Author: Niels Schneider

Dr Niels Schneider is a researcher in the areas of sustainable development, entrepreneurship, innovation and supply chain management. He has written the book Ecopreneurship: Business practices for a sustainable future. Currently he is teaching at the University of Bristol

Using the attention economy for the common good

The attention economy is the umbrella concept for businesses trying to capture users attention on screen and sell this attention to advertisers. It can be found in various news websites, entertainment apps such Snapchat and Instagram, mobile gaming apps, etc.

Their way of gluing the user to the screen may differ, but the business model behind them is very similar. Provide “free” content that increases the time a user engages with the platform to maximise the advertising content that can be displayed. This has created a market worth over 380bn USD.

While there has been much discussion about this industry (for example the use of personal data to improve the success of the ads), recently new ventures have popped up that aim to capture some of the enormous economic value to do good.

One of these is the UK ad-tech start-up Good Loop. Good Loop was founded 2016 with a mission to “make the internet a more positive place for everyone”. The founders Amy Williams and Daniel Winterstein recognised the problematic practices around presenting users with unsolicited ads for the benefit of private corporations. They found a solution by developing a tool that allows users to choose whether they want to view ads before displaying them. If users choose to do so, 50% of the advertiser’s money is donated to charitable causes. This gives control over their attention back to users, whilst raising money for good.

Another example has been developed by the UN World Food Programme. They have created an online game (available in your browser and as apps on android and iOS) called freerice.

Screenshot freerice game.

The game is simple: You answer questions and for each correct answer, the World Food Programme donates 10 grains of rice to people in need. While you are playing the game (giving your attention), advertising is displayed to you, which pays for the rice. Besides being a fun little distraction on your break and tackling world hunger, the game is really informative and teaches users about sustainability issues.

Book review: Ecopreneurship

Cecilia Thirlway, creator of and lecturer in entrepreneurship, has written a review of the book Ecopreneurship: Business practices for a sustainable future. She provides a critical examination of the contents, highlights the key findings and places the research into a broader context. I very much enjoyed reading the review and hearing her thoughts on the book. Thank you Cecilia!

You can find the review here.

German Green Startup Monitor 2020

The Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability has published the Green Startup Monitor 2020. It provides insight into the growing role of green startups in the German entrepreneurship ecosystem and their role in the Green Economy.

Title Page - Green Startup Monitor 2020

The report defines green startups as businesses that:

  • Are younger than 10 years
  • (very) innovative and/or
  • have a significant employee/turnover growth
  • contribute to the environmental objectives of a Green Economy

With these characteristics Green Startups can be considered a subgroup of ecopreneurial ventures. There main criteria making them a subgroup is the age restriction, which excludes inner-organisational ecopreneurship (such as ecologic intrapreneurship), and the strong growth motivation which excludes some of the grass roots ecopreneurial ventures that value local embeddedness and subscribe to the small is beautiful philosophy.

Another interesting finding is that Green Startups are as profit oriented as commercial Startups, which seems to break with ecopreneurial attitudes to profitability. This raises the question whether Green Startups are challenging the status quo and working towards a sustainable economy or perpetuate a neo-liberal mindset under a green label.

The publication is only available in German, but the key facts are summarised in English.