This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
You want to buy more sustainable products for your home – but where do you find them, and how do you know they’re truly sustainable?
‘Sustainability’ is arguably the most abused term of our generation. According to a recent report, 64% of US shoppers say they buy sustainable products, and those same shoppers are 11% more likely to do their purchasing online than in-person. Given those stats, it’s not surprising almost everyone in e-commerce is claiming to make sustainable products or do sustainable business.
In a growing wave of consumer-driven demand for business done better, it’s all too easy to get lost in a deluge of greenwashing.
“The nonprofit part of our model is motivation to sell more products”
“The model of traditional commerce is, ‘we’re going to wreck the world, so then we can tell the world that we’ll fix some of it,’” says social entrepreneur Ryan Lewis. “It’s one step forward, two steps back. You can never operate an unsustainable business on renewable energy, and then say you’re good to go.”
This can present a problem for environmentally conscious consumers, because so many common tasks around the house are accomplished using products made without concern for the planet. Where can you find trash bags and wet wipes, straws and sandwich bags, that let you care for your home and the earth at the same time?
Ryan’s mission is to help shoppers discover eco-friendly brands that avoid inflicting undue harm on the environment. He’s the founder of EarthHero, an online marketplace with close to 200 companies offering products in a wide range of consumer categories – home goods, of course, plus clothing, travel, beauty and more.
Knowledge Is Power
Ryan left his previous e-commerce business to “make some meaningful dent in the world of sustainability,” though he was somewhat unsure where his endeavor would take him. Surrounded by Boulder, Colorado’s magnificent natural vistas and like-minded individuals, he quickly recognized the need to change an increasingly wasteful culture. He also spent time in Costa Rica, where he observed “trash on the beaches, in the mountains and ocean, unsustainable material blowing in the wind.”
The Story of Stuff, written by the current leader of Greenpeace, was instrumental in broadening his understanding of many conventional products’ harmful linear lifecycle. He believed consumers were primed for a change, and encouragingly, his research revealed a wealth of small companies operating with environmental protection in mind.
Back then, Ryan says, “a place like EarthHero didn’t exist,” so the time required to seek out and vet sustainable brands could seem overwhelming for individual customers. In a fast-growing sector, he set out to define a plumb line for identifying best practices in eco-ethical manufacturing and provide a platform for any company who made the cut.
Ryan says the passion for clean materials is “a common thread” among the businesses featured on EarthHero, adding that he intentionally chooses to partner with brands that make their products “from recycled material, materials that are recyclable, compostable, whenever possible.”
Eventually Ryan developed a sourcing methodology that evaluates every aspect of a company’s values and priorities. The EarthHero marketplace celebrates brands that adhere to responsible manufacturing practices, use packaging that’s biodegradable or easily recyclable, and personally push for environmental responsibility through their respective give-back programs.
Every product in the marketplace includes detailed information such origin, materials, earth-friendly features, packaging, certifications, and end-of-life processes. That’s information that might have taken hours of research in the past, but EarthHero makes it available with a single click of the mouse.
Information is one area where EarthHero shines, but discovery is another. The most innovative, eco-conscious companies are often scrappy startups that struggle to get noticed without the seven-figure marketing budgets of the big, national brands.
Take Stasher, a company that offers reusable, self-sealing silicone food storage bags – think Ziploc without the plastic. Silicone is created from sand, much like glass, and is nonporous, enabling it to stand up to tough food safety regulations. Stasher bags are created to last through thousands of uses, but when the bag reaches the end of its life with a customer, the company features a mail-back program in which old bags are repurposed into playground pebbles.
Since 2016, when they “cannonballed onto the market,” as Ryan quips, Stasher has saved our oceans and landfills from over 1 billion single-use plastic bags.
Easy Does It
While the marketplace exists to help consumers find environmentally responsible companies, Ryan also tries to ensure that his own company is doing the most possible good and the least possible harm.
EarthHero is committed to donating one percent of all sales to initiatives focused on reversing climate change. From the outset, Ryan partnered with 1% for the Planet, a network that matches responsible companies to approved nonprofits like Trees for the Future and The Climate Collaborative.
As EarthHero increases sales, it can send more money to those charity partners – and Ryan is looking forward to seeing donations increase. “The nonprofit part of our model is motivation to sell more products,” he notes.
In addition to earmarking profits for environmental causes, Ryan seeks to ensure that EarthHero creates minimal environmental impact with its own operations. Using Carbonfund’s calculation methods, EarthHero offsets all its shipping emissions by paying to support renewable energy and reforestation projects worldwide. They’ve reduced 36 tons of Co2 so far. Carbonfund also supports a number of energy reduction programs, like electricity-free water filtration.
While there’s already a treasure trove of best-in-class brands on EarthHero, Ryan makes it clear they’re only getting started. “I’m very proud of the assortment we have on the site today, but from a vision perspective, it’s a fraction of what we will have in the future. Our goal is really to have a product available every time you want or need to buy something.
“It’s a very long-term plan, but really, that’s our mission: to make shopping this way painless, frictionless – as we like to say, so easy, everybody does it.”
Spend for good: From blankets to bakeware and cutting boards to compost bins, you’ll find nearly 850 fully vetted, earth-friendly home products at EarthHero – plus thousands of additional products for kids, outdoors, travel, pets, and more. Shipping is always carbon neutral, and it’s free on orders over $50.
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