Green

Creative Citizen launches savings-conscious environmental how-to site

Creative Citizen is a new community site launching today that hopes to attract the same market that’s interested in environmentalist sites like Zerofootprint, while also reaching out to a broader demographic of people who wouldn’t ever use a carbon calculator in the course of daily life.

Like the how-to sites that have been launching left and right recently, Creative Citizen plays host to content showing users how to accomplish certain tasks or projects. But unlike those sites, it’s focused on a single niche: “Solutions” that are beneficial to the environment, and sometimes to the user’s wallet. In all, the site focuses on five metrics for savings: Water, money, emissions, electricity, and waste (i.e. trash). As users agree to follow very solutions, the savings accrue on their profile to show their total savings.

The solutions on Creative Citizen can be nearly anything, from carrying reusable grocery bags (saving 24 pounds of waste) to tuning your car’s engine (saving 3,234 pounds of CO2 and $380 dollars yearly). At the moment, there are quite a few already listed on the site, but they’re not all well thought-out or constructed; it’s hoping to grow a community that will add to the collection, and vote up the best ideas.

The voting process is important for most how-to sites, because it weeds out submissions that might send new visitors packing. For example, one of the solutions I came across is saving water by simply peeing outside. But for most of us, potty training didn’t include trips onto the lawn, and the idea won’t be attractive. Eventually, an alternative like putting a brick in the toilet basin will probably rise to the top (although the lawn irrigators currently hold the upper hand).

What seems far more interesting than quirky ideas like those, though, are the solutions that can save users significant amounts of money. Most people are well aware that using compact fluorescents wastes less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. On Creative Citizen, changing your light bulbs gets quantified: $111 in savings for each bulb over its lifetime, and 141 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That’s a lot more concrete than simply shaving some CO2 emissions, and may attract users who wouldn’t otherwise be interested.

In fact, the money issue is where Creative Citizen really differs from carbon calculators and environmental movements, says founder Argam DerHartunian. Calculators often ask for actions like buying a more efficient car or washing machine, and movements want donations, but cash-strapped consumers aren’t likely to shell out, he says. “What’s needed is a business solution — something that’s sensible and understandable to people.”

Of course, there’s nothing that guarantees the numbers you see on Creative Citizen are correct, or even complete (the CFL numbers, for instance, don’t show how much using the bulbs lowers CO2 emissions). For that, the site is hoping that its community will help fill it out. Users can edit entries, leave comments, and, as mentioned above, vote solutions up or down. Over time, the top solutions should also become fairly accurate.

One feature that I thought the site could use was more views for solutions. At the moment, they can be listed by date, popularity or tags. But if Creative Citizen hopes to truly attract different constituencies, it’ll need views determined by characteristics like how much of a specific thing can be saved, so users can zero in on their personal concerns. Rural browsers challenged by oil prices might just be interested in saving money, for example, while drought-stricken southern Californians might want to see how to save water.

DerHartunian and his co-founder, Scott Badenoch, say they have plans to add that ability in, as well as to widgetize the site so that it can be shared across social networks and other web pages. However, the immediate focus is just to get into the real world and build up a strong base of solutions.

That’s probably the right approach, because what will distinguish Creative Citizen is its content. Ultimately, it wants to tap into the same audience as how-to sites like 5min, Howcast and Instructables, all of which gather community content and instructional materials. The more material there is, the more traffic the site will be able to build organically. However, if Creative Citizen wants to follow in the footsteps of those other sites, it will also need to add in video.

Creative Citizen has so far survived off seed money raised from angel investors. Oddly enough, the founders say they’re not particularly interested in venture capital; instead, they’re looking for strategic partnerships from other companies who can also provide some funding. The company is based in Los Angeles.

[Full disclosure: Argam DerHartunian has contributed to VentureBeat in the past.]

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