Is the Live Green Toronto card program a failure?
The experience of saving money is made infinitely better when you can feel like you're doing something positive at the same time. Yet rarely do these two conditions meet; either you're the jerk counting your quarters and holding up the line at the cash, or you're the soft-hearted sucker, down a few bills with a whole lot of Girl Guide cookies you'll never eat.
Toronto's Live Green Membership Card Program seems to offer both. The card, which you can receive for free, will save you money at more than 250 local stores and businesses, while at the same time serve to promote green initiatives and environmentally friendly products and services.
But the program has not gained the momentum anticipated back in November during its launch, at least according to some local businesses. They say that since signing on (also free for businesses) they've seen few customers whip our their cards. So is the issue that Torontonians don't know about the program, or are they just not using their cards?
Well, according to Annemarie Baynton of Live Green Toronto, more than 10,000 Live Green membership cards have been mailed out thus far. I'd say that's pretty good, considering the program is just entering its sixth month. Baynton tells me that the initial launch relied heavily on word of mouth, spearheaded by Live Green's 1000 or so volunteers, as well as booths at local events and some ads in and around TTC vehicles.
The concept being promoted was simple: Torontonians show their cards at local businesses (either those that have been approached by the city or have completed the online application to sign on) and receive discounts on green products or services. Business owners work with Live Green staff to determine a suitable offer, and the details are posted on the Live Green website. Businesses then receive a free welcome package containing a window cling and other materials to let customers know they can use their Live Green cards in store.
However, it seems not all businesses have used those promotional materials, and perhaps that's part of the problem. Balzac's Coffee, for example, doesn't post any signs advertising its Live Green deal, which entitles cardholders to 10% off fair trade coffee (though the details are available on Live Green's website). "We just signed onto the program recently," the manager tells me, "and the owner has to decide if she wants to put the signs up." As of yet, though, the manager hadn't seen anyone take advantage of the discount. A barista at Balzac's didn't even know what the Live Green card was.
Still, it doesn't seem it can all be chocked up to lack of visibility. I spoke to Freedom Clothing Collective, which has been with Live Green since the beginning, and they said they hadn't seen anyone take advantage of their buy one, get the second 20% off Live Green deal. "We have a sign on display in the window," a woman at Freedom told me. "But no one seems to notice."
Of course, there are some businesses that report slightly higher usage. The owner of Kensington Natural Bakery, which offers 10% off organic products with the card, estimated about 15% of customers take advantage of the Live Green deal. A woman I spoke to at Grassroots on Danforth, too, had higher numbers to report, saying she had seen eight people use the card just last week. Though, she also admitted that those numbers were unusual, as typically she would just see a card every one or two weeks.
Baynton acknowledged that some businesses may not have seen a whole lot of Live Green cards just yet, attributing the slow start to the freshness of the program. She hopes that the warmer weather will bring out more customers, and, by extension, more usage of the Live Green cards. "The whole idea is about matching green-minded shoppers with businesses that have made a commitment to green initiatives," she says. "I hope that as the program grows, it will become more visible, more recognizable, and we'll see a lot more opportunities to use your cards."
For now, Live Green seems to be making all the right moves. It has a Facebook page and Twitter feed with news and updates, new businesses still signing on, and may even consider plans to track card usage in the future. But for now, it seems people are still paying full price for their Steam Whistle tours, even though they can get two for one. How else can you convince Torontonians to save their own money?
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