A conversation with Lizzie Horvitz, Vineyarder and creator of Choose Finch, a more sustainable way to shop online.
Kyra Steck: Lizzie, what’s your connection to the Island?
Lizzie Horvitz: My parents started coming to Martha’s Vineyard when my mom was in college. When my sister and I were born, we spent almost the whole summer here. When I was around 11, we bought a house, and it’s become the most special place for us. It’s really what I call home.
KS: Tell me a bit about your background before Finch.
LH: I’ve been in the sustainability space for my entire career. After college, I went to get my MBA and my master’s in environmental management, focusing on big companies’ carbon footprints. I then went to work for Unilever, where I was on their supply chain team before shifting to their sustainability team.
While I was there, I started getting a lot of questions from family and friends who didn’t have a formal background in sustainability on how they could reduce their own footprint. “I don’t like using paper straws; what type of metal straw should I be buying?” or “I just had a baby; are cloth diapers better than disposables?” I realized that the content out there was very difficult to sift through. On the one hand, you have these very academic papers that weren’t meant for the average person, and then on the other, you had this rise of “mommy bloggers,” who are super-well-intentioned, but are saying things like, “This is all natural,” and “This is eco-friendly,” which isn’t really based in fact. So I started a newsletter called the Green Lizard, which came out in 2016.
Meanwhile, I went to work for a startup based in Asia, and really fell in love with entrepreneurship and the startup space, taking a company from inception to scale, and realized that the Green Lizard could become a full-time thing. And that’s how Finch was born.
KS: What exactly is Finch?
LH: The product right now is this browser extension, where we’ve rated products on a scale of 1 to 10.
On your desktop, everybody has a browser to use the internet. That’s either Chrome, Safari, Firefox … A browser extension really helps provide additional information that the specific page you’re going to doesn’t have. To start, you go to the Chrome Store or the Firefox store on your desktop, and you can download the Finch extension. The beauty is that you can go on amazon.com, and the additional information you’re looking for will automatically come up without you having to go to a separate spot to search for it.
With the Finch extension, we use a series of attributes to rate products. These attributes range from “What’s the likelihood that this product will shed microplastics?” all the way to “What’s the carbon footprint in this manufacturing phase?” So then, whenever you go on Amazon and search for a certain product, we’ll tell you what we like, what could be better, what that score is, as well as three alternatives, in case you’re interested in making a better decision.
KS: What e-commerce websites will Finch work for? Will it also work for shopping sites that are more local?
LH: Right now, it only applies to Amazon. Then we’ll go on a couple of other large retailer sites, and then eventually the goal is to be on every e-com site, both large and small. Local definitely is a priority for us, but the reason we’re starting with Amazon is because we want to reach as many people as possible.
KS: I really appreciate Finch’s focus on accessibility. Can you expand on what that means for Finch, and for climate action as a whole?
LH: I look at accessibility in two ways. First, what’s really important to Finch as a company is accessibility for marginalized populations and groups of people who have historically been left out of the sustainability conversation. The fact of the matter is BIPOC populations both care more about climate change and are more affected by it. Actually, the science shows that those populations are more willing to invest personally in progress on the environment, even if it doesn’t directly benefit them. I’m trying to create a product that speaks to those groups of people, and not just people that look exactly like me.
Otherwise, we just don’t want to intimidate people. A majority of the questions I was getting in my early days that incentivized me to start my newsletter, I didn’t know the answer to offhand. I always use myself and my friends as a litmus test of, “Does this make sense? Is this interesting to read?” Additionally, with Finch, we’re not trying to get people to turn their lives upside down to be more sustainable. We are proving that with the right knowledge, you don’t have to. It’s not a heavy lift to make smarter decisions.
KS: Tell me more about your business model.
LH: One of our goals is to help consumers become more sustainable, but our business model is actually based around helping companies become as sustainable as possible. We take the data that we’re gathering from the sustainability boards and from academia, and then we’re taking aggregated consumer insights from the browser extension, and selling that information to companies so that they’re equipped to make those better decisions. Companies of all sizes who are a little behind the eight ball with sustainability are feeling overwhelmed, just like consumers are, with where to even begin. And so with our data that we’re gathering, we can say to a company, “When you’re creating a shampoo brand, 80 percent of the footprint is in the packaging, so you should be focusing on buying post-consumer, recycled materials, and don’t focus as much on the ingredients.”
KS: Some people see the responsibility solely falling on the consumer and the choices we make, whereas others see the onus falling solely on the company and the sustainability of their products. In your opinion, where should the responsibility fall?
LH: It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and. If there were one solution to the climate problem, we would have already solved it. We need a complete grid-overhaul infrastructure change on the national and international level, but there’s also plenty of things that consumers can do that actually will make a difference as long as it’s collective. As people start downloading Finch and seeing that they’re having an impact on a daily basis, that then layers up to voting differently and to becoming more involved in local politics, etc.
KS: What strengths as a community does Martha’s Vineyard have to address and mitigate climate change? And on the flip side, what are our biggest challenges?
LH: There tends to be sometimes a “not in my backyard” movement, or, “It’s fine if other people want offshore wind, but we don’t want to be looking at that every day.” That becomes tricky when we’re weighing our individual needs with what might be better from a global standpoint. But that’s not unique to Martha’s Vineyard.
As for strengths, I’ve been lucky enough to join the board of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, which does a really good job at giving locals and visitors access to the beautiful spaces of Martha’s Vineyard. I think with those types of trails and opportunities, people are able to see the importance of preserving this beautiful Island. The sheer beauty of the oceans and the forests and the agricultural land gives people that reminder every single day that nature is something that we need to really protect.