If you order a T-shirt from Gage Mruz, it will arrive with a pep talk.
A 4-by-6-inch motivational speech, printed on (partly) recycled paper.
YOU ARE A CHANGE MAKER, the 21-year-old founder & CEO of Greenstain will tell you, before letting you know just how.
“When you purchased a Greenstain shirt, you recycled 6 plastic water bottles, saved 490 gallons of water, planted a tree that will reduce over 1 ton of carbon from our atmosphere …”
The guy who wrote those words is graduating this spring with a degree in environmental studies and a plan.
A plan that starts with those baby-soft, partly plastic shirts, a small step toward a sustainable way of living.
In case you haven’t heard, the planet isn’t doing so great. Ice caps are melting, oceans are warming. Everywhere there are droughts and floods and fires.
Tick tock, warn the scientists.
A few years back, Gage wasn’t all that hot under the collar about climate change. He’d arrived at UNL from Blair and hopped on an academic track that would lead to a degree in mechanical engineering. He joined a fraternity. Played lead guitar in a band.
And then a change.
“Engineering was where my skill set was, but not my passion.”
So he switched to a new major and found a job back on campus in the Office of Sustainability and took a trip to New Zealand to work as an intern for the country’s Green Building Council.
He read books and listened to podcasts and got hooked up with the Environmental Leadership Program on campus.
He started getting his hands dirty.
“Collecting recycling, planting trees, bringing in speakers. It was really cool to see you could make change.”
And on the long (carbon dioxide-producing) plane ride home from New Zealand he began a business plan.
“The best way to change culture is to start at the ground up,” he says. “Start with my peers.”
I met Gage on Tuesday in the green space behind Love Library. He wore one of his company’s shirts and posed next to a spindly maple sapling he helped plant last Arbor Day.
The CEO is lanky and long-haired and carrying a lime green notebook crammed with ideas and numbers and plans.
His friend Megan Warbalow is here and a middle-aged guy named Pete Allman, his fraternity mentor.
Megan is an interior design student (soon to graduate) who shot photos for the Greenstain website and dreamed up this tree-planting project during her tenure in student government.
Pete is a Beta Theta Pi (class of ’79) who met Gage just as he was beginning his earth-saving dive.
Both of them are fans of Gage and Greenstain. (Both of them showed up at Duffy’s bar last week to hear Gage and his band, Free Mind.)
“The big thing is he was 19 when I met him and he was thinking about creating his own business,” Pete says. “And then he did it.”
Gage is a much more evolved human being than he was at that age, said the 61-year-old founder of Lighthouse.
And he likes the way the young man thinks, not just about problems, but about how to solve them.
“He always asks two questions: 1. Why is it this way? 2. How can I make it better?”
It’s the antidote to gloom and doom.
Gage understands the scope of what the planet is facing -- it’s what he’s read about and studied and obsessed over since his sophomore year.
But he sees change happening out in the world.
And close to home.
“We caused this because of our actions and we can make change with our actions.”
Sustainability is about caring about our fellow humans and the planet; the environment and the economy.
T-shirts seemed like a good way to introduce his peers (and his elders) to the idea.
He officially launched his company in late February, printing designs on the eco-friendly shirts himself on Nebraska Innovation Campus.
When the 16-credit-hour senior got more orders than he could handle, he found a local screen printing company so he could focus on marketing.
Buyers get a cool shirt for $24.99 (your choice of color, design and seven uni-sex sizes) and the satisfaction of knowing it was manufactured with the earth in mind. (Read more about the process, how your purchase helps plant trees and how to live sustainably at greenstain.net).
Right now Gage is running the business out of his room at the Beta house -- where he is also the sustainability chair, handing out “tricks and tips” at weekly meetings. (“Trying to give the guys more exposure to these issues in a positive way.”)
In a few weeks, the CEO of Greenstain will be a college graduate.
He’ll have to find a new room.
But he -- and you and me -- can’t find a new planet.
And buying a green T-shirt won’t save us, but it’s a start.
Gage Mruz tells you so, right there on that pep talk postcard.
“No matter how small, your decisions to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle can alter the status quo.”