Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Student-run store promotes green school supplies

Northwestern students might still mispronounce the name of student-run business Ecco Living, but business partners Chris Sell and Zach Ciszon are trying to set one thing straight: It is possible for students to make less of a dent on the environment without making a dent in their wallets.

The company is an online-only store that attempts to give students a green option for dorm supplies. Products range from 100 percent post-consumer recycled printer paper to non-toxic, biodegradable laundry detergent and fabric softener sheets.

“A lot of environmentally friendly products are hard to find, and they’re spread out,” said Sell, who spent a majority of his savings to launch the company in July. “And they’re usually very expensive. We wanted to bring them all close and make them cheaper.”

The Weinberg sophomore said 50 percent of profit originally went to three environmental initiatives – the Rocky Mountain Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council and the X PRIZE Foundation. But after seeking advice from mentor businesses, Sell and his team decided on Oct. 24 to reduce it to 15 percent to help the company grow.

“The first year is crucial,” Sell said. “They told us that you need to get a working business model before you start donating a large percentage of your profits.” He hopes that after getting the company out of the red and breaking even, the Ecco Living team can revisit the percentage donated.

As for the name, which is pronounced “echo,” the unusual spelling was chosen to make the site pop up first on Internet search engines, Ciszon said. It also stands for “Environmental Consciousness Concern and Opportunity.”

Students may pay online with a credit or debit card, or they can wait until the delivery to pay in cash. There is a flat delivery fee of 99 cents.

Fifty students have already pledged to Ecco Living’s grassroots movement called Ecco10, which is not necessarily a commitment to Ecco Living but a commitment to buying eco-friendly products, said Ciszon.

“You deal with a lot of rejection, you deal with people that don’t really believe in the idea, and that’s difficult,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “Not everybody is as excited as you are, but it’s part of the process. The main thing is to have patience, to have confidence in the idea that we’re donating to different organizations while trying to make a campus more environmentally friendly.”

Still, the pledges are based on the honor system.

“It’s not something we can police and monitor,” said Ciszon. “We cannot put handcuffs on somebody who buys a Five Star notebook that’s not eco-friendly.”

Sell said that if 10 percent of NU students made the switch, they would be saving 40,000 gallons of water, 21,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and over 200 trees.

“If everyone at NU or in society in general had a viewpoint that ‘I’m just one person, I can’t make one difference,’ what would our world be?” Cizson said. “No one would take the next step, achieve more than they thought possible. Having people that go the extra mile is what makes our world filled with great opportunity for change and improvement.”

Weinberg sophomore Vanessa Lee signed the pledge last Tuesday. She said she plans to replenish her stock of school supplies with their services when she gets back from winter vacation.

“It’s great that they’re taking the initiative to make sure people not just learn about something, but that they act on it,” she said. Signing a pledge has made her feel a personal connection with the project.

“You never realize how everything big starts with one person. If one person convinces someone else, before you know it, it’s just going to keep growing,” Lee said. “That makes me feel part of something bigger than myself.”

Now sponsored by the Kapnick Business Institutions Program, Sell and Ciszon said they plan to keep seeking advice from established businesses to improve their sales pitch and product line. They arranged a deal Thursday with the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University, an umbrella organization for energy-based research.

“We would really like to rid the stigma that eco-friendly products are more expensive,” Ciszon said. “We know what it’s like to be a little bit frugal in college, so obviously we’re cost-effective.”

He contends that most of their products are competitive, if not cheaper, than eco-friendly products from large office supply chains.

Forty-one orders have been placed so far, Ciszon said. He predicts sales will increase with the cold weather.

“With the crummy weather, I know people like to stay inside, bundle up and sip hot chocolate,” Ciszon said. To that end, they will deliver to on-campus and off-campus residences.

“That would definitely help,” said Lee. “I’m too lazy when it’s cold outside to budge from my room or my building.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Student-run store promotes green school supplies