Bye Bye Plastic Bags Melati and Isabel Wijsen
Plastic waste is harming marine life — and human life — around the globe, as are other harmful practices contributing to climate change. Through eco-friendly businesses and nonprofits, these women are hoping to turn the tide.

The purpose of Earth Day, an international holiday recognized by 193 countries, is to spread awareness of our environmental problems while encouraging people to work to fix them. In 2021, our collective focus remains on the coronavirus crisis that has forever altered our world. But our planet still needs saving in other ways, too.

All around us, we see the effects, big and small, of man-made climate change — from increases in carbon dioxide emissions and rising sea levels to declining animal populations and more devastating wildfires, among others. Yet outright denial of its very existence persists, and not just from the general public — prominent political and corporate figures tout this narrative from their considerable platforms.

[Related: Women Mayors Around the World Talk to The Story Exchange About Climate Change]

The scientifically proven impacts of climate change, coupled with widespread skepticism of the problem and our shared attention on the ongoing pandemic, make increased awareness, accountability and action all the more critical. Quite a few of the women we’ve featured here at The Story Exchange take that responsibility to heart, turning their climate concerns into growing ventures.

Here are 12 female founders using entrepreneurship in a variety of ways to help the environment.

1. Traci Phillips

Founder, Natural Evolution
Phillips recycles dead cell phones, washed-up computers and old dot-matrix printers so they can’t clog landfills and release toxic substances into the environment. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, entrepreneur says her Native American roots inspired her to turn a personal mission into a successful business. “My tribe, many years ago, believed we had a responsibility and we were actually stewards of our surroundings and our earth,” she told us. “It feels like I am fulfilling that.”

2. Kristy Allen

Founder, The Beez Kneez
This is not your typical “sell honey at the farmers market” venture, and Allen is no hobbyist. The Beez Kneez is a unique business that maintains hives, sells honey, teaches intensive beekeeping classes and manages to thrive while remaining environmentally sustainable. “Without bees, who’s gonna do that very important pollination work of making those plants reproduce? These things we kind of take for granted — apples, watermelons, any fruit — would be gone” without bees, she says. (Since publication, Beez Kneez’s retail location closed, and the business now operates from a farm in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. They moved there this year after 11 years in Minneapolis.)

3. Jennifer Bolstad

Co-founder, Local Office Landscape and Urban Design
In less than 25 years, the peninsula of Rockaway Beach, New York, will be sinking into the Atlantic Ocean — something that almost happened after Hurricane Sandy’s ferocious flooding in 2012. Now, due to rising sea levels, “the Sandy flood height is going to be the regular high tide mark in less than a century,” Bolstad says. “So there’s not a lot of time here.” So she’s using her landscape architecture expertise to protect the vulnerable-but-populated area from sea surges.

The founders of eco-friendly business Sister's Closet. (Credit: Michael Luna)
The founders of eco-friendly business Sister’s Closet. (Credit: Michael Luna)
4. Lynn Julian and Chance Claxton; Ann and Jenny Siner

Founders, U Konserve and My Sister’s Closet
The podcast episode linked above features a double dose of eco-friendly entrepreneurship. Julian’s U Konserve tackles our pressing plastic problem with reusable containers. Meanwhile, Siner’s venture, My Sister’s Closet, keeps clothing out of landfills and in her consignment shops. Both women, and their teams, are doing their part to minimize waste and protect the environment. (Since publication, Lynn Julian has left U Konserve, and Jenny Siner has left My Sister’s Closet.)

[Related: 3 Solutions from Women to a Staggering Plastic Problem]

5. Pamela Marrone

Founder, Marrone Bio
Marrone’s venture is a publicly traded company that develops natural pest-control products as alternatives to controversial pesticides. An enthusiastic entomologist by training, she has built a career killing bugs and more without poison. While her first company was ultimately taken over, she took Marrone Bio public on Nasdaq in 2013, ringing the bell with her mother by her side and raising $57 million.

6. Kari Warberg Block

Founder, EarthKind
Warberg Block’s business is also a maker of all-natural pest-control products. It began with her packing pouches full of kitchen ingredients to repel roaches, rodents and other pests. She launched a small business with them in 2007 — more than a decade later, those pouches are the backbone of EarthKind, a venture that pulled in $10 million in revenue in 2017 and has sold tens of millions of patented, EPA-registered products.

7. Priscilla Debar

Founder, Faubourg
Debar is bringing eco-conscious women of color out of the shadows by spotlighting them at Faubourg, the online boutique for sustainable fashion she launched in 2017. A black woman of West African descent, she prominently features fellow fashionable women of color on her company’s site — an intentional effort inspired by the lack of diversity in eco-friendly spaces that she noticed as a customer. “We’re talking about the future of the planet — there shouldn’t only be one type of beauty represented” in sustainable fashion, she says.

Nicole Wakley, founder of eco-friendly furniture empire Tree. (Credit: Tree)
Nicole Wakley, founder of eco-friendly furniture empire Tree. (Credit: Tree)
8. Nicole Wakley

Founder, Tree
It was a leap of faith that brought the the former lawyer from the courtroom to the pitch room, but her international eco-friendly furniture business turned out to be a solid gamble — the company  makes millions and employs dozens. Each piece of furniture Tree sells is made from recycled materials. To source them, Wakley has sought out and forged relationships with partners and individual artisans in Asia and the United States who make furniture in small batches. Wakely says she’s committed to this approach, and that “Tree will stay true to its roots.”

9. Jody Levy

Founder, Wtrmln Wtr
Levy’s product is made entirely from melons that would normally be thrown away because of superficial flaws, taking one bite out of a big food-waste problem. Roughly 6 billion pounds of “ugly” fruit and vegetables are wasted each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her pursuit of a bold solution has paid off — she and her team have built a venture that presses over 25 million pounds of watermelon annually into a product that sells.

10. Samanta Martin

Founder, Agathos Athleisure
Martin launched her company after learning about the toll the fashion industry’s waste takes on the environment — which includes water contamination, textile waste and harm to aquatic life, research shows. And that’s on top of the poor conditions suffered by factory workers. By making sustainably made clothing more readily available to the masses, she hopes to inspire customers to be more mindful about “what your dollar is supporting, what you’re eating — consumption in every sense of the word.”

11. Hayley Santell

Founder, MADI Apparel
Santell’s business sells a line of staple wardrobe basics for women and men, all made from bamboo. Finding an ethical manufacturer wasn’t easy, she told us, “and we had to do a ton of homework” to find someone in America who would craft clothing ethically. But it was a critical part of her vision, and she saw it through. In addition to keeping her firm sustainable, for every purchase made, MADI Apparel donates a new pair of underwear to women in need, particularly survivors of domestic violence. Today the Kansas City, Missouri, entrepreneur is taking pride in the hundreds of pairs of underwear they report having donated so far, as she continues to grow her eco-friendly social enterprise.

12. Sharon Rowe

Founder, Eco-Bags Products, Inc.
Rowe admits that part of her reason for launching her business, which makes and sells reusable totes, lunch bags and more, was to have more control of her time. But first and foremost, Rowe wanted to offer her neighbors — and all of us — an alternative to wasteful single-use plastic bags. “[W]hen I realized there were other people thinking like I was [about plastic bags], I decided to start a business,” she told us. Since launching, Eco-Bags has been featured by the likes of Oprah and Time Magazine.

[Related: Feeling inspired to do some Earth Day shopping? Check out The Story Exchange’s Eco-Friendly Gift Guide]