CEO Nathaniel Ru Sets Sustainability Trends With Sweetgreen


The modern world faces a mountain of serious challenges. From climate change and pollution to population growth and peak oil, these threats to humanity and the ecosystem will take every bit of ingenuity to solve. While world leaders have attempted to solve these problems since the Kyoto Protocol in the 1980s, governmental efforts have largely failed. This is an unfortunate result of political gridlock and bureaucratic inefficiencies.


The truth is unsettling, but people must accept that a political solution will not solve the environmental problems of the modern age. At best, governmental policies can act as barriers that will slowdown processes that harm the Earth. Unfortunately, many of these environmental policies are countered with subsidies to oil companies and regulations that stifle the development of new technologies. This situation occurred because governments across the globe are saturated with lobbyists and special interests who would be harmed by innovators and competition from sustainable businesses.



Government Intervention or Creative Destruction?


For a sustainable future to become a reality, governments must be minimalist entities. True change will come in the form of innovations from startups and small businesses across the globe. According to the brilliant investor Peter Thiel in the book Zero to One, market disruptions occur when new companies are allowed to compete on the open market without governmental interference. If they are successful, the startups will displace old companies who can no longer fill consumer demands. The economist Joseph Schumpeter referred to this process of displacement by competition as creative destruction. Through the elimination of jobs that benefit a minority of individuals, innovative technologies rise to improve the lives of everyone. The market can solve the environmental problems of the modern age. Innovation is the key to this puzzle.


Critics of the market often refer to crony capitalism to attempt to debunk the idea that innovation can solve the problems of today and tomorrow. These individuals often argue that the government must intervene with the economy because corporations will simply destroy the environment as they seek profits. This argument is true in some industries, but the market is a diverse institution. While these critics of the market use corporate polluters as the symbol of capitalism, they ignore the numerous entrepreneurs who protect the environment.


It is important to note that the idea of government intervention to control destructive behavior is not truly an argument against the market. It is a critique of human behavior. This is because destructive and productive people exist in every human institution. The government is one of these institutions. Governments have enacted policies that eradicated chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere, but they also wage wars that destroy entire countries. When examining the pros and cons of institutions, you should remember that there are two sides to every coin.


The market has produced many entrepreneurs that aim to solve the environmental challenges of the modern world. For example, Elon Musk and his companies have revolutionized battery technology while attempting to perfect the electric car for the current market. Within the next 30 years, Musk’s efforts will trigger a competitive shift in the markets that will displace the oil industry. This will eliminate numerous environmental and political woes that stem from oil production and consumption.


While large innovators like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have huge effects on the world at large, smaller companies can help solve humanity’s challenges. This process of problem-solving is spontaneous, and it does not require any central planning by a government entity. In most cases of innovation, a brilliant person realizes a problem in their lives. After realizing that everyone faces the issue, they use their ingenuity to create a business model or invention. The innovation is introduced to the market, and people have the option to purchase a good or service to solve the problem. This process is the most important aspect of the market system. In 2007, three graduates of Georgetown University used this process to create a revolutionary model for fast and casual food. The result of their efforts was a restaurant chain called Sweetgreen.



Serving Consumer Demands While Changing the World


Sweetgreen is a restaurant chain that serves fast-casual food with a sustainable business model. The company was founded by Nathaniel Ru and two other graduates of Georgetown University in the District of Columbia. Sweetgreen started as a mere idea in mind of Nathaniel Ru. He realized that people eat unhealthy food at restaurants because the healthier options are expensive or less appealing. Ru also figured that people with families do not eat healthy due to a lack of funds or cooking skills. The young Georgetown graduate aimed to fix this problem by creating a business that provided healthy and tasty food at low prices.


Sweetgreen is helping the United States solve the problems of waste and poor dietary habits. After its foundation in 2007, Sweetgreen became an immediate success. The company received over $23 million in capital financing for expansion efforts.


Nathaniel Ru’s company is not a typical fast-food restaurant. Each restaurant in the Sweetgreen chain has only three dishes in each category of the menu at any given moment. These dishes are created solely from regional and seasonal ingredients. For example, a Sweetgreen restaurant in Virginia may serve dishes that consist of Hanover tomatoes, Chesapeake Bay rockfish, and Pennsylvania cauliflower. The restaurants’ chefs have a minimalist cooking philosophy. By using fewer than six ingredients in all dishes, the chefs create culinary masterpieces that are simple, sustainable, and delicious.


There are currently 64 Sweetgreen restaurants in the United States. These restaurants are located in California, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.



Beyond Business


Sweetgreen is proving to be a successful company that serves the needs of the market. It is using the majority of its profits for philanthropy and reinvestment. One of the largest community outreach efforts of the company is the Sweetlife Festival. This annual festival raises money for charities while exposing people to sustainable food and great music.


Nathaniel Ru, Elon Musk, and other innovators will guide humanity through the challenges of the modern age. For the sake of us all, we should cheer for their success.


Follow Nathaniel Ru on LinkedIn and @nathanielru