Sustainable Pittsburgh is using the power of shopping to reward small, local businesses that do things like use fans to cut down on air conditioning, don’t hand plastic bags to customers, sponsor events at local schools, and maybe even have an owner who lives over the shop.
The Downtown nonprofit already had held a few “cash mobs,” a promotional idea that started a few years ago around the country to play off the flash mob craze. Instead of people breaking out into a surprise Cupid Shuffle, cash mobs are supposed to bring a group of people to a business around the same time ready to spend a few bucks in support of a shared cause.
Or maybe it’s just a modern name for a promotional sales event.
The first cash mob hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh — in Carnegie in 2013 — was a success, the nonprofit said. More than 80 percent of the participating businesses saw double the usual number of customers and sales.
Two more followed — one in Dormont last May and another in Ambridge in November — and they seemed to have the intended effect of helping shoppers identify small businesses that are “implementing sustainability actions that are simultaneously good for their bottom line, the environment, and the social fabric of their communities.”
At The Moonbeam Jar in Ambridge, co-owner Mary Holleran said she saw some new customers for her vintage home decor and gift shop during the event. She was pleased to be given a silver designation by the group, the second-highest sustainable designation.
While she thought the cash mob might have made a bigger splash had it been promoted longer and more, “All in all, it was a positive experience,” said Ms. Holleran. “I would gladly do something with them again.”
The Sustainable Pittsburgh website indicated more than 60 people turned out for the Carnegie event, while the Ambridge one drew more than 25.
This time around, the nonprofit has decided to turn the project into a contest, inviting businesses and communities to apply to be the site of a cash mob event planned for June. “There’s been some demonstrated interest” from businesses and communities in the region, said Ginette Walker Vinski, communications manager.
To qualify, applicants must involve a municipality that’s certified sustainable — so far 37 have been certified and 15 more are working on it, Ms. Vinski said — and has at least three small businesses that have been designated by the organization as sustainable. Businesses must have 50 or fewer employees.
Although the application deadline is April 10, it’s not too late for communities or businesses to get certified, she said. The cash mob application can be found at C4SPgh.org/cashmob.
“A lot of municipalities and even businesses are already doing many of these things,” said Ms. Vinski.
The group’s theory is that the practices are good for business anyway and the program is a way to encourage small businesses to do more of them. The checklist doesn’t just ask businesses about using the right kind of toilets, but also covers things like encouraging employees to stay fit and to get involved in community service.
“They’re passionate not only about their businesses, but about the community,” Ms. Vinski said. “That’s really what sustainability is all about.”
The community chosen for the cash mob in June can expect to see the event promoted on the Sustainable Pittsburgh website and through both social and traditional media. The group also will help design and print fliers and posters to get the word out, Ms. Vinski said.
Teresa F. Lindeman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2018.