Business model design

The Great Dot Eco Domain Debate

At Open Forum for Inhabitat:

Two sides are emerging in an effort to create the.ECO top level domain early in 2010. One side (headed by Canada-based Big Room, and backed by World Wildlife Federation and Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross)  sees .ECO as a labeling program, where companies earn the right to the domain in exchange for transparent display of environmental impact information. The other side (lead by a group called Dot Ecoand backed by Al Gore and thee Sierra Club) argues that .ECO be used as a large scale fundraising tool, with organizations agreeing to share 57% of their profits from registration fees to support environmental causes.

For both consortiums, a significant prize is at stake if the .ECO domain takes hold. In their bid to ICANN, the winner will have the rights to sell domain names according to their own parameters. The debate follows a long trend in the environmental movement about what is needed more, transparency to reveal the real impacts, or money to spend on the next green challenges.

Yet neither side address the long-held hope of the green movement of becoming mainstream, an established part of how we behave as non profits, for profits, not a niche subsection of our culture that is specialized and considered as an alternative. By segmenting off a section of the web for .ECO-only domains, are we forever relegating the efforts of smart green entrepreneurs and social ventures to a side show, or segment of our culture? Brian Clark Howard at The Daily Green asks a similar question, arguing that .ECO creates a green ghetto, and received this response from a commenter named Jacob Malthouse from Big Room: “There is no reason that Dot Eco has to be a ghetto. Right now, it’s just an idea for a neighborhood. With the right community, cohesion, policies, and creativity, it can be a shining example of what an eco-neighborhood can be.”

Meanwhile, the Dot Eco group sees the value in serving as a mass fundraising vehicle, as stated in a greenpaper, “our goal is to make .ECO a ubiquitous and recognizable web address, much like .ORG, that provides a steady and growing source of funding for leading environmental organizations.” Triple Pundit points out that Dot Eco was founded by internet entrepreneurs Fred Krueger and Clark Landry, as well as Minor Childers, a Hollywood creative executive and film producer (Davis Guggenheim, the director of the documentaryAn Inconvenient Truth, sits on the company’s advisory board). Dot Eco plans to invest in a marketing campaign to push adoption of the .ECO domain. Companies would not be held to environmental performance standards, but if widely popular Dot Eco would generate significant funds for green causes.

So is .ECO an inevitability, and if so should it become a credentialing system or fundraising arm for green causes?