Entrepreneurship – A Sustainable Career in More Ways Than One
April 22, 2021 | Inspiration
Consumer awareness around climate change is driving more businesses to make sweeping changes to reduce their environmental impact. Consumers are demanding accountability from corporations and seeking out greener brands. In fact, nearly eight in ten consumers in an NRF and IBM 2020 study say they value sustainability and over 70% said they would pay, on average, 35% more for eco-friendly brands.
While most corporations are making changes to their sustainability policies, increasingly, we see entrepreneurs taking the lead. Notably, last year, our Annual Women Founders Pitch Competition received a record number of applications from entrepreneurs whose products offered green solutions or had a sustainability focus. It’s exciting to see women making strides toward an environmentally friendly way of life and the innovation in this space.
Below are a few examples of women building a business empire and saving the world at the same time.
Like a Dollar, Nothing Goes to Waste
When food is wasted, everything that went into the production of the item is gone, including the packaging, production, energy, labor, land, and water.
According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, in the United States, food is the largest category of material placed in municipal landfills, where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 14.1 percent of these emissions in 2017.
Kayla Abe has always been passionate about sustainability. She majored in Environmental Geography at Vassar College and led zero waste efforts on campus. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco and worked at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) and the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.
“People feel disempowered when it comes to tackling climate change because it feels insurmountable,” Abe said in an interview with Restaurant Hospitality. “We want people to know that you can use your stomach to influence the future of the planet.”
During her tenure at CUESA and the Farmers’ Market, she met David Murphy , a chef with experience at several award-winning establishments.
Together, they founded Ugly Pickle Co., a San Francisco-based company that transforms cosmetically irregular produce and farm surplus into pickles and condiments. Since its inception, the company has repurposed more than 20,000 pounds of produce, served hundreds of folks at food waste pop-ups, and seen incredible retail growth throughout California.
Abe and Murphy are working on another business, Shuggie’s Trash Pie + Natural Wine, which is reimagining the local pizzeria with a menu of pies made out of food waste. Each item on the menu will be made with oft-discarded ingredients like offal, ugly produce, and leftover spent grain from breweries and oat milk facilities. They raised almost $60,000 on Kickstarter and are aiming to open in San Francisco in Spring 2021.
In the same interview with Restaurant Hospitality, Abe said, “[With COVID] we’re seeing how much produce is being wasted because supply chains are broken and seeing how vulnerable farmers are. This has exposed the long-existing cracks in our food system. We’re hoping to rapidly incorporate different types of produce restaurant operators usually say no to.”
Standard Products Reimagined to Maximize Sustainability
Women have had access to some form of disposable sanitary napkins for almost two hundred years. While different options for menstrual hygiene products have come to the market, there are limited choices for an effective but environmentally friendly absorbent besides reusable items. This is especially true in developing countries where mainstream products are not as readily available.
A group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumna and Tarun Bothra sought to address this issue with Saathi. Saathi, launched in 2015, is a social enterprise dedicated to providing an end-to-end solution for sanitary protection to women in India.
Women in India produce more than 100,000 tons of sanitary pads waste every year. These sanitary pads are often made from plastic, which takes 600 years to decompose; or is burned, generating CO2 emissions and toxic fumes.
Using patented technology, Saathi manufactures natural banana fiber readily available in India to absorb liquids. This material is used for a 100% biodegradable and compostable sanitary pad that decomposes in three-six months.
The company utilizes a circular economy in its operations. It buys banana fiber from local farmers, providing them with extra income, employs women from underserved communities in India to make the pads, and sells the items on the ground in urban and rural communities.
So far, Saathi has provided sanitary pads to 7,800 women and saved 18.7 tons of plastic waste and 52 million tons of CO2. On the horizon, Saathi is looking to grow its product line and expand outside of India.
“In ten years, we want Saathi to be a leading example in the industry, as a sustainable and ethical manufacturing business,” said Kristin Kagetsu, Co-Founder at Saathi in an interview with Cartier Women’s Initiative. “But right now, we know that Saathi has the potential to make serious environmental and social progress.”
One Business Tweak Can Save the World
Packaging is crucial for most consumer goods. It’s the first thing someone sees, explains the use of a product, and protects the item(s) inside. It is so vital; we dedicated an entire blog post on Packaging Trends.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste, amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018 (28.1 percent of total generation). Further data shows the recycling rate of generated packaging and containers was 53.9 percent. Additionally, the combustion of containers and packaging was 7.4 million tons (21.5 percent of total combustion with energy recovery) and landfills received 30.5 million tons (20.9 percent of total landfilling) in 2018.
If all of the companies utilizing this type of packaging altered their strategy, more than 30 million tons of plastic and other harmful materials would be diverted from landfills per year!
Anastasia Mikalockina is on a mission to change the way the food industry thinks about packaging. She founded Lean Orb, a compostable food packaging company on a mission to eliminate all single-use plastic waste and offer safe, plant-based packaging.
Originally from Russia, Mikalockina’s passion for sustainability began at a young age. “As an environmentalist at heart and a designer by trade, I was always passionate about sustainability, energy optimization, and social equality,” Mikalockina said in an interview with Babson College’s Women Innovating Now (WIN) Growth Lab. “My happiest childhood moments as I remember them were spent listening to (my grandmother’s) stories, in the country house where the nearby lake has been a source of our drinking water. She taught me to understand that everything is interconnected. We are the water we drink, and the waste we create today is a health condition we deal with tomorrow.”
Now based in Miami, Mikalockina explained Lean Orb’s philosophy in an interview with Medium. “When building products, our team is committed to converting highly-renewable and recycled fibers,” she said. “All products have an upside to the end-of-life challenges by being compostable. There is an undeniable convenience to conventional plastic packaging, so our shift to ethical alternatives is very much a marathon, not a sprint. Today, conventional plastic is a lot cheaper to build, but, as we all learned, most cheap products have an invisible cost assigned to it. Someone somewhere is paying the price. Beyond products, what’s equally important to our team is an educated consumer.”
These women prove that innovation, creativity, and ingenuity result in a successful business and a sustainable difference in our environment. We celebrate these Earth Entrepreneurs and thank them for keeping our planet and all of us healthy.
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