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Taking the Web 2.0 route to green tech

Rather than join green-tech companies, Web 2.0 pros are tapping social networking to attract environmentally aware consumers.

When Benjamin Brown, the CEO of Web start-up, hands you his business card, it's got "green" written all over it.

Rather than bleached white, it's the color of a supermarket bag and has a green fingerprint printed on the back. lets people see their energy usage and savings over time--as well as what their friends are doing.

Brown's not the only Web entrepreneur going with the recycled paper look. A growing number of tech and media entrepreneurs are trying to enter the booming green-tech industry via the Web.

Over the past five years, many IT professionals have made the jump to energy-related companies. Former Microsoftie Martin Tobias, for example, was CEO of biodiesel company Imperium Renewables, while the head of ethanol maker Range Fuels, Mitch Mandich, is a former Apple executive.

These IT veterans made the move either because there are more job opportunities, or because they want to work in an environmentally oriented field. Although they may lack technical know-how in energy, they contribute the speed and entrepreneurial culture of high-tech start-ups, the thinking goes.

By contrast, people like Brown feel that tapping social networking on the Web is the best way to build a business with an environmental slant.

"There's a lot of noise and a lot of great clean technologies are going to be created," Brown says. "The reason I wanted to go towards the Web is because, in the end, it's the individual consumer who will be driving those concepts and ideas." is sort of like Weight Watchers for carbon-conscious consumers. It allows people to evaluate their individual carbon footprint and track it over time while teaming with others.

The company, which spent two and half years building the software, is in the process of raising a Series A round of venture capital, said Brown, who is 25.

green Web sites

Over the past few years, there's been an explosion in green-themed Web media. Many sites act as hubs for environmentally aware people, providing news links and tips. There are sites to locate suppliers of green products or even to find a date with like-minded greenies.

The green Web reflects growing awareness of environmental issues. With the growth of social-networking sites, getting the word out online is a natural, particularly for younger people for whom socializing online is second nature. MakeMeSustainable released a Facebook application in December.

For people with software skills, green Web businesses are a tech-related career path that dovetails with their personal goals.

"The people who have Web 2.0 in their DNA, let's call it, are very alert and sensitive to this," said Andy Zaleta, a partner at recruiting firm Battalia Winston. "There's a social awareness created by the younger generation online."

There are many sites, which are counting on advertising revenue, that aggregate environmental news and tips. A few are emerging that emphasize social networking. A site called Carbonrally, offers teams of people regular challenges, such as using PC energy-management software. Teams can compete as they track the impact of their changes.

Brown said that eco-oriented consumers are getting to the point where they want hard numbers to back up their good intentions.

"Who the hell knows what is eco or green and people are getting tired of greenwashing," he said. "There's so much information out there, what we're seeking to be is a trusted quantitative source."