Who knew that a desire to find an environmentally friendly alternative to the red plastic cup — a beer pong staple — on Stanford’s campus could spawn an entire store devoted to selling sustainable products?
The ASSU Green Store was founded to serve this exact purpose, but since then, has expanded to sell a variety of sustainable goods, in addition to providing green education outreach. Through these efforts, this entirely student-run organization hopes to make it easier for Stanford students to live more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.
In 2008, Susie Choi ’12 started the Green Store with three other students, Elaine Albertson ’11 M.S.’12, Jeffrey Sweet ’12 M.S.’12 and Eric Knudson ’12 M.S. ’12, through the ASSU Green Cabinet. According to Choi, one of the team’s first projects was finding a more sustainable alternative to the ubiquitous red plastic Solo cup.
“Our first challenge was finding a replacement for those red plastic cups that everyone uses on the weekends and at parties,” Choi said. “The problem is that Stanford Recycling does not have the ability to recycle the plastic [used to make] Solo cups. If people are going to be using cups anyway, why don’t we introduce more sustainable cups that students can [recycle]?”
The team introduced recyclable cups in December 2008.
The Green Store is currently run entirely online, and products sold include compostable plates and utensils, once-used paper, eco-friendly laundry detergent and Smart Strips — power strips that shut off power to an electronic device when it is not in use to prevent electricity leakage.
“For all compostable [items], we work with Stanford Dining and were able to get a wholesale contract so we get all the products for cheaper,” said Allison Fink ’12, a current Green Store team member. “We stock up on these products and sell them for as cheap as possible.”
The Green Store makes no sales profits and receives funding from the student services division of the ASSU. This money is used to stock up on sustainable products and subsidize costs for large orders.
“Our prices are pretty competitive with [other] prices out there, especially because you order online and we deliver it right to you,” Choi said. “Obviously, buying non-sustainable red cups is cheaper, but when we compare with other sustainable options, our prices are great.”
While the Green Store website provides an explanation of how their environmentally friendly products can be used most effectively, the team said students sometimes are not aware of the information. For instance, Choi stated that very often, students don’t realize that the recyclable cups must be recycled in order to be considered sustainable.
“Basically, we expect students to understand why they’re buying [these] products, and on our website we explain why our products are good [for the environment], but we realized there was a problem, and we weren’t sure if people were actually recycling the recyclable cups,” Choi said.
“We offer recycling bags with people’s purchases that they can use, and if it’s a larger event, [we] lend them a Green Store banner to help promote the [online] store, but we still felt that there was very little that we could do to educate students [about these products],” she added.
In order to combat misunderstandings about the store’s function and proper sustainability practices, Choi founded Green Events Consulting, an “institutional service to ensure that a student service is recycling or compositing whatever products they purchased.”
“By [starting Green Events Consulting], we felt like we were educating students and that we could refer them to the Green Store,” she said.
For the most part, many Green Store purchases are for large events for which organizers also coordinate with Green Events Consulting. Other customers include Row houses and cooperatives.
Since the Green Store doesn’t have a physical location, much of its advertisement is done via email or by word of mouth. However, the store has future plans to help increase the exposure and accessibility of eco-friendly products to students.
“Over the summer, we want to try to work with the Stanford Store so that [our] cups could be sold directly from there,” Fink said. “Once our cups are available in the Stanford Store, it will be more conducive for purchasing this more sustainable product.”
In addition to this change, the Green Store hopes to recruit more team members to help maintain and expand their services, including the establishment of a more standardized delivery system. Since the team is small and the deliveries are done personally, the group must schedule deliveries among themselves, which often makes it difficult to deliver their products as close to their expected delivery times as possible.
While the team hopes to increase their exposure on campus, their efforts have (and will continue) to spawn sustainable shopping habits among Stanford students that have the potential to carry on in their lives beyond the Farm.