Category Archives for "Case Studies"

Redefining Consumerism: Innovations in Product Sustainability

Andy Ruben, Co-founder, Yerdle

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The production and consumption of consumer products carries implications for environmental sustainability, efficient use of inputs, and corporate social responsibility in today’s markets. In this talk, social entrepreneur and sustainability expert Andy Ruben shares his vision for supply chain innovation and sustainable consumerism, through the lens of both individual products and system-wide change.

Today’s model of consumerism does not prioritize the efficient use of resources throughout the supply chain. Consumers just don’t use the full lifetime of a product. In this talk, e-commerce social entrepreneur and former Walmart sustainability executive Andy Ruben emphasizes opportunities for efficient design, production, and reuse of consumer products, from the perspective of corporations and consumers. Speaking at the 2012 Global Supply Chain Management Forum, Ruben details ways to improve supply chain efficiency. He explains why he hopes this new model for product exchange will revolutionize the way we think about what we buy, and what we throw away.

Andy Ruben is the co-founder of e-commerce start-up Yerdle, aimed at shifting the nature of modern consumerism. Formerly Chief Sustainability Officer of Walmart and one of Walmart’s youngest corporate officers, Ruben was widely recognized for initiating Walmart’s large-scale sustainability efforts, reimagining their private brands supply chain, and leading several major e-commerce initiatives. A TED speaker, Ruben has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, in The New York Times and in The Wall Street Journal, and has testified before the US Senate and House of Representatives as an expert in business and sustainability of supply chains. Ruben is one of six leaders featured in the book Organizational Champions, and his accomplishments have been highlighted by Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, and Tom Freidman, Pulitzer Prize winning writer

Andy Ruben

Responsible Supply Chains Conference

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Stanford Graduate School of Business

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What SunFunder Teaches Us about Crowdfunding for a Green Cause


Growing up in hurricane-prone Florida, I experienced a lot of blackouts in my childhood.  I’d do homework by candlelight and then my sister and I would make animal silhouettes on the wall until we grew bored.  Most blackouts would last a few hours and some a few days but the promise of renewed electricity and the accompanying hum of the TV, computer, and cell phone rings always kept us from complaining too much.

Now, imagine those semi-disgruntled nights from that one time you lost power and realize that not everyone has the promise of restored electricity, mostly because they never had electricity to begin with.

As SunFunder explains, hundreds of thousands of people in Africa don’t live off the light of a charming scented candle in the occasional blackout.  Instead, they live entirely by the light of a kerosene lamp everyday of the year, “an expensive and dangerous source of light.”  According to the site, kerosene lamps can cost a family as much as 20% of their family income, money that could otherwise be spent on food, clothes, or health care.  In addition, the constant exposure to kerosene smoke and chemicals “contributes to more deaths globally than malaria.”  This week’s case study covers SunFunder, a crowdfunding platform devoted entirely to eradicating energy poverty and kerosene poisoning around the world.

The Story

Unfortunately for us, SF’s page lacks a “History” section with information about its founding, but we’ve managed to piece some information together.  SF began in 2012 and has quickly gained recognition as a promising startup in publications like The Huffington Post and Bloomberg. SF began with a successful fully-funded $4000 campaign for solar lighting and cell phone charging in the Philippines with the contributions of just 62 people.  Since then, SF’s project base has expanded to include 3 other projects, 2 of which are fully funded and the remaining one 86% funded.  According to a ticker at the top of the site, in less than a year SF has managed to empower 4,405 people (“and counting…”) through its solar crowdfunding platform.


For such a relatively new startup, SF has had remarkable success – crowdfunding roughly $46,000 to fund solar projects in the Philippines, Zambia, and Tanzania.  SF successfully makes its mark because it works in a niche market – only funding solar projects (instead of general green projects) with an emphasis on solving energy poverty worldwide (instead of in a specific location like competitor Solar Mosaic).  SF’s mission and platform are so specific and clear that it’s more likely to attract an enthusiastic and passionate set of donors than a more varied platform.

SF’s biggest strength is using a regulatory setback to encourage its own growth.  As the website explains, SF is not able to provide interest to investors because of regulatory restrictions.  Instead, SF transforms this interest into Impact Point (100 points = US$1) to use in further project investments.  We loved SF’s creative problem-solving, using a regulatory drawback to promote its own virality and growth.


Room to Grow

Along with Bay Area company Solar Mosaic, SF is leading the pack of solar crowdfunding platforms with a lot of potential.  In 2013, we’d like to see more growth (more projects to fund) and more transparency.  How are the projects picked?  By whom?  Is there a formal application process?  How much of the funding does SF receive?  We think potential donors would feel more comfortable contributing if they had as many answers as possible.

Why They Are Successful

SF has a fantastically responsive website that breaks down the impact for each individual investor – how many people they impacted, how much solar energy they provided, etc.  The details make the impact more real for the investor, encouraging them to continue investing and watch their numbers jump.


How to Engage

As a crowdfunder, start thinking of how you can make clients and customers feel as good as they do when they’re checking their latest impact stats.  Maybe think about it as you help SunFunder’s latest solar project, giving solar to 1200 families in Zambia.


What “Back to the Roots” Can Teach Us about Growing a Successful Green Business

BTTR pic

At GatherWell, we’re excited to help support the next generation of green enterprises.  With that in mind, we’re introducing a new series on our blog showcasing successful examples – their story, strengths, weaknesses, and what a budding eco entrepreneur can take away from their experience.  For our first case study we’re starting with an environmental enterprise that’s sprouting in stores across the United States more and more:



Back to the Roots



When I met a representative from Back to The Roots at a Bay Area sustainability event recently, I complained that my BTTR model never bore any mushrooms and frustrated, I gave up on it after 2 months.  The box, nothing more than mycelium (the vegetative part of a mushroom), recycled coffee grounds, and cardboard, is BTTR’s signature product.  To the thousands who have made the $20 splurge, it’s more than just a box – it’s an opportunity to grow your own mushrooms at home, forage them, and eat them.

Several months after a mushroomless summer, I was still feeling cranky about the lost $20.  The representative shocked me – with a smile and a pamphlet he explained that some of the summer shipments (when I had purchased my box) had turned out to be defective.  He suggested I call BTTR and even though I had made the purchase over 6 months ago, had no record of ever making that purchase, and without any idea whether the problem was the box or me, they would send me a new box anyway.  For free.  To top it off, they guaranteed that the new box would grow mushrooms.  I was blown away.  Within days I was spritzing my box and within weeks I was sautéing my own home-grown oyster mushrooms.

The Story

BTTR is one of the most visibly successful social enterprises to emerge in the last few years.  The story begins in 2009 with UC Berkeley students Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora.  In their senior year, they were both simultaneously inspired by a professor who mentioned the possibility of growing gourmet mushrooms from used coffee grounds.  After their professor introduced them, the two began experimenting until they grew their first oyster mushrooms.  With some help from restaurant giant Chez Panisse, Whole Foods, and a university grant, urban mushroom farming in recycled coffee grounds was born.


The recycled coffee grounds to mushroom magic behind BTTR’s box is inspiring – just ask the over 300 Whole Foods selling the boxes.  But the repurposed coffee beans aren’t the only thing that make the boxes pop – one of BTTR’s major strengths includes their confidence in the value of their product and customer service, as evidenced my own experience with a bad box.  BTTR is so confident they can help you grow mushrooms, they’ll send you free coffee grounds and mycelium until it happens.  

Room to Grow

BTTR is leading the pack in mushroom growing kits for urban farmers but they’ve been slow to launch other products other than an underwhelming t-shirt design.  In 2012, they finally released a home aquaponics garden, which they market as “a self-cleaning fish tank that also grows food” with the option of growing basil, thyme, and other herbs.  The aquaponics garden is likely to take off in retail stores in 2013 but with everything else they have going for them, we’re hoping BTTR isn’t just a two-trick pony.

Why They Are Successful

By just posting a picture of your kit on BTTR’s Facebook page, BTTR donates a mushroom kit to the classroom of your choice.  Plus, those wonderfully textured oyster mushrooms on your udon noodles?  BTTR made that happen.  That purple glimmer of a Betta fish in your aquaponics garden?  BTTR did that.  That warm, fuzzy feeling you get from producing your own food (with a little help) in a sustainable, active way?  That’s BTTR.  BTTR is all about making the consumer feel good.

Apart from warm, fuzzy feeling-inducing charm, BTTR succeeds so well because of one more critical reason: it puts the power to grow something delicious in the hands of consumers and more importantly, makes it as easy as possible for the consumer to do it – as simple as spritzing a mushroom box.  The consumer, in turn, feels accomplished – and that’s well worth the $20 kit.

How to Engage

As a green entrepreneur, start thinking of how you can make your clients feel as good as they do when they’re growing their own oyster mushrooms at home.  Maybe think about it as you spritz your own mushroom box.