A triple bottom line entrepreneur

I remember the very moment my interest in sustainability was sparked- only back then I didn’t know it was called sustainability. It was in my 8th grade science class, when my teacher Mr. Turner told us about the world’s oil scarcity. The fact that there would not be enough oil to sustain my teenage American dream of driving a car was the impetus for me to dig deeper. The internet, books, and movies showed me that oil scarcity was just one problem of many in the world, and that there were many other issues never taught to me during my 8 years going to public school in America: Climate change, plastic pollution, acid rain, ozone layer… my 13-year-old self was astonished, and a mini-environmentalist was born.

My plan: to become a Greenpeace activist. You can imagine my parents were not too thrilled with that, so my more realistic path was to university first, where I studied Environmental Engineering. After graduating and working in the sustainability department of a large aerospace company, I realized that the true dictator in this world is the bottom-line, money. Sitting in my beige cubicle at the age of 22, I vowed to start my own business that was driven by a triple bottom line, enhancing not only profit, but people and planet as well.

I came to Europe to learn from some of the Masters of Sustainability: the Dutch and Swedes. During my Master’s program, I concentrated on entrepreneurship and identified the fashion industry to be an area which not many sustainably-minded people were focusing on (at the time). So I started my first business, QURE Clothing, with two of my fellow classmates.

The global fashion industry is a 3 trillion-dollar industry with an incredibly complicated supply chain. And with complicated comes wasteful. Besides, fast fashion companies thrive on manipulating our emotions to purchase their products, even if we don’t need them, until we get bored and throw them away almost as fast as paper towels. 

QURE was our answer to the irrational fashion system. Why buy the latest trends if they are going to change next month, next week, or tomorrow? Why not borrow them? We started an online clothing library, in which you could have your clothes delivered on a monthly subscription basis. Starting a business is truly a wild ride, with lots of emotional ups and downs. Unfortunately, one lesson that came back to me was that the bottom line is always key. The costs of sourcing clothes, washing, ironing, packaging, and delivering left us with almost no profit- and little incentive to continue.

Fortunately, I joined a program that taught women to be CEOs during my time with QURE. There, I found a new business partner, one with 20+ years’ experience and a larger network. Based on my experience with QURE, we innovated a new concept that is more decentralized and scalable. I cannot share too many details now, but you can follow our progress on Facebook or our website. My intention is to make this a win-win-win. If the clothing rental concept becomes popular and profitable, we can reduce clothing consumption and change the entire industry. That is my mission.

When it comes to sustainability in mainstream business, a lesson I am now learning is that the stakeholders I work with- investors, fashion brands, designers, consumers- do not care for sustainability. Again, to my disdain, it is all about the bottom line, the money.

What can we as sustainability professionals do to change this? We have to learn the art of influencing others. Just like companies manipulate our emotions to sell, we have to find a way to “manipulate” our bosses, industries, and others in order to get sustainability on the agenda. Business relationships are exactly like romantic relationships- you need to tease, flirt, and seduce. In the sustainability world we want to be inclusive, which can be a turn-off to those who need to feel special or different. Humans tend to want what they can’t have, especially the wealthy who are used to getting anything they want.  To get them on board, it is imperative to find out what they want and need, then find ways to adjust your offer to fulfill them.

My vision for myself is to learn and master these techniques, change industries to bring the win-win-win to people, planet and profit, then teach others to do the same. And if there is time…become a kick-ass Greenpeace granny activist.