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Written by Featured

Founders Story

Ryan Lillies

First Business

I started working in concrete construction when I was 16. I went to university for computer science but dropped out in the 3rd year. Theoretical math was never easy for me.

Instead, I traveled to Europe for 6 months. After that life-changing trip, I decided to go out on my own and start a concrete company.

I loved the challenge of running a business and the great feeling of accomplishment I had after completing every project.

However, I noticed something very troubling.

If you’ve ever driven through a new housing development you might have noticed it too.

The HUGE amount of waste that’s generated from building houses. It’s crazy!

Contractors throw out almost full pieces of lumber. Every size board you can imagine. Plywood, OSB, MDF, siding, baseboard, steel rebar, you name it. It can be found in piles on every construction site – and a lot of it’s still usable.

garbage bin for construction material

That gave me an idea:

I would regularly have my crew scavenge through garbage bins and grab any material that was still worth using. We not only took wood material but also scrap metal. There was foundation rebar left-overs, rebar scraps from concrete driveways and metal cladding everywhere.

Do you know what happened by the end of the summer?

We rescued countless 2×4 boards from the landfill and managed to save up over 4,000 pounds of scrap steel! That’s almost 2 metric tons.

steel recycling bin

Not only did this scavenger hunt help save money but by re-purposing and recycling that material I felt I was making a difference. Even though that difference was barely noticeable.

The crew didn’t mind dumpster diving either. I would take them out for end of the season lunch with the money we made recycling steel. (Concrete ‘season’ is 6 months because we have 6 months of winter in Winnipeg.)

Every year we would hit the dumpsters and keep an out eye out for building material that needed a new home.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end.

After 7 years I had to shut down my concrete business. 

If at first you don’t succeed…

I was down and out for 3 months. Didn’t know what I was going to do or if I would ever start another business. I was out of ideas.

Then it hit me:

Reading the science news on my tablet one morning I came across an article that would change everything.

Enter: Bamboo Toothbrushes.

bamboo toothbrush in tree

The article went on to talk about how many toothbrushes are thrown away every year just in North America. I was blown away.

There were pictures of plastic toothbrushes in the ocean and washing up onto beaches. I never thought how bad brushing your teeth could actually be for the environment.

Image Credit

Then I thought:

What other similar products do I use that create this kind of waste? Waste that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade.

At that moment the idea for Oath was born.

This business was going to be different than my last. Construction is a gigantic, wasteful, polluting industry that we cannot, unfortunately, live without.

My new business was going to help the earth and its inhabitants.

From the start I knew one thing for sure:

I didn’t want to sell plastic crap that will never go back to the earth. I didn’t want to lie to people just to sell products. 

I had to do something different. So I came up with a plan:

First, I would create a TON of educational content and guide people down the road to a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. And include my story and challenges along the way.

Second, I would take everyday products, including those products that already had a sustainable alternative (like cotton bags instead of plastic), and improve upon them.

Third, I would try to get everything I sell certified. (Still working on it!)

I’m talking Organic, Bio Based, Vegan, Cruelty free, BPA free, ZERO Waste, Fair Trade – you name it, I want to represent it.

This will be easy right?

Wrong!

This would turn out to be more difficult than I thought. Way more…

The Problem and the Solution

First off:

The main goal of starting this business was to help people learn how to live a green, healthy, pollution-free lifestyle.

How can I, in good conscious, sell to people and contribute to this disease which is consumerism?

It took some time but I figured it out.

I made a rule:

I would only sell products that would naturally wear out anyway. Like toothbrushes. As far as I know there is no such thing as a toothbrush that lasts forever.

And if there was, it would be super gross!

I would also include things that run out. Like toothpaste or floss.

My thinking went like this:

 I would make these consumable products more eco-friendly, user friendly and healthier for the person using them.

I would also offer replacements for products that were being banned. Like plastic bags and straws. People still need bags and a lot of people love to use straws. Even for coffee!

I also want to improve skin and hair care products.

I looked at the ingredients in most of my wife’s beauty products and they contain unnatural scents, parabens, glycols, alcohols and other nasty stuff.

skin care products under sink

Sure, these products work well.

But is that worth being poisoned slowly over your entire life?

I don’t think so. In the future, I plan to offer many zero-waste, chemical-free alternatives.

Packaging

In my opinion, packaging needs to change. NOW!

If we don’t do something soon, we’ll be swimming in packaging that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to break down.

I’m not just talking about my wife’s collection of beauty products under the sink.

Example:

I ordered bamboo toothbrushes from Amazon and they came in a giant bubble mailer.

You could have fit 10 boxes of toothbrushes in there!

Not only that, bubble mailers can’t be recycled. You have plastic stuck to paper.

When I was starting Oath, I would order samples from manufacturers.

I would get a box, wrapped in bubble wrap, wrapped in plastic, stuffed in another plastic bag!

bubble mailer excessive plastic

For what!?

That is why I decided, from the beginning, I would only ship in biodegradable envelopes and UN-bleached cardboard boxes that contain recycled content.

I also make sure all raw material is FSC certified and contains recycled content wherever possible.

Not only that, I’m collecting small boxes from my own online shopping, as well as from friends and family, to use for shipping. Why buy new when there are so many boxes out there?

Together We Can Make a Change

The number of people choosing to shop online continues to grow with no sign of ever slowing down.

If we don’t start changing the way we consume and how we conduct business, we’ll pay for it down the road.

My goal is to be part of that change.

I’m not new to reducing consumption. I got into the habit of refusing to buy things I don’t really need a long time ago.

This saves money, reduces clutter around the house and is an all-around good thing to practice.

I’m new to living zero waste, reducing plastic and using natural products. My goal is to learn as much as I can, change my lifestyle for the better and help you do it too!

Vote with your dollar. Only buy what you really need from businesses you trust. Make sure those things are natural, sustainably packaged and backed up with certifications.

We can learn to live better by sharing stories, ideas and supporting each other’s journey on the path to sustainability.

I hope you enjoyed reading how I got started.

Now it’s your turn.

Please leave a comment below about how you started down the path of sustainability.

I would love to hear YOUR story!

Cheers!
Ryan

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