After graduating with an Earth and Environmental Sciences degree, I was incredibly excited to work for a small business. I had just spent four years in academia, where the pending environmental crisis came up every day, yet the process for change was slow and tedious. At MODL, I would have a chance to drive sustainability and give-back initiatives more quickly and efficiently. While each member of the MODL team understands how important it is that our company prioritizes sustainability, I’ve realized that this task is more challenging and complex than I ever could have imagined.
Let’s start with why being sustainable is so important. At MODL, we’re all young entrepreneurs who have grown up during the height of the environmental movement. We’ve learned that environmental destruction disproportionally affects people of color and people living in low-income areas. Whether it’s dumping toxic waste into the water source of a low-income neighborhood or building structures on land that is sacred to an Indigenous Nation, businesses constantly contribute to the destruction of our planet. We think about the environmental effect that MODL has on people and the planet every day, and we know we need to do better. We want MODL to be an example of how a small business can be profitable while putting people and the planet first. However, I’ve learned over the previous few months that the systems are not set up for small businesses to efficiently and profitably be sustainable.
Take our carbon footprint, for example. Last year, freight from China was our most significant contributor to greenhouse gasses. While we offset our carbon footprint as members of Climate Neutral, a better solution is to stop this carbon from being released in the first place. The problem is that we simply cannot produce in the U.S. at this scale. At least for us, manufacturing in the U.S. isn’t two or three times more expensive than it is in China; it’s four times more expensive. For a small business, it isn’t economically feasible. The cost of more sustainable packaging is also significantly higher than plastic packaging. While we plan to go climate negative and plastic-free in 2023, these goals depend on the cost of alternatives. It’s incredibly frustrating to see firsthand how our capitalist business systems are inherently unsustainable.
As the token (and probably slightly annoying) sustainable friend and family member, it took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that MODL is not as sustainable as it could be. Don’t get me wrong; we’re doing many great things - MODL replaces plastic water bottles as well as hydration packs, camping showers, water filters, carabiners, and more. This means less packaging, less shipping, and less waste. We’re also Climate Neutral Certified and members of 1% for the Planet. However, I can’t help but wonder: are there ways around these prohibitive costs I’m not seeing? Do we focus more on sustainability, even if it means our business will suffer in other areas? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions. I know that we can’t be paralyzed by imperfection. MODL has a long way to go to live up to our high standards for sustainability. For now, though, we’re taking it day by day, constantly reevaluating if there are ways we can improve, and focusing on just doing the next best thing.