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In This Ethical Marketplace, It’s The Customers Who Decide What Matters

Common is a new place to endorse your favorite socially conscious brands, with your dollars and your vote.

The Common Marketplace is a new site selling “goods for good.” It’s full of items–101 and counting–that minimize their negative impacts while maximizing social returns. At the moment, you can buy toothbrushes recycled from yogurt cups and a pack of Buy One Give One condoms.

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What’s different about Common is that it’s not just the people behind the site who decide what’s ethical. Everyone who registers gets to say what “matters.” Once you click the “this matters” button next to an item, it adds to your profile, showing that you endorse it. If you don’t think a product’s credentials deserve recognition, you can say so. And, you can suggest a product that the marketplace should feature. Common also wants to fill product gaps, so it asks for suggestions. At the moment, it’s looking for toothpastes with recyclable tubes.


CEO Dan Burrier calls Common a “collaborative brand”–something shared by participating companies and consumers. “We’re helping people design new types of business to return value to consumers and society,” he says. “We’re not like Nordstrom’s.”

Founded as a incubator in 2011, Common has consulted with dozens of socially minded businesses, organizing pitch events and brainstorming sessions. The site is about talking the talk, Burrier says. “We really felt that if we’re saying that for-profit businesses can change the world in capitalist fashion, then the way to prove that was to create a marketplace where companies can succeed and fail.”


The site is a little like the Toms Marketplace that launched last year, though Burrier points to a difference or two. “A lot of the sites veer into ‘support this cause,'” he says. “It’s ‘hey, you love to shop and by the way here are some great clothes and we’ll kick some money over there.’ We’re more into ‘this works, this matters.'”


In other words, the emphasis is on the solidly practical, not buying stuff just because it helps someone out. Burrier is sensitive to accusations that “sustainable consumption” is a contradiction, and that, if people really want to help the planet, they’ll simply buy less, not just buy differently. The site nods to the idea by having a product page for “Nothing” (“The perfect gift for yourself or for everyone on your list. Nothing. It’s the perfect way to take care of the planet and all the creatures on it.”). It costs $0.00, though you can add it to your shopping cart.

“It’s a reminder that even in the context of the marketplace, it’s not about consumption,” Burrier says. “What we’re looking for [on the site] are those things that you consume that are contributing rather than detracting.”

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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