Happy Birthday, EcoCart: What 1 Year Taught Me About Sustainability

EcoCart was  fortunate enough to celebrate a ton of milestones in 2020. Most recently, we officially celebrated EcoCart’s first birthday and one calendar year of helping merchants and shoppers alike collectively reduce 25 million lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

When my co-founder and I started EcoCart in 2019, I didn’t consider myself an expert on sustainability, climate change, or carbon offsetting. Instead, I followed the advice of many of my peers and mentors and surrounded EcoCart with experts on the space. EcoCart worked with climatology professors to develop our algorithm that calculates the carbon footprint of each online order shipped via one of our Shopify merchants or when an EcoCart user selects “Make My Order Carbon Neutral” on the EcoCart Chrome extension

To say I learned a lot about how e-commerce impacts climate change and the environment is an understatement, but I was surprised over the last year at the amount of knowledge I gained from the sustainability community at large. EcoCart was started with the simple idea that sustainability should be easy, accessible, and affordable for everyone—and we meant everyone. 

I will be the first to say that I totally trust everyone who is passionate about sustainability—from folks who live in self-sufficient communities like our friend Daniel at Mossy Bottom to those of us who do our part in little ways like walking to work and picking up trash when we come across it—that their passion comes from a deep-seeded desire to do better for our shared home. I’ve had countless conversations these past twelve months with folks giving advice or aiming to help guide the EcoCart ship. I’ll admit that some of these were more pleasant than others, but these crucial uncomfortable conversations forced me to reflect on “sustainability” and EcoCart’s place in the world. 

Here’s what I’ve learned running a climate technology startup for the past year. 

“Perfect” sustainable lifestyles are not attainable for everyone

We all can strive to do better when it comes to reducing our carbon footprints. Sustainable lifestyles in the most reductive sense are not realistic for everyone. I applaud anyone with the discipline, determination, and dedication to adopt radical pro-environment lifestyles, like 100% vegan diets or zero waste practices. But sustainability can’t just be about big life changes. Instead, to form lasting habits that make sense and are realistic, we need to take small incremental steps to get to a place where we are helping the Earth the best we as individuals can. 

The projects EcoCart supports with both our browser extension and e-commerce API products often remind me of the fable of the little girl and the starfish on the beach. While there are hundreds or even thousands of them scattered all over this beach, the little girl recognizes that by tossing one or two into the water, she’s making a difference for those starfish despite the fact that there are so many others that also need help. We hope we’re making a difference for a plot of trees out there in West Africa, for a group of families who need water in Cambodia, and a few windmills working hard on a wind farm in Turkey. 

Wanting to live more sustainably shouldn’t also mean hyper-criticism for taking small steps. I like to call this “imperfect sustainability”—goods that are specifically made to be “zero waste” or “eco-friendly” are incredible and if more people switched to them, it would be fantastic for the planet. But assuming everyone can make these changes is just not realistic. Goods that are made ethically or from recycled materials are often expensive versus alternatives and involve upfront investment. 

We believe the only way to save the planet is to empower everyone to do their part by making sustainable options easy and free. That means even people who otherwise would do nothing have an option to be more sustainable.

There are many ways to fight climate change

That’s it. There’s no one right answer, no end-all-be-all solution that will make this monumental problem vanish. The damage is already done, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up the war over one battle. We at EcoCart believe in carbon offsetting and the projects we support, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also believe in things like clean energy, recycling, or zero waste lifestyles. There are tons of small adjustments we can make in the way that we live our lives that maintain our personal standards of living but also show the Earth a little more love. And that’s going to look different for everyone. 

Growing your own food requires fertile land for a garden, which not everyone has the privilege of owning. Instead, the next-best sustainable option would be a farmer’s market, but even then, healthy food isn’t an option for everyone. Food deserts are a persistent problem in the U.S., so we can’t expect people that have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables feel bad about not having the means to grow their own food.

“Zero waste” is another practice I admire, and it’s incredible how clever and innovative folks are with reducing the waste they personally produce to absolutely nothing. The truth is, it’s not a lifestyle that works for everyone. I think about zero waste whenever I go to the pharmacy; not only does my prescription come stapled to a novel of warnings and instructions (that legally have to be there, I think), I also get a receipt that could circle the Earth at least once. There’s so much we can learn from people who adopt fully zero waste lifestyles, but that also means we shouldn’t be discouraged if we ourselves can’t be truly zero waste. Reducing even 10% of your personal waste will not only save you money, it will help save the planet incrementally. 

“Shopping locally” implies you can buy everything you need from non-chain shops nearby. Folks in remote areas may not have an option besides one chain grocery store. That’s not inherently a bad thing. Brick-and-mortar shopping too has a carbon footprint, especially if you’re scatterbrained like I am and forget to pick a critical ingredient for dinner up with your weekly grocery haul.  

If you have a solution for carbon neutral shopping that we haven’t considered, we’d love to hear about it. Our #1 goal here is to deliver climate tech that fits into people’s lives and chips away at the collective carbon footprint we’re growing. 

E-commerce is a friend of small businesses and the environment

Here at EcoCart, we build software for primarily small businesses that operate online. We love working with Shopify because Shopify understands the small business hustle and is a place where entrepreneurs—folks who sell products or write software—can all thrive. 

COVID was incredibly hard for a lot of small businesses, especially retail, and it was heartbreaking to see so many close their doors for good. E-commerce isn’t going anywhere, if anything this year has shown us how much more we rely on it. 

However, most sustainability proponents argue that e-commerce is hurting the Earth more than it’s helping (which is one of the tenets that EcoCart is built on) and people looking to be eco-friendly should opt for in-store, local shopping instead. COVID threw a wrench in that plan, and the small local businesses that have survived this year did so by moving at least a part of their operations online.

So do we shun e-commerce altogether? It’s time we adapt and change the standard to be less harmful. I believe in a brighter future where you can shop both online and in-store, but without the carbon impact we all used to shoulder. That’s why we built EcoCart, and we’re so excited to support small businesses as well as the planet.

Together, we can hold bigger brands accountable

We all want to see our favorite brands align with the things we care about so we can feel good about buying their products. I am a firm believer that you should be able to support brands you love like Glossier, Vans, and Petco, all while holding them to a higher standard of sustainability. For far too long, the burden of sustainability has been placed on individual consumers. Meanwhile, entire industries and huge companies can get away with damaging the planet. Together, we need to work to bridge the gap between environmentally conscious consumers and these companies that are major parts of our lives.

This is where the EcoCart browser extension comes in. We work with thousands of brands—some of which have sustainability initiatives and some that don’t—as an affiliate partner. That means retailers are paying a percentage of your transaction to EcoCart, which we use to fund certified carbon offsetting and sequestration projects. This affiliate partnership is how we offer sustainable shopping to you at no extra cost.

We believe that accountability is key to real, lasting impact. When there are usually true sustainable alternatives to the goods you want to purchase, by all means, but that doesn’t have to mean we completely turn our backs on the bigger brands out there. Plus, considering the fact that sustainable alternatives are pretty much always more costly upfront, people shouldn’t have to be forced to choose between sustainable options and nothing. Conscious consumers can do more than just boycott; show brands you love that you care about something bigger than them and bigger than yourself.

We live in an interesting age, and if buying that toy for your dog or that new moisturizer will make you happy, I want you to buy it. And I don’t want you to have to feel guilty about it. When you shop with EcoCart, you can do some good for the planet (while also doing a little good for yourself). 

Let’s do better together

The irony that makes me smile every day is that we’re a shopping extension that would prefer if you didn’t shop—really, we do! But we know that shopping online is essential for many people, so if you do have to shop online, please consider making your orders carbon neutral with EcoCart.

It breaks my heart to see criticism towards businesses large and small in the name of sustainability. EcoCart is proud to be part of a community with a shared goal of a brighter future for our planet, but not at the expense of loving our neighbors that share this planet. We believe everyone should be supportive of steps towards a healthier planet—no matter how small the steps may be.

We are always trying to do better, so drop me a note at dane [at] ecocart.io and let me know how you think we can do better—together. 


Dane Baker, Co-founder and CEO, EcoCart