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Meet Two New StEP Businesses with a Sustainability Lens

Written by Office of Sustainability student associate, Melena Braggs, Class of 2025.

As companies at many scales are discovering, a key factor for success hinges on building environmental and social considerations into the core mission of the company. Using social and environmental “sustainability” as a framework allows businesses to make decisions in a way that improves their business and helps ensure future success, while also supporting the communities they operate in.   

The Skandalaris Center is the home to the Student Entrepreneurial Program (StEP). Through this program, students are able to contribute their skills and effort to student-run small businesses. They are provided resources like access to the South 40 storefronts and the expertise of the Skandalaris Center, but students themselves are responsible for running the business.  

Many of the long-standing StEP businesses have a strong sustainability slant: SWAP (Sharing With A Purpose) hosts a free on-campus thrift shop, Bears Bikes offers long-term bike rentals and repair, and gallery314 sells gifts and art from local artists and makers. Numerous other companies have dabbled in business models that have social and/or environmental benefits over the years, including a formal and costume exchange shop among others!

Some of the newest businesses that are part of the StEP program include Repair Unlimited and WaterDropd.  

Repair Unlimited opened Fall Semester 2022 and boasts a wide range of phone repair services including: screen replacement, software assistance, battery swap, and lightning port repair. They also sell accessories. The founder of Repair Unlimited, King Creer, started from humble beginnings.  

This business’ creation dates back to when King felt inspired to repair an old iPhone 6 he had lying around. He attempted to bring it back to life after buying some parts online, but he was unsuccessful. King decided to go to professionals. He visited a local repair shop and was able to learn from the owner. Through his apprenticeship, he learned the skills that he uses to help the WashU community through his business.  

King’s story of having a random phone collecting dust in his home is not unique. Eternity in a desk drawer is a far too common fate for phones no longer in use. Only a small percentage of electronic waste is actually recycled. Repairing items helps reduce the amount of E-waste in landfills and saves money that would be spent on buying a new phone.  

Another business helping divert waste from landfills is WaterDropd. Its mission is to help make water more accessible through a subscription-based water delivery service. The founders of this business saw firsthand the amount of packaged water students bring during move-in and the amount they continue to buy throughout the school year.  

While there are many water bottle filling stations throughout campus and in residential halls that serve filtered chilled water, some students may desire even more convenient ways to get water. Typically, such students would buy disposable water bottles, but WaterDropd addresses those needs with 5-gallon jugs and dispensers.

Fully understanding social and environmental benefits and harms can be complicated, as is finding the right approach to marketing. “Greenwashing,” the practices of intentionally or unintentionally overselling social or environmental benefits, or misleading consumers, is all too common in the market place. The StEP program provides a testing ground for finding the right approach. An article published in StudLife earlier this fall delved into some of these nuances and demonstrated the necessity of consumers exercising critical thinking and challenging a specific marketing approach.

While “Less Is More” when it comes to consumption, when you do have to make a purchase, you can align your spending with your values when you practice critical and intentional consumption. Investigate the ways the businesses you support are incorporating sustainability into their practices.