Bard MBA in Sustainability
Responsible purchasing and consumption are an essential part of fighting the climate crisis. By “voting with our wallets”, consumers can show a desire for sustainable goods. As we buy environmentally responsible products and leave less responsible options on the shelves, traditional companies will have to re-evaluate their business practices.
EarthHero, an online retailer of sustainable goods, was founded in 2016 with a mission aligned to Sustainable Development Goal 12: Ensuring sustainable production and consumption. Their website streamlines the process of finding sustainable goods by centralizing a wide variety of quality products in one place, and rigorously vetting the sustainability of each supplier. The company uses a detailed five-step sourcing methodology that mandates high sustainability thresholds in order to be listed on their website. According to the EarthHero website, their evaluation criteria are:
1. Materials & Ingredients – This ensures that products are made from materials that are good for the planet, usually because they are natural, quickly regenerated, or re-purposed from other recycled products.
2. Company Responsibility – This expands the evaluation from the product to the producer, looking at company-wide practices such as energy sourcing, wages and labor treatment, and manufacturing processes, among other things.
3. Give-back – EarthHero finds brands that live their values by helping communities and the environment outside of their core business practices.
4. Packaging – For many products, packaging is just as impactful on the environment as the product itself. That’s why EarthHero looks for companies that are innovating with recyclable, biodegradable, or returnable packages.
5. Sustainable Lifestyle – This evaluates how products help consumers live sustainably every day. By including sustainable living in their evaluation, EarthHero is considering all parts of the product life cycle, from production through use.
Entrepreneur Ryan Lewis, founder and CEO of EarthHero, had worked in e-commerce for 20 years. During his final years at his previous venture, he started to feel an urge to do something more environmentally focused, but wasn’t 100% sure what that was. Before starting EarthHero in 2016, Ryan took a sabbatical with his family, spending time in Costa Rica. While there, he read The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and came to a realization. Ryan says “A lot of environmental topics were becoming mainstream, but not a lot of people were talking about consumption.” This was an area where his professional background could help make a difference, shifting society away from the "take, make, waste" consumption paradigm. The goal was not just to promote sustainable companies, but to change the way consumers think so that they are making conscious purchasing decisions.
EarthHero’s innovation is their business model, which has a positive impact on all its stakeholders. The company is actualizing its mission with every new customer, every new supplier, and every new sale. As Ryan puts it, “Revenue equals impact. The more we sell, the more good we’re doing”. Ryan’s long-term vision is to become a go-to partner for any suppliers making things the right way, and a household name for a broad consumer-base. While EarthHero is taking a systems approach and long-term view in trying to solve a massive problem, they are also lifting up their stakeholders now.
Suppliers: Many of the brands sold on EarthHero’s website are new, small, and growing. Simply by giving these companies a higher traffic pathway to reach their target customers, EarthHero is helping these companies get their names out there and grow their sales. They are also able to help these companies with the logistics of delivering nationwide, as a larger company with more efficient shipping capabilities.
Employees: Ryan is proud to say that no one has ever quit. Having started three years ago, and having just hired their tenth employee, EarthHero is relatively new and lean. Even so, start-ups can be demanding, and EarthHero’s lack of turnover is a testament to how their mission is baked into their culture. As Ryan describes it, their employees are “all-in” on their mission, a mindset they seek when evaluating prospective candidates.
Customers: EarthHero’s impact on customers comes from providing them an avenue to use their purchasing power for good. A growing number of Americans value sustainability in what they buy, but it can be tricky and time-consuming to find transparent companies that don’t cut corners in making their products. EarthHero also wants to improve the Health and Well-being of their consumers, aligned with SDG #3. As a part of their "Sustainable Lifestyle" sourcing criteria, they want to ensure they are selling products that encourage healthy habits like exercise and getting outdoors, and don't contain harmful ingredients or chemicals.
Over its first three years of existence, EarthHero has grown by an average of roughly 400% year-over-year – a number that would excite just about any start-up. At first it might seem like a business that is limited to customers like “eco-warriors”. While the company does attract many super-green consumers, Ryan states that they have noticed a growing number of “eco-curious” customers, who are increasingly hearing sustainability buzzwords in their daily lives, and maybe see an online ad and decide to see what it’s all about.
Also working to EarthHero’s advantage is the fact that their products, made with sustainability in mind, are also innovative and of high quality. This means that while new customers might come for the sustainability, they might stay for the quality. Another advantage to their sustainable products is that while they are often more expensive, many eliminate the need to repeatedly buy disposable goods, saving customers money over time. Even compared to non-disposable alternatives, many of their products are simply higher quality, made with durability and long life in mind.
Lastly, Ryan states that being a mission-driven company has made it easier to grow the business. Staying true to their mission, a mission the whole company is passionate about, helps guide decisions and limits second-guessing. Ryan feels that the focus on mission is starting to become more commonplace for entrepreneurs, saying “The movement is well underway – to open up a business just to make money seems short-sited”.
EarthHero promotes and encourages good business practices. Their benefit to society is simple: As they grow, so do the footprints of responsible companies that run their businesses for the benefit of all stakeholders. As these companies take over the market share of competitors that refuse to change, EarthHero will help shift the consumer mindset from valuing quantity, cost and, convenience, to valuing quality, responsible supply chains, and recyclability. The impact of their growth is already being seen in several Sustainable Development areas including Good Health and Well-Being, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Climate Action.
One example of EarthHero's work towards SDG #13, Climate Action, is how they are exemplifying their values outside of their standard business practices. The company has a partnership with Terracycle, a recycling company that is attempting to popularize circular economy practices. Not only does EarthHero sell Terracycle boxes on their website, but they partner to gather hard-to-recycle products back from the public at their end of life. They have also joined 1% for the Planet, which means they donate 1% of their total revenues to strategically aligned organizations implementing sustainability initiatives around the globe. In everything they do, EarthHero is guided by their vision of making earth-friendly commerce the new normal.
Ryan Lewis, CEO
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Boulder, CO, US
Business Website: earthhero.com
Year Founded: 2015
Number of Employees: 2 to 10