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NBC News
updated 10/22/2008 1:34:22 PM ET 2008-10-22T17:34:22

When Gaspare Marturano and a few friends put their heads together last year toward their next business challenge, their love of the outdoors got them to thinking eco-friendly, resulting in the creation of online charity-business LiveGreenRewards.com.

Live Green Rewards offers consumers a convenient way to support "green-friendly" companies while shopping online. It gives 51 per cent of its profits to the participating charity of consumers' choice.

Here's how it works: Consumers go to LiveGreenRewards.com, click on one of the shop links and select a charity from a list. When they buy something via the store links, they earn rebates for the charity.

For example, a consumer might spend $500 buying airline tickets via a listed vendor on LiveGreenRewards.com, and that vendor may provide an online reward of 6 per cent to Live Green Rewards. The purchase earns $15.30 for the charity of choice.

Live Green Rewards guarantees each partner charity a minimum $200 a year.

The business currently caps the number of participating charities at 12. By limiting the number, organizers hope build a more effective relationship with each charity, says Marturano, Live Green Rewards president. He says he and his colleagues target environmental charities with few overhead costs.

Making a difference
LiveGreenRewards.com launched last summer. In its first quarter, it generated roughly $800 revenue, of which charities received about $408.

"We thought it would be a nice way for people who don’t have the extra dollars to donate toward charity, to do regular online shopping with a portion of their purchase price going to the charity that they choose on the site," said Marturano.

"Even if it’s a minimum number of people who use the Web site, we knew that we can still do something good. Even if it's just a small difference, we can make a difference," says Marturano, who has 17 years of sales and marketing experience.

Marturano's previous job was owner of an IT consulting firm, TSC Internet, which he sold. While working on Live Green Rewards is now his sole occupation, Marturano says the other four founders, most of whom he says prefer to remain anonymous, have other jobs — in the fields of marketing, IT, consulting, pharmaceuticals and finance.

Above the norm
Charity-focused business isn’t uncommon, but a 51 percent charity return is above and beyond the norm, according to Justin Baer, founder and publisher of CharityHappenings.org, a social business venture that publishes an online calendar of charitable events.

While cause-related marketing is a powerful method that allows shoppers to support the cause of their choice with consumer dollars, Marturano said prospective charities often worry that regular donations could actually decrease as a result of Live Green Rewards.

"Some of the charities, just from talking to them, their first reaction is, 'Why would I want to team up with you?'" said Marturano.

Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), which works to protect sea turtles in the Caribbean and Atlantic, was one such charity that chose not to work with Live Green Rewards.

"We’re being approached on a regular basis by upstart for-profit companies looking to make money using our good reputation, while kicking back a few dollars to support our efforts," said David Godfrey, CCC executive director. "LiveGreenRewards may in fact be a great, sincere company, but when we were approached we knew nothing about them."

Because Live Green Rewards has little track record, Godfrey decided to hold off becoming a partner. "We have similar relationships with other companies, and the payoff has not lived up to the hype from any of them. ... If Live Green Rewards turns out to be the real deal, and existing partners give good reviews, CCC would be interested in giving them a try."

Live Green Rewards' lack of a long track record didn’t deter Grameen Shakti, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy technologies, from becoming a partner, says director Amy Wilson.

"Live Green Rewards is an exceptional company with a staff of incredibly professional, supportive, and passionately engaged individuals," she says.

Jason Marshall, vice president of partner retailer Gaiam, a sustainable-living company that provides yoga and fitness clothing and equipment, also praises the venture.

"We are incredibly fond of Live Green Rewards not only because of the honorable mission they stand for, but because they have created an exemplary green business model," said Marshall.

Zero footprint
In keeping with the philanthropic philosophy, Marturano and his co-founders strive to be a "zero-footprint" company, running the business as paperless as possible. Attempting to eliminate business cards is one example of the company's commitment to minimizing the impact on the environment. 

Marturano looks forward to expanding the business but never at the expense of the environment or partner charities.

"When you’re in this kind of business, you have to really make sure, you’re not just talking the talk," said Marturano. "You have to make sure you’re striving to be environmentally friendly and as eco-friendly as possible."

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