Conscious Me: Mapping out London’s ethical options, one business at a time
The internet has revolutionised retail. That may sound like a fairly obvious point, but it’s actually slightly more nuanced than it first appears: while the likes of Amazon have ensured that mail-order is more popular than 90s catalogues could ever hope to have been, the internet has also transformed physical brick and mortar establishments. If you want to try a new place, you might just wander in, but the chances are you’ll want to see how it’s rated on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or even Twitter first.
So, finding places that are decent and likely to be your thing is incredibly easy. But what about squaring quality of service against ethical business practices? Understandably, most companies – unless they have reason to be phenomenally proud – don’t wear their values on their sleeves, so how do you shop ethically when the social web doesn’t provide any pointers? Enter Conscious Me – a website that maps out the “good” options around you, whether you’re looking for a snack or a savings account.
Well, it does if you’re in London, anyway. While founders Sean Nelson and Rob Baldwin had the idea for Conscious Me while living in Oman – Baldwin is a marine biologist, while Nelson was running a low-impact camping business – London always seemed the perfect city to test-drive the concept. “There is a wealth of inspiring people, organisations and businesses in our capital, with values beyond making money at the core of their existence,” explained Nelson.
“London is the second most sustainable city in the world and yet very few Londoners know it. Our city is a great melting pot of people, ideas and progress – it’s the best place on Earth for us to set out from. We plan to set the standard here and then spin out to other cities around the world.”
Without getting too philosophical, good is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. So what exactly is good in Conscious Me’s view? “We look very closely at the environmental, social and ethical credentials of a given business and consider this against our Conscious criteria,” Nelson explained. “Making a conscious choice means considering the sustainability and ethics of a product or service, before you buy. It is an informed choice, which is made in order to benefit people, communities and/or the environment, promoting positive change, either locally or globally.“
“This could mean choosing companies that are more socially and environmentally sustainable than their competitors. For example, an eco hotel, a car-share scheme, or an ethical bank. It could be a choice to use recycled materials or upcycled products, removing the need to extract raw materials and waste energy, or a choice to buy local to minimise the energy used in transport, as well as to support your community.”
This also expands to workers’ rights – an area the tech industry has been quite content to turn a blind eye to for some time – ensuring positive policies like fair trade, living wages, child labour, safety and anti-discrimination regulations meet our high-minded ideals.
In short, Conscious Me is the natural conclusion to a chain of thought that dates back to Nelson’s time in Oman: “Our idea was that it would be wonderful if we could create an online platform that celebrated these businesses – an easily accessible, useful tool that enables people to make “better” everyday choices, across all aspects of their lives.”
“The result is a website that’s accessible at any time straight from the pocket, that plugs into your phone’s maps and lays out all the ethical options around you.”
The result is a website that’s accessible at any time straight from the pocket, that plugs into your phone’s maps and lays out all the ethical options around you, giving us one less excuse not to consider the ethical repercussions of our lifestyles. For now, central London is awash with quality options, though the outskirts around my home are distinctly more limited. In part, this is to do with the pains of being a startup – in the early stages, the pair have had to manually enter businesses by hand, but now word of mouth is beginning to spread the work more evenly. “We are increasingly receiving requests from companies that love what we are doing and want to be a part of it,” said Nelson.
There are spots for sponsored listings in the mix, but Nelson is adamant that the same kind of vetting process applies to companies that seek to be included. “We only engage with businesses who recognise the value of being a part of this new economy and believe that making money can be good for all,” he explained.
It’s perhaps too early to tell whether these high-minded ideals will make a financially – as well as environmentally – sustainable business, but Nelson is upbeat: “A symbiosis is occurring, whereby consumers are demanding more conscious products and services and businesses are realising the opportunity and acting to meet consumer demand.”