View the photos full screen or see the Flickr set to get a closer look at team CarbonCart. Photos by Nick Onken
Business Students Cater to the Carbon-Conscious
Not many 18-year-olds have started their own e-commerce websites.

For Seattle Pacific University freshman Ryan Tilton, he’s been there, done that. Four times over, to be exact. The self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” is one member of the SPU student team behind CarbonCart, an environmentally friendly online shopping business that recently placed second in the U.S. finals of Microsoft’s 2008 Imagine Cup.

More than 200,000 students from around the world participated in this global student technology competition that focuses on finding solutions to real-world issues. Tilton and three other eco-savvy SPU entrepreneurs — freshman Reed Probus, junior Kevin McFarland, and freshman Laura Hanes — competed in Los Angeles during the U.S. finals. The worldwide finals were held in Paris.

CarbonCart was originally Probus’ brainchild. Today, the smartest way to shop is online, he says. But, with online shopping, comes pollution from all of the carbon emissions created throughout the shipping process. CarbonCart’s objective is to “neutralize” those carbon emissions by supporting projects from reforestation to solar powered energy.

Why does it matter? “People are looking for this in business,” explains McFarland. “Companies care for their customers and employees. But there hasn’t always been a third step: caring for the environment.”

The students heard about the Imagine Cup through their mentor, Phil Prins, professor of computer science. They pitched their business plan to a panel of environmental experts and won $8,000 for placing second.

They certainly earned it: “The website crashed the day before [the finals],” explains Tilton with a smile. “I got about two hours of sleep.” When asked how the $8,000 will be put to use, he says “the team is undecided. But it will definitely be going into some kind of business.”

How does CarbonCart work?

  1. Select an item off of CarbonCart.com.
  2. Choose one of three carbon offset project for each item you purchase:
    • Renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines, cut down on carbon emissions.
    • Reforestation removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and creates habitat for animals.
    • Energy-efficiency projects apply new technologies that have the same benefits with less energy, such as energy efficient lightbulbs.
  3. CarbonCart will ship the package to your door.
  4. CarbonCart will invest in the offset projects of your choice to completely neutralize the carbon emissions from shipping.

Now you can buy stuff online and sleep at night!
By Allie Fraley ’08, Photos By Nick Onken
To read more Big Ideas, check our archives for more about academics.