One stop shopping to save the world
The Ecomiles Web portal lets members make charitable contributions for everything they buy online.
By David Batstone, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Airline miles are nice, but wouldn't you feel better about splurging on a new flat-panel TV if you were helping to save endangered species? That's the idea behind Ecomiles, a rewards program where the points translate into charitable donations.

Members simply log on to Ecomiles's e-commerce portal, which links up with Barnes & Noble (Charts), eBay (Charts), Hotwire, and more than 800 other sites that award ecomiles for purchases. The miles are redeemed for dollars, which members can contribute to any of 12 charities, including the World Wildlife Fund and economic development groups such as SOS Children's Villages.


"We essentially wanted to establish a global development currency," says Marcus Courage, Ecomiles's chief marketing officer and the managing director of Africapractice, a corporate citizenship consultancy.

Helping people make a difference

For-profit Ecomiles was founded in 2004 by a South African entrepreneur named Gustav Erlank and the VC firm Madagascar Development Partners. Ecomiles works with the United Nations Development Program to pinpoint charitable groups and projects in need of funding.

Though not yet profitable, the startup generates revenue by taking a small percentage of each transaction and selling advertising on its website.

The company now has nearly 10,000 members, who can distribute their contributions among the different charities however they choose. Ecomiles even sends users regular updates to let them track the progress of their pet projects.

Otherwise, Courage says, "most individuals feel like they can't make a real difference on the big global problems."

Until now Courage has focused mainly on recruiting businesses to sell through the Ecomiles site, but his next move will be working with major corporations to offer ecomiles in traditional retail outlets: Buy a Coke or a book, say, and earn 10 ecomiles.

The company hopes those more lucrative partnerships will help it reach $15 million in revenue by 2008. After all, Courage points out, the success of the venture rests on the belief that individuals are motivated by social values as well as personal rewards. Think about that when you buy your 42-inch plasma.



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