The Complicated Relationship Between Our Small Business and Sustainability

After graduating with a degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences, 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 everyday, yet the process for change was slow and tedious. At MODL, I would have a chance to drive sustainability and giveback 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 that have grown up in 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 Indiegnious Nation, businesses constantly contribute to the destruction of our planet. We think about the environmental effect that MODL is having on people and the planet everyday, and we know we need to do better. We want MODL to be an example for how a small business can be profitable while putting people and the planet first. What I’ve learned over the last few months though is that the systems are not set up for small businesses to easily and profitably be sustainable. 

Take our carbon footprint, for example. Last year, freight from China was our largest contributor to greenhouse gasses. While we offset our carbon footprint as members of Climate Neutral a better solution is stopping this carbon from being released in the first place. The problem is, we simply cannot produce in the U.S. at this scale. At least for us, manufacturing in the U.S. isn’t two or 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 significantly higher than plastic packaging as well. While we have plans to go climate negative and plastic-free in 2023, these goals are dependent 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 a lot of 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 just need to 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. What I do know is that we can’t be paralizyed 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.

This post was written by Maya, MODL's Director of Impact. Feel free to email with any questions or comments.

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