Consumption for a Better World: Utopia.de
Whoever clicks Utopia.de, perceives that the people behind it are not truculent do-gooders or grim anti-consumers but rather professional editors. The contents are presented in an original format, the design is professional, multi-media elements abound. And the popular actor Axel Milberg explains to users in a video message why, with the birth of his first child, he has become a „utopist”: „I want to enjoy life. But not at the cost of tomorrow.”
„That our portal doesn’t look like a eco site is intentional”, says Claudia Langer. She founded Utopia.de and has, together with a twenty-member team, provided it with content for just about a year now. „We would like to address people who have, up to now, only thought about changing something in their lives”, emphasises Langer. „We would like to show them that they can do something without having to renounce everything”.
Bad conscience is a back numberOn its pages Utopia.de shows how doing something works. Among other things, the portal campaigns for the switch to green electricity providers, sends its users into the great outdoors with an „outdoor guide”, recommends sustainable holidays and counsels food purchases from local farmers. „We certainly don’t want to give anybody a bad conscience”, says Langer. Utopia.de means rather to advocate that businesses put good and sustainable products on the market, products that nobody need have a bad conscience for consuming. „Naturally, consumption isn’t going to save the world”, says Langer. „But it’s still a beginning.”
Utopia.de has been online since November 2007. Within eight months the number of community members has risen to 17,000. 100 to 200 more join daily. One can „become a utopist” at Utopia.de under a rubric with precisely this title. Members can choose whether they will be registered with or without a picture of themselves and how much personal information they wish to make available on the net. As a rule, the „utopist’s” level of education is above average. Many of them earn good salaries and have children. Non-consumption is not an option for this target group. But the utopists have a keen concern for their health and the state of a world in which their children will one day have to lead their lives. Marketing professionals long ago identified this high-income, health and environmentally-conscious group and summed it up with the abbreviation „Lohas”: lifestyle of health and sustainability.
„No green-washing forum for industry”Langer belongs herself clearly in this target group. She is in her early forties, worked successfully for many years in advertising and is the mother of three children. For her, however, Utopia.de is more than the manipulation of a high-income target group: „I’ve been political my whole life, with the conviction that one day I would have to assume responsibility. At bottom I always knew that what I learned in advertising would come in handy.”
At present, the makers of Utopia.de earn no money from their portal. They finance it with donations, co-operations and remunerative employment elsewhere. Advertising revenues are desired in the long term, but up to now they have been scanty. There are enough interested companies that would like to reach Utopia.de’s user group with their advertisements, but the editorial staff has clear principles: „80 percent of the companies that want to work with us get a negative reply because they do not produce sustainable goods”, insists Langer. „We aren’t a green-washing forum for industry”.
Getting to know consumers betterThe rapid growth of her utopist community has surprised Langer and her team. „Of course we felt that something was afoot. But we didn’t reckon with being part of so broad a movement in our society.” Langer is even more pleased by the fact that many members are opinion makers and decision takers such as media people, press officers, lobbyists and politicians. A group with such strong opinions has made the economy sit up and take notice: „Businesses that up to now have had little to do with the green movement approach us and want to know what consumers want to buy now and in future”, says Langer. „As opinion makers, we’re on par with business and therefore very interesting to it.”
But Utopia.de does not intend to become pro-business by a long chalk. Among its partners are neutral institutes such as the Ecological Institute in Freiburg and the Wuppertal Climate Institute. Moreover, the editorial staff takes a clear position against the use of atomic energy. But they never pillory individual businesses: „We don’t believe in the effect of polarisation and scandalising,” says Langer. „We want rather to pool all social and economic forces and make positive changes attractive. There are a lot of people who want to continue to drive good motors. But at the same time they want these motorcars to become more environmentally friendly. Nowadays many things are compatible that used to seem impossible.”
The author, based in Cologne, is a science journalist for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and editor of the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR).
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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