Websites net the green angle...

Latching on to a trend among advertisers touting the green credentials of their products, and readers eager to make sense of them, several online publishers have launched websites offering product reviews and advice for consumers concerned about their impact on the environment.

Last month, both CNET Networks UK and BBC Magazines launched consumer websites that attempt to tap into this growing new market.

CNET’s SmartPlanet is a news and reviews site that covers ethical and sustainable products across a disparate range of sectors where green claims are becoming more prevalent – from cars and electronic gadgets, to travel, leisure and restaurants.

The site also carries reviews submitted by readers, and a podcast is in the pipeline.

‘There’s a rise of products claiming to be green or claiming to have some sort of ethical edge – with cars especially,’says editor Adam Vaughan. ‘It’s really difficult, as a consumer, to make a decision between those because there’s now actually quite a lot of choice,’adds Vaughan, who is currently recruiting the site’s fourth staff writer.

‘We wanted to make it easy for consumers to cut through the marketing, because there is a lot of hype and a lot of claims describing things as ‘eco-friendly’ but then not actually explaining how they are eco-friendly.”

Vaughan – whose CV includes launching Shiny Media’s ethical consumer blog, HippyShopper, and a stint at the well-established print brand New Consumer magazine – says a key mission is to test manufacturers’ green credentials.

‘We’re going beyond the press release to see if they live up to their claims,’he says.

But while questioning the green advertising claims increasingly being made by companies, SmartPlanet is also tapping into that new advertising market.

Vaughan cites a 2006 report from The Co-operative Bank that suggested that the market for ethical consumer products was worth more than alcohol and cigarettes combined.

‘Apart from the information void out there, there was also a business case for launching this site,’says Vaughan, though he stresses there is a separation of ‘church and state’between the site’s editorial output and its commercial operation.

The BBC’s commercial arm is targeting a slightly different eco-aware audience with the launch of BBCGreen.com.

The site emerged from ‘Big Britain”, a BBC Magazines market-research exercise, whichs had identified a group of Middle Englanders who had become increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment – but didn’t know where to turn for reliable guidance about what they should do.

The result was a new addition to BBC Worldwide’s so-called ‘passion sites’– putting it in the same stable, ironically perhaps, as TopGear.com.

BBCGreen.com was conceived by publisher Will Watt, who previously worked at Dennis Publishing. Another Dennis alumnus on the site is its online strategist, Andrew Zincke, who worked on the digital-only magazine Monkey.

Editor Paul Allen leads a team of four at the site, which focuses on providing practical advice on how consumers can affect the environment through their choices. An online climate calculator, for example, allows users to see how different behaviour reduces their environmental impact.

Like its CNET rival, the BBC site is hoping to make use of the online medium to encourage different consumer behaviour. BBCGreen.com has announced a partnership with auction site eBay to encourage readers to buy second-hand products.

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