New Mobile App Finds Eco-Friendly Businesses

Strolling through Old City and hoping to eat at a farm-to-table restaurant? Shopping along Walnut Street and interested in buying eco-friendly fashions? Now thanks to MilkCrate — a smartphone app launching this week — sustainable-minded shoppers can discover nearly 2,000 “green” businesses located in Philadelphia and Montgomery and Bucks counties.

"Our goal is to provide a central digital hub for all organizations in the Philadelphia area that care about sustainability and the local economy," said Morgan Berman, the founder and CEO of MilkCrate.

The free-to-download app became available on Droid devices Sunday — Berman’s 29th birthday. An iOS version for iPhone users will be available to download by the end of the week, she said.

A Philly native, Berman said she was inspired to create MilkCrate in 2011 when she was seeking out sustainable businesses but found there was no single database listing all those in our region.

“All this information was so spread out,” she explained. “I kept thinking this takes a lot of energy and a lot of time. What is it like for people who have the inclination to do this stuff, but don’t necessarily have enough energy to dedicate to this?”

Two years later -- when she began a master’s degree program in sustainable design at Philadelphia University -- she dedicated her thesis to developing a mobile app that serves as a hub for consumers to easily find environmentally friendly businesses.

“Instead of going to Yelp, they can go to MilkCrate to find a place that uses farm-to-table produce,” she said.

The app is likey to gain users given the growing interest in eco-friendly products and services, said Pinar Yildirim, a marketing professor with University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

"Consumers obtain a 'warm glow' from using [eco-friendly products]," Yildirim said. "These products and services make consumers feel good and look good to their social circle."

Having access at their fingertips to a directory of sustainable businesses makes it even easier for an educated shopper to determine how to spend their dollars, she added.

Berman, and her team of more than a dozen staff members, collaborated with other organizations that verify a business’ sustainable practices -- including B Corporation, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, Fair Food and The Humane League -- and used their lists to create a database of almost 2,000 eco-friendly restaurants, retailers, fitness centers, salons and other services.

Soon MilkCrate will add the various cooperatives mapped out by students at Haverford College. Companies interested in a mention on MilkCrate that are not yet verified as sustainable with one of its collaborators can submit information and the firm will determine if they meet the necessary standards to get listed, Berman said.

“We are the app that will help you find everything you put in your milk crate when you ride around the city,” said Berman, referencing the repurposed plastic containers often fastened to bikes.

Users can select icons to filter by category and also search what’s nearby with results showing up in a directory format.

But Berman said a second version, which she plans to release by the end of the year pending funds raised by an IndieGoGo campaign, will include a map mode, a “bucket list” for users to earmark businesses they want to try and a favorites list for stores shoppers already know they like.

The next version also helps the company — so far built entirely on “sweat equity” — to add ways to become more profitable, Berman said.

Users can pay $20 per year, or $2 per month, for a premium account, which will offer Groupon-like discounts, and businesses can pay to advertise or obtain a more prominent placement on the site.

And plans are also in the works for MilkCrate to catalogue sustainable businesses outside of Philly, in cities like Washington and San Francisco, Berman added.

“We want to help consumers everywhere when they are making decisions about what to do, where to eat, where to go."

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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