Catalin Zorzini is the founder of ethical.net, where people can share and discover ethical alternatives for anything from streaming services to shoes or cleaning products. In this interview, he discusses his journey to founding the platform, explains what he envisions ethical.net to become, and talks about what makes his project a great fit for Radical Engineers.
On the start of ethical.net
How can we live more ethical, intentional lives? It is one of the questions that has driven Catalin Zorzini’s journey of self-discovery over the past decade, ultimately culminating in the founding of ethical.net in 2019.
When in 2010 Catalin Zorzini moved from Bucharest to London to join a startup accelerator program, he was shocked by the heavy focus on profit and growth. Zorzini recounts, ‘the startup world is driven by purely economical reasons. No one cared about their health, physical or mental. Everyone seemed to be working 16-hour days and surviving on pizza and carbonated drinks, including most of the mentors, which was a shock to me. I was thinking that the “hustle” stage was supposed to be temporary, but there I have learned that even the most successful entrepreneurs - who exited their startups for millions - are still sleep deprived, addicted to junk food and too busy to have a normal family relationship, a “normal” life.’
This experience of hunting the “unicorn” of business opportunities was the start of a journey to discover more about mindfulness, wellbeing and ethics in the context of lifestyle driven entrepreneurism. A journey that led him from mindfulness practices to monasteries. Today, the former marketeer mainly focuses on building and running ethical.net together with colleagues Anca Rusu (editorial) and Sarah Young (research and community). Zorzini: ‘We are building a platform for people to share and discover ethical alternatives to products, projects and services.’ The directory is open to contributors and moderated by the community rather than any single individual or advertiser. Influence is ceded to the collective wisdom of experience.
With ethical.net, the focus lies on applied ethics, actively living our lives to nourish ourselves and helping others. Secular Western society has moved away from these roots, and mindfulness is now touted as a tool to increase productivity. In his work Zorzini prefers a return to origins, a return to consciousness.
On what makes ethical.net radical
Zorzini: ‘The vast majority of things we use on a day to day basis are deeply unethical. So, stopping our impulse to buy cool things, like the new iPhone or the new jacket, that is in itself a radical act. […] We say I don’t think these things are what I need. I am going to search for something more in line with my aspirations, and I don’t care if it’s cool or not. […] Challenging the mainstream is a radical act.’
Shortly after Zorzini and his colleagues began populating the directory, they were contacted by similar projects, magazines, websites and apps across the globe who have been reviewing and ranking in similar fashion for many years – including veteran consumer organisation UK Ethical Consumer. Teaming up with these partners with an eye to aggregate and share data reciprocally made perfect sense, both practically and ethically.
On ethical.net x Radical Engineers
As a not-for-profit, ethical.net is limited by time and resources when it comes to the challenge of aggregating and presenting their own and partners’ data. This is where Radical Engineers came in, offering technical expertise and perspective that was missing, and uniting Zorzini’s team with volunteers who share similar interests. ‘It was a natural overlap of values and ethics. […] We didn’t need to explain too much.’
They are now working with a single developer – ‘an engineer and a radical’ – who is writing an algorithm that takes into consideration partners’ ratings and translates that into user-friendly data. Additionally, it analyses the credibility of their users and reviewers, implementing checks and balances to measure the trustworthiness of each contributor. This technical support has given ethical.net great confidence in launching their platform. ‘We’ve been able to move a lot quicker,’ says Zorzini of the process, which is now half-way complete.
On what the future holds
‘A big part of our vision is to avoid becoming just another platform for consumer culture.’ Zorzini is passionate about enabling ethical decision making for users of the directory, which though superficially resembles similar shopping search tools is intrinsically different. ‘For example, when you are searching for ethical phones, the directory will also offer guidance on how to fix your current phone in addition to other learning or sharing opportunities that are not related to consuming.’
In terms of impact, Zorzini is not motivated by numbers, but by the potential to help others discover their aspiration to become more ethical, to contribute to a fairer, sustainable society. What motivates him? ‘Being able to work on something that you care about is precious. I am grateful to be able to do that.’