Pando

With 4M monthly visitors, can One Green Planet convince millennials to save the planet?

By David Holmes , written on September 17, 2014

From The News Desk

Last week I wrote about the Dodo, an environmental site founded by Huffington Post cofounder Ken Lerer and his daughter Izzie. The pair had just announced $4.7 million in new funding and a content-sharing partnership with Discovery. I called it "a new kind of environmental site for the social age" because of how it balances ever-popular, Facebook-optimized animal videos with hard-hitting investigative animal rights reporting, taking a page from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post which both strike a similar combination of light and heavy.

But as I quickly learned, the idea wasn't as new as I thought. Nilesh Zacharias and Preeta Sinha pointed out to me that their site One Green Planet has been following a similar playbook since launching in 2012. That in itself might not be newsworthy, but the site's impressive growth is. Since last July, One Green Planet's monthly unique visitors has risen from 300,000 to 4 million, Zacharias told me. (The Dodo, which only launched earlier this year, had around 135,000 uniques last month, according to Quantcast. That said, sources close to the company have told Pando that this number badly underestimates Dodo's traffic, possibly due to the fact that it's built on Rebelmouse, which they claim is expected to be closer to 5 million this month).

That I hadn't heard of One Green Planet speaks to a couple driving traits of technology journalism. Having bootstrapped the company entirely, there were never any funding rounds to attract the attention of the press release-obsessed tech press. Furthermore, the involvement of the elder Lerer, having already established his bonafides as a founder and investor, gives the Dodo a significant shot of credibility.

But stacks of VC cash and New York startup royalty aren't the only things that differentiate the two sites. In addition to publishing videos and articles, One Green Planet is heavily focused on providing resources for consumers looking to live more sustainably. Around a third of the stories on its homepage right now are vegan recipes. The site also offers tips on how to make your own hand soap and eye shadow that won't have been tested on animals (unless you choose to, you sicko).

"We specialize and focus on the impact and the connections between lifestyle and animal issues," Zacharias says. "We try to help people understand the impact of their lifestyle choices on animals, the environment, and themselves."

One Green Planet's target readers are Millennials. Zacharias, echoing something Good Eggs investor Danny Rimer told me last week, says young consumers care intensely about a company's sense of social responsibility. And while they may not identify as environmentalists, many Millennials seek to live environmentally-conscious lives by default.

"[Millennials] understand that this isn't a problem that needs to be necessarily solved by someone else," Zacharias says.

In contrast to One Green Planet's impressive audience growth and the Dodo's big venture rounds, environmental reporting from legacy media outlets has taken a hit. Last year, the New York Times shut down its environmental blogs, even as the threats posed by climate change are more urgent than ever. And while the Times insisted it would cover environmental issues in other verticals, climate change coverage took a nosedive over the following six months. Meanwhile, the Washington Post switched its lead climate reporter Juliet Eilperin off the environmental beat to cover the White House.

Zacharias has two big theories for why major media organizations have gone quiet on environmental reporting. The first is that we may be witnessing the popping of the "green bubble" that came in the wake of Al Gore's wildly popular "An Inconvenient Truth."

"Everyone was jumping on that bandwagon," Zacharias says. "Even Yahoo [Zacharias' former employer] had a green section."

But people lost interest in the green craze after it became so crowded that no one could tell the truly environmental products from the fakers who merely slapped on an "eco-friendly" label. Moreover, the environmental reporting from outlets like the Times and the Post were mired in complex debates over policy which, while important, don't resonate as well with young people and their decision-making as consumers.

By bringing readers in the door with cute videos, and focusing on how something as commonplace as the makeup we buy can impact these adorable animals, One Green Planet hopes to close the loop between viral content, environmentalism, and consumer activism. That may rankle the diehard tree-spiking eco-warriors of the yesteryear. But if the site can convince young people to eat vegan, make homemade hand soap, and volunteer for environmental non-profits without identifying as hippie tree huggers? Even Thoreau would be proud.