Corporate Generosity after Sandy: Free Rooms, Free Charging, and Fairly-Priced Fuel

Amid the destruction in the northeast, as residents recover from the one-two punch of Superstorm Sandy and the nor’easter that hit mid-week, stories are emerging of businesses and business owners showing compassion and generosity.  Take a look . . .

Airbnb: Refinery29 reports that Airbnb, a social website that connects travelers with local hosts, waived all booking fees for guests and hosts in certain areas affected by Hurricane Sandy for nine days after the storm.  More, they’re enthusiastically encouraging their members to open up their homes for free (as you can see by the picture of their homepage below).  Author Samantha Yu’s take: “This week, they gave us a big reason to start using their services.”


 Julio Estevez’s Sunoco Gas Station: An NPR story titled “Sandy Dealt Serious Blows to Fuel System” details the extreme measures people have been taking to obtain gasoline, including standing in endless lines and following gas tankers until they reach their destination.  But in the midst of other gas station owners’ price gouging, “owner Julio Estevez says he hasn’t been tempted to raise his price – $3.57 for a gallon of regular – even a little.  ‘For me, I know I will get more people in the long term. You know, they make some money like in two or three days, make a lot of money, so that’s not my goal. My goal is to make more customers, you know?'”

 Julio Estevez's Sunoco Gas Station

Brightbox: Business Insider is just one of many news outlets talking about brightbox.  The startup company, which makes phone charging stations, rolled out a couple of units for free so that power-hungry New Yorkers could charge their devices.  CEO Bill Gridley said, “We never really imagined that we could be part of disaster response. We now see that we can have a place in natural disasters.”


What to make of this surge of corporate philanthropy?  Is it a sincere desire to help others in a time of crisis, or a manipulative tactic designed to maximize consumer goodwill with minimal effort?

Mr. Estevez is upfront about his motivations — he’d rather have long-term customers than short-term profits, and fair business dealings in a time of crisis is a way to ensure that.  The announcement on Airbnb’s blog says, “There are thousands more people in need of shelter. And there are still thousands of people with extra space. It’s time to come together. Airbnb is now enabling people to offer space to those in need – absolutely free.”  The folks at brightbox seem a little taken aback at the surge of press, but it looks like they’re taking full advantage of the PR opportunity.

And why shouldn’t they?  In the world of for-profit business, self-interest and philanthropy are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand.  I had never heard of brightbox or Airbnb, but the next time I’m in need of those services they’ll be my go-to provider.  If I lived in Clifton, NJ, I’d want to make it a point to frequent Mr. Estevez’ gas station.

I applaud everyone helping those affected by the northeast storms, both indivduals and businesses, and we hope that as normal life resumes, everyone stays safe and well.