“The scuba community is a great outlet for education and change,” Stream2Sea founder Autumn Blum remarks. “Divers are trained to train and they’re very vocal ocean advocates.”
She’s just been telling me about how useful divers are as vectors of environmental education. Autumn’s business philosophy is both pragmatic and conscientious, underwritten by a standard she calls the triple bottom line: every decision must be good for the product, good for people, and good for the planet.
It’s all part of her master plan to protect coral reefs from human hygiene products–a daunting task with seemingly infinite challenges. But she and her staff are taking them on the way one might devour an elephant, a bite at a time. And my, have they been hungry.
DeeperBlue.com has been following the Stream2Sea story since they emerged on the market in 2015. Right now they’re smack-dab in the middle of year two and have already blown past the latest series of goals they set for themselves. It’s all just a little bit of history repeating, though — their freshman-year success surpassed all their expectations as well.
The triple bottom line approach is incorporated throughout the Stream2Sea business model, from their rigorous product testing and educational outreach programs to the location of their headquarters, even their packaging and shipping choices. Each layer of mindful entrepreneurship interlocks with the others to forge a company that really seems committed to their mission of environmental stewardship.
The Stream2Sea Product
The first goal, of course, was to develop a line of body care products that were not only safe and effective for humans, but also as gentle as possible on sensitive coral reef ecosystems. Challenge one: effectiveness. To appeal to consumers shampoo must feel good on hair and must clean without stripping. Challenge two: eco-safety. Once you’ve got a natural formula that actually works, it’s time to make sure it’s safe for marine life. No small undertaking, but also no match for Autumn’s background in cosmetic chemistry and her determination that the products really would be safe for reefs*.
Challenge two did involve a difficult crisis of conscience for the company, however. Currently, the only effective way to verify that products aren’t toxic to reef organisms is to test them on small samples of those same organisms. On the company’s website, Autumn avows,
“We are adamantly against animal testing where there are in vitro alternatives. At this time, however, there are no cellular cultures or models to replicate aquatic toxicity testing to the extent we need.”
Stream2Sea is transparent about this unfortunate necessity, with the explicit understanding that it may cost them some customers who just can’t get behind the practice. With the increasing endangerment of coral reefs worldwide, Autumn says that mitigating the impact of toxic sunscreens is a priority that can’t be put off.
When choosing a location to headquarter her company, Autumn didn’t have to venture far from home. Heavily reliant on agriculture and mining, Hardee County, Florida is an economically-depressed area with a forward-thinking local Economic Development Council. In order to stimulate growth in the area, they put together an industrial Incubator/Accelerator facility. What that means in practical terms is that membership in this initiative gave Stream2Sea a way to access a super-efficient tube-filling machine they normally couldn’t afford themselves, that can move more volume than they yet have a demand for. Now ten other companies in Hardee County have the opportunity to use the machine to package their own products. With that kind of support, Stream2Sea has been able to hire twelve people from the county to handle their production, marketing, and sales. And they’re only mid-way through their second year of operations–they hope to add more to their staff as they continue to grow.
Building upon their eco-friendly products, Stream2Sea has a robust outreach component geared towards raising awareness about the ingredients used in common sunscreens, shampoos, conditioners, and body lotions. They produce educational cards and placards for boats detailing which ingredients are harmful to marine life, how they cause damage, and in what types of products they’re usually found. Though wallet-sized cards are available for purchase, you can print out the pdf they make available on their website. Or if you’re lucky and get a chance to meet anyone from the company, sneak a peak at the back of their business card.
Chief among the pollutants: the parabens used as preservatives, and oxybenzone–a powerful UV protectant that can irritate the eyes and skin of humans, and has devastating effects on coral. They base this part of their list of findings from Dr. Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. His study found that even at concentrations far lower than those found at common swimming locations, oxybenzone damages coral and its larvae, causing adult coral to bleach at lower temperatures, baby coral to mutate, and juvenile coral to seal itself inside a cocoon of its own skeleton.
These findings have turned out to be polarizing in more ways than one. Dr. Downs’ work has convinced lawmakers and environmental custodians in Hawaii that oxybenzone is a significant threat to their reefs. Recognizing the value of coral to their underwater ecology (not to mention their booming tourist industry), they’re working on legislation to ban the chemical entirely in the form of Senate Bill 1150. Sunscreen companies that depend on oxybenzone are none too pleased with this development and argue that alternatives are too difficult to implement and that the ban will cause consumers to use less sunscreen and subsequently develop more skin cancer.
Autumn would prefer that everyone use a non-nano mineral-based sunscreen, but she insists that there are other options readily available. In the end, every person should do their own research, but on the subject of oxybenzone she agrees with Hawaii. As, apparently, do most of the major scuba certification agencies who, with Stream2Sea’s urging have been working to include lessons about sunscreen safety in their training materials. Going still one step further, Stream2Sea has partnered with NAUI’s Green Diver Initiative and donates 20% of every purchase made through the dedicated NAUI link to their grant program.
As if developing and promoting personal care products that are good for reefs and for humans–and helping to revitalize an entire community in the process–weren’t enough, Stream2Sea’s packaging and shipping choices are eco-friendly too. Their tubes are made of sustainably-sourced sugarcane resin, an alternative to plastic that is manufactured in only one place in the world: Israel. To temper the inevitable footprint created by the long import voyage as well as the shipment of their end products all over the world, Stream2Sea buys carbon offsets through a company called TerraPass. Now the efficacy of carbon offset programs is a hotly-debated topic for another day, but contributing to a promising system that could still use some improvements is better than doing nothing at all.
What’s Ahead For Stream2Sea
Sales-wise, Stream2Sea aimed to open 250 new doors in the first year. In fact, it turned out to be more like 400. They’re already building on that success as retail partners have come to seek them out en masse. New products to look out for in the near-future include a tinted version of their face sunscreen and wall dispensers for boats and resorts. They’ll also be debuting bulk jugs with which to fill those dispensers as soon as they can get the packaging just right. Biodegradable materials aren’t suitable for things you don’t want to have, well, degrade, so Autumn’s team are working to develop packages made of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic.
Stream2Sea is a company with an incredible commitment to their mission of lessening human impact on our struggling environment. That philosophy is borne out in every aspect of their business and demonstrates a holistic understanding of the way we are all connected in a vast web of cause and effect, ecology, and community. It’s that triple bottom line: product, people, planet. “What we put on our bodies does have an effect on the underwater environment,” Autumn concludes. And it’s past time we took responsibility for that impact.
Decide for yourself if Stream2Sea’s products live up to their promise by checking them out here, but even if you choose not to–keep a close eye on the ingredients in your favorite skin care items, and tell a friend.
*No product exists that can claim to be 100% reef safe, as Autumn will be the first to tell you. You can learn more about the limitations of the science and Stream2Sea’s eco-friendly approach on their blog.