Vancouver Coffee Shop Gears up for Mob Scene

May 12, 2010 Updated: May 16, 2010

ECO ENSEMBLE: Mobbers outside Discovery Coffee in Victoria during Canada's first Carrotmob. The event was put on in conjunction with 350.org for the Global Day of Climate Action. (Courtesy of Susan Jones)
ECO ENSEMBLE: Mobbers outside Discovery Coffee in Victoria during Canada's first Carrotmob. The event was put on in conjunction with 350.org for the Global Day of Climate Action. (Courtesy of Susan Jones)
CARROTMOB: Mobbers are entertained by the Nice Guy Trio as they line up to shop at K & D Market in San Francisco during the first ever Carrotmob in March 2008. (Courtesy of Eli Gardner)
CARROTMOB: Mobbers are entertained by the Nice Guy Trio as they line up to shop at K & D Market in San Francisco during the first ever Carrotmob in March 2008. (Courtesy of Eli Gardner)
VANCOUVER—A mob numbering in the hundreds—some dressed as carrots—will descend on Salt Spring Island Coffee on Vancouver’s Main Street this Sunday.

The mob will exercise their spending power in the coffee shop in exchange for a promise from store management to make environmental improvements.

The shoppers are members of Carrotmob, an emerging global movement of environmentally conscious consumers that reward businesses that donate a percentage of their sales from the mob event toward sustainable upgrades.

“The Carrotmob is just a really cool way for businesses to engage with the community that they're in and also generate capital to be able to make changes, and that's something that's always a challenge for small businesses,” says Emily Jubenvill, and volunteer co-organizer of Vancouver’s first Carrotmob event.

To set up the “boycott,” Jubenvill and other volunteers approached 15 Main Street coffee shops in Vancouver. Each was asked what percentage of a day’s sales revenue they would be willing to pledge toward green store renovations in exchange for the mob’s business.

A third of the shop owners agreed to make a pledge, each of which was featured in a YouTube video and on the group’s blog.

A bidding war ensued between shop owners, and more than 900 Vancouverites voted via a Facebook page set up for the purpose. Salt Spring Coffee, with a commitment of 110 percent, won the mob.

“Main Street is a really great artist location and a really trendy area of Vancouver that sometimes, I kind of feel like it's been forgotten, so I was really excited to see them come in and do this,” says Ronda Simpson, sustainability coordinator for Salt Spring Coffee.

She says the buzz around the event has resulted in “people looking at sustainable actions, when for some people it wouldn't even be a thought in their day.”

All the day’s takings—plus 10 percent—will be spent on installing more energy efficient lighting. In parts of the building, says Simpson, the lighting has remained unchanged since the 1950s.

With between 100 and 300 people expected to show up, organizers say the mob has the potential to raise thousands of dollars of extra cash for the coffee shop. An event in Toronto last month raised $9,516 in revenue for G’s Fine Foods, which put a percentage the takings toward energy-efficient improvements and carrying 15 new Local Food Plus certified products.

After a Carrotmob in Victoria in March, Wannawaffel used the entire $2,135 raised to improve waste management.

Sunday will mark Vancouver’s first foray into the mob scene, which will feature entertainment from local musicians, jugglers, a magician, and spot prizes.

San Francisco-based Brent Schulkin conceived the idea for Carrotmob after he read the book “Smart Mobs” by Howard Rheingold. An activist from way back, Schulkin was inspired by the idea of a type of “unorganized,” yet organized, action.

“At first it seemed like such a clear, obvious idea that I assumed someone had done it and that it probably hadn't worked, or else why wouldn't it be more popular, but then I finally decided no one had done this so I gave it a try and that was the beginning,” he says.

The first ever Carrotmob took place in March 2008 at K & D Market in San Francisco. Schulkin filmed the event and posted the video on YouTube to get the ball rolling. Since then, more than 60 similar actions have taken place in Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and North America—all organized by self-motivated volunteers inspired by the idea of making a difference with a positive approach.

“There’s an old saying that there are two ways to make a donkey walk forward: Either offer a delicious carrot out in front of it, or hit its behind with a stick,” reads carrotmob.org.

Schulkin says traditional activism has tended to use protests, boycotts, and the like to press for change, which can often appear negative. His hope is that mob supporters will grow large enough in consumer purchasing power to get the attention of big business.

Making Carrotmob more popular is also Schulkin’s answer for generating revenue from his nonprofit venture.

Schulkin is currently focused on completing a transition to incorporated nonprofit status, and working with his two new full-time staff to create structures and tools to support his disparate army of consumer crusaders.

What’s needed next, he says, is “some initial big donors that might like to contribute.”