Published: June 10, 2020

Over the course of Summer 2020, MENV will feature various Capstone Projects to keep the community updated on the accomplishments of our students and partner organizations. The Capstone is the centerpiece of the MENV program and is a year-long project that partners students with an organization from the public, private, or non-profit sector. Students gain real-world, professional experience that serves as a springboard for their future careers. To read more about current and past Capstone Project click here.

Capstone Project: Shopping for SustainabilityEarthHero logo

Partner Organization: EarthHero

Student Team: Frannie Miles, Kathleen Chappelear, Caroline Fabricius, Kevin Trautman

During the 1970s, a new wave of sustainable, local, and ethically made products entered the market. While they cost significantly more than their traditional counterparts, people chose to spend more on  these products because of their quality and brand transparency. But what was once a small and easy to navigate market for sustainable goods has now turned into a complex web of various certifications and labels, markets and supply chains. For a general consumer who just wants to buy reusable food storage bags, it can be hard to choose where to shop and what to purchase. 

EarthHero founder, Ryan Lewis, saw this challenge and decided to simplify the process through a one-stop-shop for sustainable goods. The EarthHero team meticulously filters through products and brands and the materials used in each to curate an incredibly high standard selection for their online market, making it user friendly and easily accessible for all levels of environmentally conscious shoppers.

There has been a growing challenge and curiosity from this type of curation… While all these goods are sustainable compared to their traditional counterparts, which products and materials are the most sustainable? If consumers want to buy an organic cotton shirt versus a recycled PET (Polyester) shirt, which is more ‘sustainable’? What indicates that sustainability? How does EarthHero effectively relay that information to their customer?

Opening EarthHero boxMENV students, Kevin Trautman, Kathleen Chappelear, Frannie Miles, and Caroline Fabricius partnered with Earthhero to try to find answers to these questions. In January, the team began a year-long capstone project to support Earthhero's constant search for greater transparency in their products to support their customer base. Throughout the summer the team will conduct research to evaluate the “sustainability” of products available on the EarthHero Website and how consumer behavior fits into purchasing habits. This also includes research on information-governance strategies that may be effective in helping EarthHero further achieve their transparency goals. The summer months are broken up into multiple research phases where the team will be looking into each stage of the product selection process including material inputs, manufacturing processes, corporate responsibility and give-back, waste reduction capabilities, and packaging. The team has also divided research into four main material categories; cosmetics, hard goods, textiles, and cleaning supplies to better guide and organize research. Finally, the project will evaluate methodologies to develop a deeper understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of potential systems of evaluation. The final outcome will be a guidebook for EarthHero to aid in its mission of transparency.

Long story short, the research and outcome of this project will help guide customers that shop on EarthHero’s website to products that meet their sustainability wants and needs in a way that is convenient and not overwhelming. This will hopefully increase the number of new patrons visiting the site who are new to sustainable products and can find that EarthHero is both trustworthy and convenient. Both the capstone team and EarthHero want people to know that switching to a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t have to involve hours of research and confusion. It should be simple, rewarding, and fun! 

Working on this project, the team has been grateful for EarthHero’s interest and ongoing pursuit of product transparency. Greenwashing has become an immense challenge in the sustainable product world and EarthHero genuinely wants to provide its customers with the best research and information about their products. They are actively combating false information and perpetual greenwashing through knowledge seeking and sharing. We here in the MENV community are encouraged by this partnership and are excited to see what the capstone team’s research culminates in.