green and sustainable business

Eco-rate for the new energy economy

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eco_houseIt’s a Consumer Reports-type comparison shopping service for the eco-set.

Eco-rate is labor of environmental love and activism founded by a Seattle couple, Brycelaine Self and Colby Self.

“The Eco-rate idea is to allow people to compare common household products, based not only on their green attributes, but also on their affordability,” says Brycelaine Self, co-founder of Eco-rate and principal of a related green building, green marketing and energy consulting company, Eco-innovations.

Launched earlier this year, the Selfs spent more than two years designing and developing the Web-based product and technology rating and comparison resource for shoppers looking to make ecologically-intelligent choices on just about any product out there, from autos to dishwashers to TVs to paint to water heaters.

“It allows people to sort products according to what’s important to them,” she continues. It is “a useful tool that allows people to compare products and make an educated purchase.”

For some price is no object when choosing environmentally friendly products. “Some people don’t care about price, while some need to find the most eco-friendly product in their price range,” she says.

That’s what Eco-rate is about. The service at the moment is a two-person operation run by Self and husband/partner, Colby.

Planning for the business began two years ago. “We had worked in a public policy communications and consulting firm in Seattle, PRR Inc,” Self says. “We decided we wanted to go out on our own and use our expertise in buildings, energy and water efficiency.”

They discovered a need for an online source to compare products based on how efficient and costly they are.

The Eco-rate site compares products and technologies using a comprehensive system based on five rating factors:

  • Environmental Impact relative to that of comparable products, based mainly on natural resources consumed, waste generated or diverted and the toxins released as a result of a product’s manufacture, use and disposal.
  • Consumption of natural resources compared to similar products.
  • Toxicity, or a product’s toxicity relative to comparable products.
  • Lifecycle Cost, a product’s cost of ownership including the purchase price and cost of operation.
  • Price, the purchase price relative to other similar products.

Calculations and formulas produce rating numbers in each category and an overall rating number; the higher the rating the better the product compares to other products.

Self explains that consumption is “basically a measure of efficiency.” Toxicity for products such as paints examines their potential harmful effects on humans and animals. Lifecycle costs rate the cost to operate a product over its lifetime.

They rely entirely on product specifications obtained from manufacturers. The information supplied is then automated into the Eco-rate system based on formulas the Selfs have devised. Calculations can be customized by zip code from the manufacturer’s location to an individual’s home, thus factoring transportation and transport emission costs.

“We wrote all of the buying guides,” Self says. During the project design and development phase, “we spent 20-hour days doing product research.”

During that period they used their own savings and money from part-time jobs; Brycelaine waited tables at a restaurant in Pike Place Market.

Revenues come entirely from site advertising, mainly from Google Ads. Eventually they hope to get ads from manufacturers.

“So far it’s been a very positive reaction,” Self says. They plan to hire a third person eventually and the plan is to get more people interacting with the site.

With almost daily announcements coming from the Obama Administration on funding and programs for a “new energy economy,” including smart grid development and an appliance trade-in program similar to the “Cash for Clunkers” program for cars, Eco-rate is well-positioned to fill a consumer need.

The site is updated almost daily and is “an evolving project aimed to inform and inspire. It’s our personal passion to make all products sustainable,” Self says.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

3 November, 2009 at 12:33 pm

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