Entrepreneur left job in Obama administration to start the 'Amazon of social good'
What if we all used our purchasing power to support companies that reduce inequality, alleviate poverty, fight climate change, and help build a more just economy?
Americans spend $130 trillion a year on everyday items, meaning there's great potential to put that money to good use. Where you invest your dollars matters, possibly more so now than ever. In fact, 81% of millennials, the largest living generation, actually expect companies to make a public commitment to charitable causes and citizenship.
Firmly believing the notion that the "dollars we spend are the world's most powerful force for change," Cullen Schwarz decided to start a company that tapped into this country's purchasing power, creating a platform to put that $130 trillion to work.
"In 2015, while working in Washington, D.C. with the Obama administration, I became painfully aware that all of the hours, votes, donations, petitions, and marches did not stand up to the thousands of dollars I was handing over to massive, profit-hungry corporations every year. So where can I go to discover companies that I can feel good about supporting?" Schwarz said.
Enter DoneGood, a digital marketplace showcasing 200-plus brands who are doing good for people and the planet. "To us, 'good for people' means empowering workers, paying fair wages free of trafficking or child labor and unsafe working conditions. 'Good for the planet' means using eco-friendly production processes, using non-toxic, organic, and/or recycled or upcycled materials, and taking other significant steps to keep our land, air, and water clean," Schwarz told GOOD.
The company, which has been called the "Amazon of social good" by Forbes, also has a Chrome browser extension that will help you find ethical, sustainable alternatives to the products you search for online.
Upworthy spoke with Schwarz about what made him decide to switch careers, how his company is making a difference, and what you can do in your daily life to have an impact on the greater good. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
GOOD: It must have been scary leaving behind an impressive political career to start your company. What was the catalyst that made you finally take the leap?
Cullen Schwarz: The catalyst for finally pulling the trigger was getting accepted into the Harvard Innovation Lab. That's the university's startup incubator program. We had applied there with just the idea for DoneGood and we got in. Once we got in, it was like, oh damn — this thing I've been thinking about for years, I really have to do it now! Once it really came time to quit the old career, it wasn't scary. I wanted to feel like I was working on something that had the possibility of creating really significant positive change for the world.
What tangible impact has the company made since its founding?
We were officially founded in June 2015. But for a while we were testing different business models through the Innovation Lab program in Greater Boston. We launched nationally in our current form in late 2016.
We measure our impact in "Dollars Diverted": consumer spending that goes to brands that empower workers and preserves the planet instead of typical corporate box stores. By the end of this year our community will have diverted $1 million to brands that make the world better! Obviously we hope this number gets a lot bigger. The bigger it gets, the more we help fuel the business-as-a-force-for-good movement and the greater positive impact our community makes together. But $1 million is a nice milestone to hit.
How do you find the businesses you feature on DoneGood and what criteria do they have to meet in order for you to work with them?
We're continuously scouring the planet for unique, high-quality, mission-driven businesses. We get a lot of tips from our users for great brands, too. And now that we're well-known enough, we have new brands applying directly through our site every week.
We look for brands that "make great stuff and make the world better." These are ethical, sustainable businesses that create products built-to-last and are doing so with the production practices that are good for people and the planet.
To determine a brand's impact, we start by aggregating data from independent certifying organizations. This includes B Corps, Fair Trade, GOTS, and the Rain Forest Alliance, among many others. We combine these certifications with our own research, interviews, and standards, asking brands to attest to various business practices and requiring that they demonstrate how they're following through on those practices.
What's been the driving motivation behind what you do?
I believe the dollars we all spend are the world's most powerful force for change. So we work to help make it easy for people to unleash this tremendous power.
For example, DoneGood users can find jewelry that helps women escape sex-trafficking. Or sunglasses made by pulling plastic out of the ocean and funding additional ocean clean-up. Or women's clothing made in a completely zero-waste facility. And hundreds more companies proving it's possible to build a successful business and make the world better at the same time.
I really want those businesses to succeed. The world needs those businesses to succeed.
What advice do you have for someone who might be looking for ways to make a difference in their own life?
If you've been considering a big life change, do it already! Keep in mind that our time on Earth is short. And we'll spend the majority of our waking hours working. So when we're deciding what to do for work, we're deciding how we want to spend our time on Earth.
Obviously I think one huge way to increase daily consciousness is to think about the impact our consumer dollars make on the world, and doing what we can to make sure the money we spend supports things we believe in. And of course there are smaller ways to make a positive difference in our daily lives. For me, all those little choices feel good. They make me feel more conscious, more awake, more alive. All of our little choices add up to a big impact.
*GOOD may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.