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We sat down with MilkCrate Philly Founder Morgan Berman to find out the same answer while discussing the upcoming release of the “sustainable yelp” app, hipsters and bridging the gaps between sustainability, technology and community.
Accessibility to information: The problem
83% of Americans consider sustainability when buying food, and 81% want more options available to protect the environment, but they don’t always know where to find them.
The daughter of an entrepreneur who created the Thrift Shop Maniac’s Guide and chef who once worked with Judy Wicks is on her own path to entrepreneurship with a simple idea.
The Thrift Shop Maniac’s Guide started when Morgan Berman, an only child, was born. As Nancy Berman was involved in the farm-to-table movement in Philly, she found another budget-friendly solution to clothing her new daughter: thrift shops. As she promoted the Thrift Shops Maniac’s Guide to Maury Povich and Wall Street Journal, she dragged her daughter along for many thrift shop visits.
Years later, Morgan needed a master’s thesis and had another light bulb moment like her mother’s. People want to shop for sustainable products but aren’t sure where to find them. What if we gave people an easy database to sustainable choices?
MilkCrate Philly was born.
Morgan Berman – Founder of MilkCrate Philly
Morgan Berman recently finished her masters, currently works at Metfcalfe Architecture & Design firm and is ramping up MilkCrate Philly to debut in the Fall. She’s built a team of sustainably-minded, young and smart individuals to help launch the app.
As we sit on her Fairmount roof deck enjoying a homemade meal, discussing whether we classify ourselves as hipsters, I can’t help but notice how the city skyline has signs of sustainability around us in forms of rooftop gardens, trees and spring life.
Berman is determined, confident and innovative with how she plans to execute MilkCrate. A William & Mary alumni, Berman wasn’t always into the idea of ‘sustainability’ as much as her peers. Yet when she moved to West Philly on a whim, she began frequenting a yoga studio and coffee shop and reading Grid Magazine. Soon enough, she joined Maraposa Co-op, composted in her kitchen and incorporated a sustainable lifestyle.
As she continued on her new journey, she recognized there had to be an easier way to find conscious businesses besides googling green restaurants and small businesses from her apartment. After a stint at Grid and enrolled in Grad school, the accessible smartphone app became Berman’s master thesis.
After mulling after dozens and dozens of names, Berman saw an urban biker and had her solution. “People my age take old milk crates and attach them to their bikes. They bike around the city and carry their stuff in their milk crate. And my app is helping people find “stuff” to buy to put in their milk crate which fits within their local, sustainable lifestyle, often via bike.”
MilkCrate Philly – App Functionality
MilkCrate will be the Yelp of sustainability, allowing users to search by location, type of business and keyword. Berman admits that her idea isn’t the first database out there, but she is approaching it in a new, user-friendly way. Using photos and special descriptors, like SBN member, B Corp, or co-op, users can learn more about the owners and favorite businesses.
In the long run, businesses may be encouraged to take additional sustainability initiatives as they become more aware of why consumers choose the businesses they do. Plus, premium app users will access coupons and additional information beyond the basic app.
Although young, urban bikers are the first group to get on board with MilkCrate, Berman wants to app to appeal to a variety of city citizens. One study found that local food tends to be cheaper than the supermarket, meaning the app can provide inexpensive choices to consumers, too.
Beyond the functionality, MilkCrate is pretty. There have been a few databases created for sustainable businesses, but unfortunately haven’t had the aesthetic touch.
Expected to launch this summer, MilkCrate Philly is currently in the development stage.
Qualifying a Green Business in Philly
One of the hurdles of qualifying a ‘green’ business is that with so many factors, it’s difficult to gauge what is most important to consumers.
What qualifies as a MilkCrate business?
Berman understands the difference between blurred lines and greenwashing. Her approach, while understanding all consumer products have “varying degrees of sustainability,” is closely modeled after the B Corp model. Each business is reviewed holistically, between how they shape the community and planet over the end product. For example, a local company would have more weight over a box store who may happen to provide a selection of sustainable products.
Categories are addressed differently as well. Although food may have standard qualifiers like vegan, organic and fair-trade, other categories aren’t as transparent. Is clothing organic, fair wages for employees or locally made? (Berman prefers the locally-made clothing, as reflected in the database.)
MilkCrate – Long term plans
MilkCrate Philly already incorporates 1660 businesses in Philadelphia, with eventual plans to move beyond the city limits into other counties. One day, Berman envisions MilkCrate to in every city, becoming the national hub for sustainable information.
Readers, what do you think of this upcoming app? Tell us in the comments.