Meet Eight Founders Driving Environmental Change

illustration of planet whales diver

What if making a living was also a chance to make a difference? Taking the plunge to start any venture may seem like it requires a full commitment to all aspects of running a business, but for this class of changemakers, there’s another driving force: making the world a bit better. From up-cycling plastic bottles to protecting marine life and improving the world’s access to drinkable water, these are the founders who are creating change through commerce.

Edwin Broni-Mensah of GiveMeTap

portrait illustration of Edwin Broni MensahSeveral years ago, London-based Edwin Broni-Mensah’s new workout regimen and commitment to getting a six-pack led him to drink a lot more water to stay hydrated. But he was shocked at how difficult it was to find free tap water: Everyone just seemed to offer him plastic bottled water instead.

Globally, an estimated 844 million individuals don’t have access to safe drinking water, and while Edwin didn’t think he would be a business owner, he decided to take action. Armed with his background in business and tech, he came up with an app—GiveMeTap—to map out eateries and cafes within London that offered free tap water. With GiveMeTap stainless steel water bottles, users can get hydrated throughout the city while reducing plastic waste. Edwin also invests profits from the bottles toward building water pumps in Ghana, Malawi, and Namibia. To date, his efforts have prevented over 45 million bottles from being used and given more than 20,000 individuals clean water in partner countries.

Natalie Parra and Siena Schaar of Keiko Conservation

portrait illustration of natalie parra As a diver, Natalie Parra has seen firsthand how turtles and sharks get tangled in nets and fishing lines, and how they struggle to get free. Wanting to help in conservation efforts for ocean life, Natalie and her friend, Siena Schaar, initially started Keiko Conservation to help clean up beaches and support other conservation groups.

Shortly after launch, though, Natalie was bitten by a mosquito during a diving trip in Tongo and caught a virus that triggered transverse myelitis, a rare and severe autoimmune reaction that paralyzed her from the neck down. During her bedridden recovery, Natalie spent a lot of time online and noticed various cases where fishermen were hunting and killing sharks. When the legal system wasn’t able to bring forth justice, Natalie discovered that leveraging social media and getting more people on board could drive conservation efforts forward.

Today, with members in Hawaii, Ecuador, Norway, Japan, and Russia, Keiko Conservation alerts their followers about damaging practices and advocates for online protests. Natalie now also designs jewelry and beachwear under the brand Thessalonike to help fund conservation efforts.

Kristina Velkova and Sara Douglas of Vitaclean

portrait illustration vitaclean The hard water and perpetual rain in London became a damper on good hair days and inspired best friends Kristina Velkova and Sara Douglas to brainstorm ways to change the water quality within their showers. To combat England’s weather effect on their hair, the ladies founded Vitaclean and launched a showerhead with an aromatherapy fixture to filter hard water and neutralize chlorine.

But Kristina and Sara also wanted to create a lifestyle product with an impact: their high-pressure showerhead uses up to 25 percent less water than conventional heads. In the U.K., where the average person uses 40 gallons of water per day—with a third of that attributed to showers—the impact compounds over time. Vitaclean also dedicates part of its sales to charities responsible for water projects.

Oscar Muñoz of Green Glass

Oscar Muñoz was only 18 when he began rescuing discarded glass bottles from the trash and transforming them into drinking glasses to sell online. He started Green Glass partly as a reaction to the dismal recycling programs in his native Chile: they exist, but really only within Santiago and the surrounding metropolitan area. And only an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the population recycles, even though 90 percent of their waste is recyclable.

Today, Oscar’s business taps into the network of 60,000 trash collectors within Chile to turn trash into treasures. By incorporating fun illustrations and funky designs, Oscar’s team creates in-demand glassware, and sales help causes that provide laugh therapy for kids who are going through medical treatments. His team has also partnered with, and donated to, Vivir Mas Feliz, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for children who are battling cancer.

Caroline and Jake Danehy of Fair Harbor

portrait illustrations of fair harbor siblingsWhile putting a research paper together on the effects of plastic waste, Jake Danehy learned that an estimated 50 billion plastic water bottles are purchased each year. Wanting to make an impact, Jake talked to his sister, Caroline, about turning plastic bottle waste into, well, something useful. They leaned into their childhood memories—growing up in the barefoot community of Fair Harbor on Fire Island, where they spent summers surfing but where more and more plastic waste seemed to be washing ashore.

Together, the siblings conceived of repurposing plastic bottles by shredding, spinning, and weaving them into fabrics. Voilà: beachwear. Under the business moniker Fair Harbor, the siblings pay homage to their coastal playground, with Jack looking after finances and operations while Caroline designs clothing. The Danehys also push their Round Trip Initiative, which offers free shipping for customers who send in old swimwear for repurposing—and a discount on new gear.

Illustrations by Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo
Additional reporting by: Dayna Winter, Anne-Marie Vettorel, Farah Momen, and Lisa Roepe