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This app will let you translate your social activism into buying power

CNBC logo CNBC 27/12/2016 Natalia Wojcik, special to CNBC.com
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Social media is an increasingly popular place to advocate for strongly held beliefs and spread awareness about certain issues. Yet it raises a certain question: Are most people actually accomplishing anything tangible with "hashtag activism," or are they simply shouting into the void?

At least one company is gearing up to help consumers translate their views into concrete action, helping them spend their dollars accordingly. DoneGood, which launched on Cyber Monday, is a technology start-up based in Boston that creates tech products connecting consumers with businesses they can feel good about supporting.

Using DoneGood as a web browser extension, the consumer can see ethical or sustainable alternatives to big-name companies automatically as they search for their product. On the mobile app, users can select which causes are important to them such as being "green," buying a product "made in the USA," or "locally sourced" — then shop at businesses that care about those values too.

Some of DoneGood's partner companies, like Modavanti and Elegantees, offer discounts through the app. Customers can get anywhere from $20 off their next five purchases to 20 percent off. The company also plans to have DoneGood labels on products in brick-and-mortar stores, which may function as a seal of approval for socially conscious buyers.

The idea for the app came about when DoneGood's co-founders, Cullen Schwarz and Scott Jacobson, bonded over their mutual desire to support businesses that have a positive social impact.

"The greatest tool each one of us has to create change is the dollars we spend. ... The more we demand business practices that are good for workers and the planet, the more that's what we'll get," Schwarz, a Democratic political veteran, told CNBC recently.

"When we support companies that do the right thing, we help them succeed, and the more other companies follow suit," he added. "The world gets better ... just because we got something we needed to buy anyway."

Schwarz says that it makes sense that this technology has become available now. According to a 2013 report from the World Economic Forum, 36 percent of millennials say that the primary purpose of business is to "improve society," edging past the 35 percent of respondents who felt businesses should just "generate profit."

Still, some point out that sustainable products are more expensive than their generic counterparts — a point of argument that DoneGood is trying to rebut.

"It is a misnomer that ethically made products are always more expensive. We have done business with companies who are very competitive with their big-name counterparts," said Schwarz.

"That said, they can be more expensive sometimes; there's a reason that big companies use sweatshops and pay cheaply: It costs less. However, DoneGood companies are also providing a lot higher-quality products than those by big companies," he added.

Earlier this year, DoneGood raised a substantial amount in its seed round from a group of individual angel investors, leaving them fully funded through 2017. The company was also one of eight finalists in MIT's $100K Launch Competition. 

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