It was the symbols that first sold me on EarthHero, an online retailer specializing in sustainable companies and products. Click on something interesting — a shampoo bar, a t-shirt, a yoga mat — and symbols attached to the product appear: USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO, B Corp, Charitable, and so on. I counted 72 different labels within EarthHero’s online ecosystem.
Move your cursor over a symbol. A box pops up. It offers details about the symbol. An apron, for example, had four symbols: Family Business, OEKO-TEK (a symbol certifying the product’s manufacturing does not use harmful chemicals), Low Impact Dyes, and Linen. With each symbol, I learned quite a bit; why linen rocks, for example.
One-stop sustainable shopping
After poking around on the site, I chatted with founder and CEO Ryan Lewis, a fellow Boulderite. By the end of our conversation, I was a convert. EarthHero will be my go-to online shop for everything from pillowcases to soap to batteries, vegetable peelers and socks.
“We want to create a platform with products we have vetted and are the best versions of that product from a sustainability standpoint,” says Ryan. “Every time you buy something, you know the company behind the product is focused on the right things.”
This is one of EarthHero’s most powerful advantages. It rejects tossing everything up on the site — from gold-star sustainability to destroy-the-planet-for-profit dreck — and foisting research upon climatarians. Instead, the team behind EarthHero does its homework, curates the finest sustainable products and offers complete transparency.
In other words, it makes it easy to shop responsibly.
How Costa Rica and running hatched EarthHero
The business, now four years old, got started after Ryan spent years transforming Boulder’s Tundra Restaurant Supply from a successful brick-and-mortar business into a much larger online retailer. Tundra was his dad’s business. The push into online taught Ryan in a hands-on way about how to build an online store.
Eventually a larger company bought Tundra. Ryan says he began to feel like he was “just a cog in a huge business wheel.” So he and his wife sold all of their possessions and moved the family to Costa Rica. They planned on building a home and staying put for a spell.
Ryan, an ambitious trail runner in Boulder, kept it up in Costa Rica. Beaches, instead of mountain trails. Palm trees and salt spray instead of lodgepole pines and snow. And rather than pine cones scattered across trails, plastic trash littering beaches. Plastic waste literally blowing in the sea breezes.
During one of those runs, he says, “the idea for EarthHero just popped into my head. We just can’t keep consuming the way we have been. My wife said, `That’s it!’”
The family moved back to Boulder, and Ryan began building a new online marketplace.
COVID sparked a “wild ride”
Before the pandemic, EarthHero had 8 employees. A year later, 20 people work at the Boulder company. Ryan anticipates additional hires as EarthHero continues to grow.
COVID-19 “poured fuel on the fire with e-commerce,” he says. “In the first 60 days of the pandemic it was the only place you could buy products. It was crazy. People were scared. Within a few hours we sold out of hand sanitizer. I didn’t even realize we carried it.”
A recent analysis from Digital Commerce 360 revealed that consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, an increase of 44% over 2019 when consumers spent $598.12 billion. Those online sales accounted for 21.3% of total retail sales in 2020, compared to 15.8% in 2019.
When we are working with numbers already in the hundreds of billions, sales increases of amounts like 44% astonish. Ryan, 45, called those first two months of COVID the “wildest” time of his career. Things cooled a bit as the strangest year in memory evolved, business remains booming.
Plastic-free packaging on the rise
Packaging innovation is one of the most exciting movements in retail, says Ryan. During the four years he has run EarthHero, he now encounters far more products rejecting plastic for other, more sustainable packaging options.
He likes a product called HiBAR, for example, a line of shampoo and conditioner bars packaged in recyclable cardboard. Did hair products ever need to be contained in plastic jugs? They did not.
Other Ryan favorites:
- TruEarth laundry detergent strips, which skip plastic packaging.
- David’s toothpaste comes in curbside-recyclable tubes.
- Albatross Butterfly Safety Razor is a plastic-free, stainless steel tool; replacement blades are all-steel, and get sent back to the company to be recycled into new blades. Note: I use a different brand, Rockwell, with a similarly sustainable approach. Single-blade shaving is the way to go.
- Guppyfriend Microwaste Washing Bags capture microfibers in washing machines before they head out into the waste stream (and ultimately our waterways). Disturbing fact: Microfiber laundry waste from a city the size of Berlin amounts to the volume equivalent of 500,000 plastic bags — every day.
EarthHero walking the talk
EarthHero is a Certified B Corp and participates in 1% For the Planet. The zero-waste company drills down into sustainability. It’s whiteboard markers, for example, are refillable and work stations are made from bamboo. Even its shipping stickers are Forest Stewardship Council Certified, meaning the paper is sourced from environmentally friendly and socially responsible companies.
I love how the website also includes a “land acknowledgement,” something I’d like to see more companies broadcast (I’m going to add this to my websites this week). The notice says: EarthHero acknowledges and respects that our home office in Boulder, Colorado sits upon the traditional territory of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) peoples. As EarthHero aims to protect and care for this land, we honor those who have stewarded this space for thousands of years before us.
Finally, the website is much more than a place to buy sustainable stuff. It’s an educational platform, too. The dense, constantly updated and thorough blog, for example, offers stories with headlines like: “How the Vegan Products You Buy and the Vegan Products You Eat Impacts the Environment” and “Conscious Consumerism.” One well-wrought piece titled “Your Sustainability Journey” offers green-living strategies for beginners, ideas for intermediate greenies, and advanced sustainability pursuits.
Love brick-and-mortar. Love online.
The operation is bootstrapped, says Ryan, rather than deeply indebted to investors. Let’s hope he can keep it out of the clutches of the
vampires people who might bat their eyes at “destroy the planet for profit” strategies for “growth” and “scalability.”
I support brick-and-mortar as much as possible; I believe in it and enjoy most shopping. My local hardware store, McGuckin? I want it to thrive forever. Support comes from my wallet. The same goes for Rebeccas’s Apothecary, Boulder Bookstore, Ku Cha House of Tea (a client of mine) and plenty more.
Zero-waste shops like Nude Foods Market in Boulder are hybrids — local-only stores that combine online shopping with delivery and pick-up. I support them, too.
But entrepreneurs and innovators around the world keep coming up with earth-happy products that are not yet available in most stores. I’ll keep buying them online.
It used to be I’d waste time on Amazon or just Google trying to suss-out sustainable products. No more. Now I’ve got EarthHero.