we have a chance to explain Green Thing to people in person, to tell our personal story for what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, it’s a very effective way of getting our message across.

Apart from anything else the journey of meeting people and having fantastic conversations based on values and beliefs and passions (rather than, say, profits) has been tremendously inspiring and rewarding. But it has also opened some really interesting doors and created great opportunities which have helped us get the word out about Green Thing.