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.

She Inspires Candle Prosperity Candle

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.

Bamboo Charcoal Sheet Set Ettitude

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.

The Charcuterie Board Would Works

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.

Check out other sustainable products through DoneGood!

*GOOD may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.

Social Good Spotlight

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
via / YouTube

The Hershey Bears set a world Teddy Toss record on Sunday night when fans threw 45,650 stuffed bears onto the ice at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Fans were instructed to toss their Teddies after the home team scored its first goal. It happened eight minutes into the game when Christian Djoos scored against the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Keep Reading Show less

Ken Cuccinelli could probably use a drink. Of course, stopping by a popular Washington, DC watering hole is what got him into trouble in the first place.

Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was spotted at the Dubliner by Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who decided to speak his mind about the Trump Administration's immigration policy.

Keep Reading Show less