Could domain name .eco be a force for environmental change?

Greenwash. Some would argue it happens all the time. Indeed, as a CSR professional I have been accused of aiding and abetting greenwash myself. I like to think otherwise, but I can see why people hold those views, when companies seem to do good with one hand and bad with the other.

Imagine what people will think when they see those same companies with a website that ends with .eco. It could well be happening by next year but by working together, the global environmental community could ensure .eco is not greenwash. Instead it can become a vehicle for improving corporate sustainability performance.

In June, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation that runs the Internet, announced that 1,910 different companies had applied to run 1,410 new top-level domain names (those website suffixes like .com). Sometimes these are companies aiming to protect their brand name such as .apple and .google (which is also applying for .earth), while others include geographic domains such as .scot. When the winning companies start selling these next year, we will see what has been described as the digital equivalent of the 19th century American landgrab.

There’s money to be made in this new digital landscape, so perhaps it is not surprising that 751 of these applied-for domain names are contested. Intriguingly, industry bigwigs Sedo have rated .eco as one of the top ten new domains in terms of value. Of the four applicants to run .eco, one commercial applicant has applied to run a total of 306 domain names and another 91. I think it is safe to say they are in it for the money.

That is where the community bid which has been submitted is different. Convened by Vancouver-based Big Room, the community bid has been put together after an exhaustive five-year process of consultation and policy development with stakeholders from the environmental and sustainability community including over 50 international groups such as Greenpeace International and WBCSD. And these community groups remain involved in the governance of .eco, with the current co-chairs being WWF International and the Akatu Institute, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The community bid’s policies would mean that only companies that commit to sustainability and publicly report performance against key metrics will have the right to run websites that end .eco.

These metrics will be searchable and comparable through .eco, thus providing consumers and others with a valuable resource to help make better-informed decisions about which companies they should buy from. As sustainability professionals, we all recognise the value of more transparency and disclosure.

What can the sustainability community do?

It can register its support for the community bid. The 60-day window for submitting comments lasts until 12 August. The received wisdom in domain registry circles is that winning a community bid is next to impossible, because it is easy to drum up a couple of groups that object to the community designation. Dark mutterings are that ICANN may not unearth links between objectors and commercial interests that stand to gain from .eco not being awarded to the community. As individuals and organisations involved in sustainability, we can show our support for the application here on the ICANN website. Let’s ensure that instead of being a licence for digital greenwash, .eco is a force for positive environmental change.

Published originally on the Guardian’s Sustainable Business blog on 6 August 2012.


Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s