Trends indicate that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic people have become more aware of their own carbon footprint with increasing interest in reducing the waste they generate. According to Google Trends 2020, search interest in “how to live a sustainable lifestyle” has recently increased by more than 4,550 percent, an opportunity local Olivia Pederson, founder and CEO of mobile app startup Sustaio, is optimizing.
Pederson, who grew up in Telluride until fifth grade, is on a mission to empower individuals by making sustainability easy to adopt. After graduating from Portland State University with various design degrees her vision behind the mobile app evolved when she worked in the outdoor industry in Portland for several years after college.
“We live and breathe the outdoors but there’s just so much pollution that is inherently embedded in these companies,” she said. “I wanted to use design for sustainability as a tool to build a sustainable future.”
Pederson returned to Telluride in 2017 to complete an online master’s degree in sustainable design at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
“It was like an ideas incubator where we were constantly turning over products and services that we would be inventing, while applying sustainable frameworks to them,” she explained.
Big questions reverberated in her mind: Why is it so hard to live a sustainable lifestyle? How can we solve that problem? What means can we create for people to live sustainable lifestyles? By considering these questions, her brainchild business — Sustaio — and its first product, the mobile sustainability app — took root.
The concept of “sustainability,” according to Pederson, involves sustaining current actions to ensure that future generations will have opportunity and agency to make choices.
“I want to combine ecology, economy and equity so that it’s this holistic idea and perspective of what we’re calling ‘circular living,’ where your lifestyle is actually sustainable,” she said. “Where your inputs balance your outputs.”
When subscribers log-in to the new Sustaio mobile app, they will find individualized daily tips, suggested goals and useful resources that are interesting to read — less than 500 words — to help transition their habits to become lower-impact.
Pederson empathizes with individuals who dig into sustainability on their own only to become “paralyzed by how bad things seem.”
“Through the app, we’re alleviating decision-making paralysis to help implement sustainability into lifestyle,” she said. “We want to rebrand what this eco-movement is from all-or-nothing-zero-waste by taking the green out of sustainability and making it approachable and empathetic for the everyday individual.”
For example, people have the impression that they have to go vegan and zero-waste; otherwise they’re not doing anything to behave sustainably. But shifting to a vegetarian meal just one day a week, Pederson explained, “could save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles in your car.”
Over the last year, as she organized a three-person business team and researched the marketplace, Pederson found that existing apps tend to serve people a stream of “raw industry content.” Alternatively, when the Sustaio mobile app offers a subscriber a term, it defines and provides context for that term so that subscribers can better understand why they’re being asked to take on sustainable behaviors. Eventually, the app will “game-ify,” its offerings with a point system yielding “real life benefits.”
“It’s accountability without blame. It’s a self-inspiring, self-empowering, self-help app,” Pederson said. “There’s this horrible sustainability green guilt shame going on. Hopefully, this app will give people pause to be curious and analyze their actions.”
In order to raise initial seed money to build the requisite software and content for the app, Pederson opened a crowd-funding site with the slogan “Funded by the people for the people.” Sustaio has already raised $15,000 of its $50,000 goal since the beginning of September.
Pederson explains that they will begin beta testing for the sustainability mobile app in October, prior to the official product launch on the Apple app store in November. The app is scheduled to be in Google and Android stores in 2021.
Moving forward, Pederson anticipates developing additional useful and informing lifestyle tools.
“How can we build out our current apps and features?” she asked. “And how can we start creating more networks, thought conferences and ideas to help people think more clearly, to be more aware of what their impacts are?”
As Sustaio grows, Pederson envisions building an alternative, global company, headquartered right here in Telluride that offers high caliber jobs.
Access to the app for a year costs $69.99, while a single month of access costs $12.99. For more information on Susataio, visit sustaio.com.