WPNI Launches Environment-Friendly Shopping Site

By: Mike Shields/Mediaweek

Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive has tapped several former magazine executives, including a handful of former staffers from Rodale?s defunct Organic Style, to launch Sprig, a new environment-friendly shopping Web destination.

The new site, which stands for ?stylish people are into green,? will go live today (April 23), just one day after Hearst Magazines will debut The Daily Green, its new similarly themed site. Described as something of a cross between Consumer Reports and Lucky, with a focus on green consumerism, the female-oriented site provides information on eco-friendly products for home, beauty, technology, fashion and family. Sprig also features a mix of news coverage, original video, user-generated content and an extensive searchable product database.

Sprig is being helmed by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, the current vp and editor in chief of New Ventures at WPNI. Others behind the launch include Jeanie Pyun and Suzanne Murray, the former editor in chief and beauty/fashion editor of Organic Style, respectively, as well as Sara Levinson, ex-president of the women?s group at Rodale.

Sprig?s strategy is to service the wave of eco-consciousness hitting consumers while focusing less on the early adapters of green living. The site?s mission is ?convincing 95 percent of people to be 5 percent green rather that getting 5 percent of people to be 95 percent green,? explained Whitaker. And despite the rapid saturation of green in mainstream media, including a growing list of online competitors like Lime?s new ad network and Hearst?s Daily Green, Whitaker said he believes Sprig?s less pushy approach has more potential. Other sites ?still seem focused on converting people to a totally green lifestyle,? he said. ?Those sites want you to do yoga and examine your Karma. We?re not saying you have to do that stuff.?

Instead, Sprig will speak to folks who might opt to make smaller life changes. ?There is a much bigger segment of people that are waking up to environmental consciousness,? Whitaker added. ?They want to do something but they aren?t necessarily prepared to go whole hog. Ours is a less judgmental approach.?

That new approach comes less than two years after Organic Style went under. But Whitaker said that Sprig has better timing and a sharper focus. ?When you talk to former OS staffers, they all felt they were onto something,? he said. ?The title was slightly ahead of its time, and they never got the positioning exactly right. Plus the name came across as too crunchy or ultra-Birkenstock-y.?

One advantage is that Sprig won?t have the legacy or costs associated with publishing a magazine, yet will still be able to leverage the resources of WPNI. The group, which includes Washingtonpost.com, Slate and Newsweek.com, pulled in $100 million in revenue last year and boasts 200-plus staffers, according to Whitaker.

Plus, plenty of advertisers are suddenly looking for more green outlets, notes Goli Sheikholeslami, Sprig?s vp and general manager and a former Cond?Net executive. Sheikholeslami listed Nordstrom and Bloomingdales as brands that are pushing green messaging.

One brand that has already jumped on the green bandwagon is Hidden Valley Ranch, which in February launched an organic salad dressing. The company has signed on as a charter sponsor of Sprig.

According to Sumona Pramanik, Hidden Valley Ranch?s associate marketing manager, the company?s new organic product is targeted at more hard-core green eaters, so Sprig?s inclusive editorial approach was ideal. ?In the past, [green] has been portrayed as something that is ?not for me?,? said Pramanik. ?[Sprig] is embracing everybody who wants to be a part of it.?

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