A Path to Creating a Sustainable Business

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Wednesday, December 8, 2021
By Brianna Kilcullen
Photo by iStock/Youngoldman
Brianna Kilcullen, founder of Anact, shares her journey to launching a business with sustainability in mind.

If you had asked my parents what success looked like as I set off for my first year at George Washington University, it would have looked a little something like this…

  • Corporate job
  • 401(K)
  • Stock options
  • Paid time off

Both of my parents grew up in immigrant families without a penny to their names. They kicked, fought, and worked tirelessly for everything they had. My dad’s parents wanted him to become a sanitation worker in New York City because it offered a pension. He chose a different path and became a famous college basketball coach and was able to create the life for his family that he never had growing up.

Even though he didn’t follow the “safe” path his family wanted for him, he ironically wanted my brother and I to follow the path that he thought was “safe” for us. That’s why as a teenager applying to college, I remember specifically researching business programs around the country because I felt like a business degree would provide the greatest opportunity for me and my career, regardless of what industry I ended up in.

I chose George Washington University’s (GW) business program because I loved how international and diverse it was. I loved that you could run by The Capitol building and The Washington Monument before taking a shower and putting on your blazer to attend class, and then hop on the metro en route to an internship. I loved that DC was a microcosm of the global community carved into the United States.

My time at GW was hands-down one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Having the opportunity to work with people from all over the world, to be taught by professors who were committed to their crafts, like Professor Liesl Riddle and Professor Anna Helm, and to watch in real time as major business decisions were made in our nation’s capital ingrained in me a strong sense that anything is possible.

But before I knew I would later go on to start my company Anact, I had to get my feet wet first. After graduating from GW, I moved to Uganda and worked as a fellow for a small nonprofit on the northern Uganda and South Sudanese border. I deviated from the corporate world, choosing humanitarian work in the nonprofit space. I’m so grateful I did, because working in the human rights space provided me with a skill set that helped me create Under Armour’s, a sports equipment and apparel company, first ever sustainability position based in Baltimore, Maryland.

When I moved back to the U.S., I started a job running sustainability programs at Under Armour and prAna, a subsidiary of Columbia Sportswear. During that time, I discovered that the textile industry was the second most environmentally harmful industry on the planet and knew that I had to do something to change the industry. I used to think that disruption and change could come from within well-established organizations, but over time, I realized that if I wanted to see the change that I felt needed to happen in one of the most environmentally harmful industries on the planet, -it needed to come from me.

I started Anact because I believe conscious capitalism is the future. The premise behind conscious capitalism is that businesses should operate ethically while they pursue profits. They should consider serving all stakeholders involved including their employees, customers, and their environment⁠—not just their management teams and shareholders.

At Anact, we believe that the greatest way to alleviate poverty is through the creation of jobs, and that what has been missing is applying social and environmental standards within that context. Anact is short for “an act” whether it be an act of kindness, an act of goodwill or the simple act of creating impact. Our act was to design a sustainable towel made out of hemp and organic cotton better for all people and the planet. Each time you buy from us, you not only are taking an act for the planet but you’re also investing in a company that gives back to the community.

Here are examples of what we do versus what a traditional business would do:

  • All Anact towels are designed to take into account what to do with the towel once you’re done with it. We use hemp and organic cotton because they are natural plant fibers that break down and go back into the soil and do not contribute to the climate crisis.
  • We are plastic-free organization and only ship in compostable mailers.
  • We use eco-friendly inks when we print on our tote bags.
  • We do not use harmful chemicals or dyes on any of our products because we believe in protecting our customers and their skin, as well as the garment workers.
  • We provide an impact score each time a purchase is made so consumers can see how they’re making a difference.
  • We host community events called Act Up to highlight local changemakers who are addressing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • We believe in treating everyone the way that we want to be treated⁠—in good times and in bad.

It’s not easy to go against the grain and the way that things have always been done. But, I truly believe that what we need right now more than ever is authenticity and trust that we can do good and be profitable. We don’t have to push and compromise ourselves to survive in this world. Leaning on your community⁠—whatever that looks like for you⁠—is key. For me, staying in touch with the GW business community as an alum and giving back what I have learned, while connecting within the broader community through Anact is truly a gift. It reminds me that I’m not alone in believing that anything is possible. It just takes one act.

Brianna Kilcullen
Founder, Anact
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