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Positive pairing + green social networking = PosiPair

Sarah Manski was talking to Sara Alvarado early last November when she was struck by a bolt of inspiration. A green-business entrepreneur, web designer, consultant, print and radio journalist and UW-Madison graduate student in life sciences communications, Manski was interviewing the principal of the Alvarado Real Estate Group about the firm's green orientation. Manski was impressed by the way Alvarado had networked her business with green builders and contractors, and got to wondering about the way green ideas spread from business to business.

The flash of inspiration hit with a boom. A board member of Wisconsin Partners for Sustainability, Manski conceived the concept for the PosiPair online network in that thunderstruck moment.

Her vision for the PosiPair as an eco-social/green business network resembles a blend of wiki, social and professional networking sites -- a community of green entrepreneurs and individuals who can converge online to share information in a way that promotes symbiosis and cultivates opportunity.

"Everybody's jumping on the green bandwagon," Manski explains. "But I don't think we'll be able to build a sustainable economy without more information. Green is different for every industry, and it's also a moving target. It's always evolving." By bringing the eyes of the PosiPair community to bear on green claims, Manski hopes to achieve consensus on which businesses meet genuine standards and which fall short of green criteria.

Getting started with a soft launch on Monday, PosiPair aims to position itself as an evolutionary resource. In the same way that wikis can benefit from a mass of contributors, Manski explains, PosiPair will bring together a plurality of voices that will help its community distinguish between valid green claims and those that are sketchier or downright prevaricative.

A contraction of "Positive Product Pairing," PosiPair aims to facilitate links between green businesses and sympathetic partners, but also between green businesses, target markets, individual customers and other members of the PosiPair network. Manski envisions opportunities for blogging about green business practices, a shopping-cart feature and clarity of eco-certification standards for anyone confused by the proliferation of green claims.

Manski is CEO for the initiative, and her husband, Ben, founder of the pro-democracy group Liberty Tree Foundation, serves as PosiPair's chief visionary officer; both have also contributed to PosiPair advisors include Francis Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet; David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World and founder of the Positive Futures Network; and Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Capitalized by a cluster of angel investors, Manski anticipates that 80% of PosiPair's revenues will be generated through a percentage fee on product sales by the site's user network, a usage fee for posting products on PosiPair, and advertising. Individuals and non-profits will be able to use the network for free, she adds.

Manski anticipates launching PosiPair's beta site around Earth Day. Businesses and individuals will be able to establish profiles for themselves in much the same way they do on Facebook or linkedin. "Everybody will be able to write reviews of products and businesses," she says.

The PosiPair concept itself is still evolving, Manski allows: As she has engaged businesses and other prospective users, they have helped sculpt the basic concept with ideas of their own. But her basic premise for the resource remains rooted, she adds, in her belief that "our current economy doesn't take into consideration the environment, social justice and human rights." Her ambition, she continues, is "to grow PosiPair into a world-wide network of local economies," searchable by geographic proximity, industry focus and other parameters.

Her guiding ethic, she concludes, is "Thomas Paine's quote that we have it in our power to build the world anew."

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