Just a Click Away

New Websites Help the Computer-Bound Support Green Causes

Web surfers can take a stand for the environment without leaving their desks or opening their wallets. A new crop of websites allows visitors to help a wide range of worthy green causes merely by clicking the mouse button.

How does it work? Typically, corporate sponsors pledge money every time visitors click a given page or button within certain sites. In return, the companies receive banner ad exposure, links back to their own sites and a dose of good publicity.

At EcologyFund, more than 100,000 visitors each month click to donate sponsors" money to protect wilderness, plant trees and reduce pollution. Since the site’s launch, visitors have enabled the purchase of more than 6,000 acres of threatened wilderness in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Africa, the Amazon Basin, Patagonia and Scotland. EcologyFund says it preserves 187 square feet of land and saves two pounds of carbon dioxide per visitor every day.

In all, EcologyFund users protect more land in more places every week than any other site. "The success of EcologyFund shows that people care about the environment," says site founder Tim Kunin. "Unfortunately, we’re in no danger of running out of wilderness that is in urgent need of protection."

Click to Save Species

Care2, an environmental portal site featuring content, commerce and community offerings tied to a wide range of environmental issues, runs three successful "click-to-donate" programs focusing on endangered species protection and rainforest land preservation. Care2’s Race for the Big Cats, for instance, has helped protect more than 16,000 square miles of key habitat for endangered tigers, jaguars and snow leopards in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Meanwhile, Care2 has teamed up with the Nature Conservancy for its Race for the Rainforest, raising more than $100,000 to protect nearly 1,500 acres of rainforest. Participants in Care2’s races can track their visits graphically to learn how much of an impact they or their friends have over time. Current sponsors include Nature Valley Granola, Sterling Planet and First USA Bank. "Care2’s races are a unique opportunity for individuals to help the environment every day and measure their progress," says Randy Paynter, Care2’s founder and CEO. "We believe that getting people to take small daily steps helps them to feel more environmentally responsible. And that is the foundation for greater involvement and advocacy."

At Web ReLeaf, a website launched by American Forests and the Environmental News Network, every 20 clicks plants a tree to restore forest ecosystems and habitat for endangered species. Serving as the online component to American Forests" larger Global ReLeaf

program, Web ReLeaf has accounted for the planting of more than 160,000 trees across the United States in little more than one year of operation, thanks to the eager clicking of site visitors and the generosity of sponsors such as retailer Batteries Plus. "Web ReLeaf has succeeded beyond our expectations both in sponsorship and in the number of individuals who visit the site to help us plant trees," says Steve Walsh of American Forests.

At the Environment Site, visitors can "click the leaf" to generate sponsor donations to mitigate global warming. Specifically, this innovative program, set-up by GreenChoices.com, benefits the Alliance to Save Energy’s Green Schools Program, which funds energy-efficiency improvements in schools, orphanages and other youth-related facilities in Ukraine.

Despite the success of the click-to-donate concept, several of the sector’s leading lights have nevertheless gone the way of the dodo bird. GreaterGood.com, a pioneer in the field of cause-related marketing on the Internet, shut down last July after three years of operation. The company, which had launched The Rainforest Site in 2000 as a pure click-to-donate entity, raised millions in venture capital and protected some 5,000 acres of rainforest through The Nature Conservancy’s "Adopt an Acre" program. At presstime, however, EcologyFund announced that it had taken over and will revive GreaterGood.

The survivors on the scene have ratcheted down their expectations and funding requirements accordingly. These websites seem more likely to thrive as they harness their visitors" clicks for the betterment of the environment.