Deep Dive

Building a sustainable startup

From ReSkript's Team
June 29, 2022


Irete Hamdani is an entrepreneur and founder of askBelynda, a Google Chrome extension helping consumers reduce their carbon footprint by recommending sustainable products. She has a Computer Science MSc. with honors from Tel Aviv University and is an AWS Certified Associate Developer and Solution Architect. Irete develops askBelynda using her 25 years of tech experience, and she believes in a greener future with the expansion of sustainable consumer goods. 

Irete resides in Denver, CO, with her husband and daughters. 


Could you describe what askBelynda is about?

askBelynda helps people who care about the environment find and buy high-quality, reliable, sustainable products while shopping online. 

It's a Google Chrome extension that you can download for free. And it works as follows: while you're shopping on Amazon, if we have suggestions or sustainable alternatives to what you're looking at, a window pops up and shows them to you. We wanted to make it as seamless and simple as possible. You're already shopping on Amazon and our Chrome extension is immediately there with those product recommendations. What’s more, the extension gets you all the information on why we consider this product sustainable: we list all the reasons, so you know what they're doing beyond just the ingredients. We consider the shipping, the packaging, and all. We also examine their values, how they treat their employees, if they are committed to diversity and inclusion, and many other factors. And finally, based on that broad range of criteria, we rate the companies, and if they cross a certain threshold, we'll recommend their products to you. 

For now, askBelynda is mainly based on what's available in the US. But as we grow, we look forward to being present in additional countries around the globe.

askBelynda’s Chrome Extension, available for Amazon.

Why have you started it, and what pain point does it solve? 

askBelynda started a few years ago with my personal sustainability journey. I was looking at the everyday items we use around the house, like laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaners, soap, shampoos, etc. I was looking into things like what the ingredients were, where these were manufactured, and in which conditions. I found that it takes a lot of time, and it's not very straightforward to find out if something is sustainable or just a lot of greenwashing. So as I was doing the research and getting the information myself, there was this program that I signed up for with Stanford innovation. That's where askBelynda was born; I come from a technical background. I was a developer for 15 years. I have a master's in computer science, so I had the basis for developing it. And so I did!

askBelynda saves customers the time and effort of having to do their own research before buying a product. We have vetted thousands of products across the Household, Personal Care, and Clothing categories, such as all-purpose cleaners, household supplies, dishwashing products, laundry, skin care, oral care, deodorants, grooming products, and there are more on the way. As a sustainable product, askBelynda does not promote luxury products beyond what you need.

It has become an issue that more and more companies say they are sustainable when in reality, they are not. So how do you ensure everything askBelynda recommends is sustainable and not greenwashing?

Being trustworthy is incredibly important to us. So when we vet the companies, there's a whole process in a spreadsheet that we fill out. First of all: we don't just take their word for it. If they say for example that they have a particular certification, we double-check with their certification authority that they do and that it was acquired recently, not ten years ago. Many of the companies we´re vetting are sustainable from the start, meaning they were established because they wanted to provide a sustainable alternative. So that already indicates they are looking at it, and sustainability is essential to them. 

In summary, we look at the websites, crossreference with the certification sites, and crossreference with other data from different data sources. That way, we ensure that everything we're putting in our database about the company and the product is fact-checked and accurate.

You mentioned askBelynda resulted from your own sustainability journey. What does sustainability mean to you? 

Sustainability means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For example, some people won't buy anything with plastic. Others will avoid anything that has animal cruelty in its supply chain. Others will choose everything organically-sourced.  Before I talk about myself, I wanted to mention that recommendations on askBelynda will be personalized in our next release. You'll have a profile, markwhat you are and aren’t interested in, and we'll filter it accordingly. 

To me, it's not black and white, and I'm not an extremist. I think that when you're on your journey to sustainability, it's one step at a time. So to me, swapping out those big thick plastic jugs for laundry detergent with tons of chemicals in them and going with just these tiny laundry sheets made a lot of sense. I don't think I have a straightforward recipe for what it means to me, but it definitely means being mindful of our impact and giving it the proper attention. 

Do you consider it essential for all startups to have an ESG strategy?

Well, because I'm so passionate about saving the planet, then absolutely yes. 

I grew up in the 80s, and back then there was this concept called acid rain that we knew something about. There was this scare about the hole in the ozone, and we knew it had something to do with aerosols, it was not something that was in the daily news and that everyone knew about. 

Now you can't go past a place where there's not some impact of the climate crisis on us. The wildfires, the extreme temperatures or even COVID-19 is a result of  how we're treating the planet, in essence. So I think it's extremely important. 

ESG is broader than sustainability because, for example, the social aspect is considered. We're now considering fair trade, fair pay, equality, diversity, inclusion, all that.  And I think with regards to startups, there's a big difference between a manufacturing type of company and a tech startup. In a manufacturing company, there's a lot more than they can put on their ESG strategy, there's so much that they can do with waste management, water management, energy conservation, and more. Tech startups aren't manufacturing anything. There are no big processes. It's all a matter of office space and if they’re utilizing cloud technology that does better than data centers and so on. So it's not as hard for tech startups to be minded with regards to having ESG strategy, in my opinion.

Regarding sustainability and the ESG strategy, what would you advise companies to start with?

 I think just being educated and mindful to sustainability will already bring you halfway there. Let's say your employees are remote. In that case,  each individual does the best they can. But if you have an office, you can look at what you’re doing there.  Are you renting office space that is ten times the amount you actually need? Is it wasteful because the lights are on all the time? Are you providing snacks and foods that could be improved towards more organic or sustainable options? Every small step counts. 

In the research that I've been doing, I've discovered some fantastic things that companies are doing to contribute to the environment. I’ve seen, for example, carbon offset programs in which you submit all this information about your company, and then they come up with your carbon footprint and a whole list of programs that you can sign up for to reduce it. In the end, it's you contributing dollars towards a program like deforestation or renewable energy, while making your business as sustainable as possible. That’s something companies could start with.  We at askBelynda signed up for an offset program through Aclymate.

What sources would you recommend reading to learn more about sustainability and stay up to date with the latest trends?

I'm subscribed to many bloggers and I think there's a lot of good information out there. There is a newsletter in particular that I really like. It’s called “Keep Cool”  and I find it to be very precise, informative and intellectual. 

In addition, there's a lot of content that we're putting out in our blogs, Facebook page, and Instagram, which is more bite-size. 

askBelynda’s blog about shopping sustainably

Sustainability is definitely becoming a trend.  Do you think that companies that do things properly could benefit from it?

Absolutely. I think as more and more people care about the environment, they will look for the companies that care about it as well. But don’t take advantage of it. Be transparent in your communication and don’t claim you're something that you're not.

What would you advise beginners wanting to start their own business, especially a sustainable one? 

Everything you do has a negative impact, has a carbon footprint. So again, look into your workspace and plan ahead so it can be as sustainable as possible. Be as efficient as you can, and then also offset it with investing in programs that do good for the environment. Be minded, and consider sustainability as a factor with each decision you make as a company.

askBelynda is launching on ProductHunt on the 7th of July, you can check their upcoming page here

About ReSkript:

ReSkript is an innovative platform that has developed a socially enhanced collaborative system building a seamless experience across joint professional online cooperative work on various documents. Its proprietary platform offers a range of collaboration


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