Practically Green, Led by Former Globe Exec, Uses Social Media and Game Mechanics to Spread Green Living

Everyone has their own green environmental “a-ha” moment. Maybe it’s seeing birds drowning in oil, or paying $4 a gallon for gas, or reading about the plastic trash heap the size of Texas swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. For Susan Hunt Stevens, it was discovering her young son had serious food and environmental allergies, which prompted her to examine which ingredients and toxins were causing the health problems.

Her discovery came back in 2007, and it roughly coincided with Stevens and her family moving into a 19th-century Victorian home outside of Boston. So, in part to create a better living environment for her family, she decided to do a major “green renovation.” This effort has included generating electricity from waste energy (boiled water), using light-emitting diodes and compact fluorescent lamps for lighting, buying energy-saving appliances and plywood cabinetry made without formaldehyde glues, insulating the roof with healthy spray foam, installing bamboo shades and cork floors, using low-flow faucets and toilets, composting kitchen waste, and so on.

Along the way, Stevens decided to blog about the experience. She knows a thing or two about online media and consumer marketing, having been a longtime senior executive with The New York Times and Boston Globe, where she oversaw the news site, among other things. [Disclosure: Stevens joined Xconomy’s board of directors last month—Eds.]

But when she originally started blogging about green issues, she got questions from readers about the industry that she couldn’t answer. That started her on the road to taking classes at the Boston Architectural College, where she learned cutting-edge green design.

Stevens is now the founder and CEO of Practically Green, a stealthy Web startup based in Boston that combines many of the things she has done in her career. I sat down with her last week to talk about the company and its significance to green sustainability issues, online business models, and technology trends like social networking and videogame mechanics.

The first thing to know about Practically Green is that it’s not just another “green content” site, or how-to blog about sustainability and the environment. Instead, think of it as being like Foursquare or FarmVille for the green lifestyle, mixed with in terms of accessibility and support networks. And throw in a little and TripAdvisor for consumer reviews and e-commerce. The site uses social networks, gaming mechanics, and expert content to help consumers figure out “how green” they are, find reputable green products and services, and connect with other like-minded people so as to stay motivated to live a greener lifestyle. The big idea is to help consumers lead healthier lives, while also aiding the environment—and saving on their electric bill.

It’s also an intriguing example of the “gamification” trend we’ve been reporting on lately, whereby consumer websites and companies are trying to boost traffic, engagement, and customer loyalty … Next Page »

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