The students of Peter Schwartzman’s environmental science class, Sustainability: Explorations and Opportunities, are applying their learning outside the classroom while trying to support local businesses.
Charged with the open-ended task of increasing sustainability, sophomores Annika Ziegelbauer, Jessie Johnson, Tory Kassabaum, Thomas Veague, and Elizabeth Cockrell decided to implement what they refer to as a ‘reverse boycott’ of Innkeeper’s Coffee. They are actively encouraging people to purchase from Innkeeper’s on Sunday, Oct. 25; in exchange, the store has pledged to use 15 percent of the profit made that day to increase its sustainability.
The idea stemmed from a desire to design a project the group could actually implement, rather than developing purely hypothetical sustainability.
“The whole project was geared towards really doing something or really creating something, not just writing a paper,” said Cockrell.
Drawing business to Innkeeper’s is the only the first step in the process. After the “reverse boycott,” the group will work with Innkeeper’s to make sure the money is used for sustainable practices. Although what ends up being accomplished will depend on the success of the boycott, tentative plans include things such as recycling bins in the store. Larger goals include composting and becoming a community recycling drop-off center.
However, merely helping one store to become more sustainable is not the ultimate goal of the group’s project. They hope the “reverse boycott” will have a ripple effect and show other businesses that consumers are more likely to patronize stores with positive environmental practices.
Although the process was not geared towards larger businesses, Cockrell felt that “the big chains are going to have to listen up — consumers vote with their dollars. Hopefully the idea will spread.”
“We’re hoping to show that it matters to consumers the ethics of a business,” said Veague. He felt that the group’s purpose wasn’t so much helping the business as “about [businesses] helping themselves.”
The group started their project by soliciting ‘bids’ from local businesses, asking them what environmental practices they would put into place with the money earned from a “reverse boycott.” This provided to be the biggest challenge of the project.
“We were worried we wouldn’t get any bids and the process would end right there,” said Veague.
“It’s kind of a weird concept. ‘You want to bring us business? For free? There isn’t a catch?’” said Johnson.
The original concept came from a group out of San Francisco called Carrotmob, a network of consumers that use their purchasing powers to reward businesses that make ethical choices.
The group took this idea and adapted it to Galesburg, as involving the community was a critical priority of their project.
“Another goal we have is to get the people of Galesburg involved,” said Johnson. They purposely chose a location that, although patronized by the Knox community, was also popular with local residents.
“Part of this is to set an example for the community,” said Veague.
Other businesses the group considered for the “reverse boycott” included Cornucopia and Kaldi’s.
“Kaldi’s didn’t make a bid because they didn’t feel like they could afford to,” said Ziegelbauer. “Cornucopia was really excited.” Cornucopia, however, already had extensive sustainability practices and any improvements would be long-term. This led to Innkeeper’s becoming the group’s main focus.
The group will be filming the “reverse boycott” and developing it into a documentary to post on YouTube and be distributed through the Galesburg and Knox libraries in an effort to continue spreading the idea.
“It’s easy to be an activist,” said Johnson. “It’s easy to get involved — you can change the world with a cup of coffee.”