Four Branches of the Green Web

About two weeks ago, I posted about seven coming digital uber-trends which are ripe for startup opportunity. Of the all the feedback I received from people about this post, it surprised me how much of it was focused and resonated around the second one, the internet’s facilitation of a green lifestyle. Coincidentally, it’s one area where I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently. Of course, going green is the “trendy tend” these days, and has certainly gone mainstream, as the cover of Newsweek magazine a few weeks ago surely testifies.

From my perspective, it’s worth exploring the role of digital media in this movement. How can the web further facilitate the lessening of the impact that individuals have on the environment? While the separate CleanTech energy sector has been in hot pursuit by VCs over the past couple years, I think it’s interesting to note what ways the internet alone is becoming an integral component in the overall green movement.

I see four categories where The Green Web is emerging, with numerous websites:

1. Providing an aggregated trusted source of useful information. Startup sites like TreeHugger (which also has a site called Hugg, a Digg for environmental news) offer news, culture, and instructive information. Big media companies are also jumping on board – MSNBC has an Environment channel online and Discovery acquired the aforementioned TreeHugger company just last week). Large non-media branding-based corporations, like Starbucks, in an attempt to enhance their eco-friendly image are also sharing information via the web.

2. Connecting people to other people and useful services. For example, there’s now a Facebook Carpool app which “makes sharing a ride safer and easier by using Facebook to find people going in the same direction.” Boston-based GoLoco is pursuing the same ends with a stand-alone web service. Both are perfect examples of leveraging the web to connect people towards a greater environmental good. In addition, the web can act as the perfect vehicle to connect people to specific services, like purchasing carbon offsets in an effort for individuals to live carbon-neutral (ZeroFootPrint, TerraPass, and NativeEnergy are just a few companies doing this).

3. Becoming an integral component of a service. In some cases, the web actually is a fundamental component in a green service. As illustrations, Greendimes allows consumers to reduce their unwanted junk mail and Earth Class Mail (fka Remote Control Mail) allows users to read their mail online, reducing paper handling costs and recycling in a central facility. Without the web, these services would hardly exist or would look dramatically different.

4. Replacing functions that are otherwise less eco-friendly. It’s interesting to consider virtual meetings in Second Life and other virtual worlds as replacement for flying people to meet in person. Though some question this approach given the amount of servers/electricity in creating these spaces, examples like Cisco using virtual worlds for a number of events and interactions are surely notable.

In all of these cases, different shades of the Green Web take a step in the direction towards better planet – and do so in a potentially profitable way, making it a win-win situation. What other innovative green technology-enabled services will the web help facilitate?

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.