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Go Green, Get Rewarded?

Written by Ashoka Changemakers, John Converse Townsend
Published: June 9, 2011

Altruism might be overrated when it comes to making a substantive difference in the world today. Advancing the social good revolution, or at least reshaping cultural constructs, isn’t at all dependent on a band of socially conscious brethren. It requires only a multi-layered incentive program to spur that change.
Ian Yolles knows that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a difference—you just have to keep it rolling.

Yolles is Chief Sustainability Officer for Recyclebank, a citizen sector organization effectively incentivizing social change—it was recently ranked first on The Wall Street Journal’s list of top clean-tech companies. Recyclebank encourages consumers to “go green” by rewarding them with points that can be redeemed for products, services, and discounts for just about everything, from clothes to restaurants.

“We motivate and reward people for engaging in a series of progressive green oriented behaviors that have a positive impact on the environment,” said Yolles. “The idea is that a lot of small, individual actions, when aggregated together, can make a very big and substantial difference.”

Recyclebank turns average citizens into conscious consumers and green activists—it is really pretty impressive—by installing radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in individuals’ recycling bins. The chips personalize the participatory experience, measuring the amount of recycling taking place in each household. The more people recycle, the more points they earn to spend at local, national, and online businesses.

Founded five years ago, Recyclebank has more than 2 million members in over 300 communities in the United States, operating the curbside pick-up of recyclables in 29 states. The company has also expanded the business overseas after being invited to enter the U.K. market, where the subject of waste is not only more politicized, but also a larger part of the public discourse.

Reyclebank is in the process of building an interactive online platform, with the support of brand partners like Dove, Tide and Purina, to create “Learn and Earn” content that will give users opportunities to earn rewards by simply learning about ways they can positively impact the environment. 

“Most people—if given the opportunity and if there is a little bit of education that accompanies this—want to do the right thing,” said Yolles. “Some kind of nudge, some kind of positive incentive coupled with the building of an educational platform, can really motivate a broad cross-section of people to change their behaviors.”

The community learning aspect will be the transformative force. Recyclebank has that right, regardless of whether you think recycling is overplayed or overemphasized. Its mission of making the negative environmental impacts of conspicuous consumption public must be applauded, even at the risk of short-term wastefulness in the name of marginally higher purchasing power. Because to achieve systemic change, you first have to understand the systems—and the money—that make the world go ‘round.

(Is having an uninspiring minority make a difference for the 'wrong' reasons such a bad deal anyway? Food for thought....)

You can also read this article by John Converse Townsend here.

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Recyclebank At A Glance

New York

New York, Philadelphia and Houston

Javier Flaim


The Coca-Cola Company, Craton Equity Partners, Generation Investment Management, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Paul Capital Investments, Physic Ventures, RRE Ventures LLC, Sigma Partners, Waste Management Inc., and Westly Group

4 Million+

300+ in all 50 states

Reward Partners

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