New York Startup Seamless and its Great Idea to Help the Environment

Seamless's eco-friendly ordering option has already saved more than one million napkins and sets of utensils in 2013.
Seamless’s eco-friendly ordering option has already saved more than one million napkins and sets of utensils in 2013.

The leading online service for ordering delivery and takeout food says that its customers are increasingly making “eco-friendly” orders, asking delivery drivers to hold the plastic utensils and napkins.

Seamless, a New York-based company that lets users order food from more than 12,000 top restaurants in the United Stated and the United Kingdom, announced this week that eco-friendly orders processed through the website increased by 155 percent from 2010 to 2011, and by another 216 percent from 2011 to 2012.

“Our ordering data shows that people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of choosing eco-friendly options when they can, and we expect that trend to increase,” said Ryan Scott, vice president of marketing at Seamless, in an e-mail.

Seamless users, of which there are more than two million, can click a checkbox during checkout that says, “I’m eco-friendly! No plastic utensils or napkins, please.” Seamless also reminds users about its eco-friendly ordering option through social media channels.

Seamless was founded in 1999 as “SeamlessWeb” and managed to stay afloat through the dot-com bubble burst. Jonathan Zabusky, the company’s chief executive officer, said the company was “thrilled to see a steady increase in our eco-friendly program…since it launched in 2009.”

“Whether you’re at the office or eating at home, using reusable utensils, cups and plates is an easy way to minimize waste and positively impact the environment,” added Zabusky.

In 2013, Seamless has processed an average of nearly 150,000 green orders each month, amounting to more than one million napkins and sets of utensils. In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, the program helps restaurant owners save money on throwaway items.

Seamless also provides its restaurant partners with environmentally-friendly bags free of charge. The bags take 24 to 36 months to degrade, far shorter than typical grocery bags, which scientists estimate take 500 years to break down in landfills.

While Seamless does not force restaurants to participate in the eco-friendly program, “it is highly encouraged,” said Scott. “We’re seeing an increasing percentage of restaurant partners who choose this option,” he added.

A donation from Seamless helped build two water towers in Ethiopia, where less than half the population has access to clean water.
A donation from Seamless helped build two water towers in Ethiopia, where less than half the population has access to clean water.

Seamless’s environmentally friendly initiatives extend beyond bags, utensils and paper plates. Last month, through a World Water Day-related partnership with charity:water, Seamless raised more than $20,500 to build two water projects in Ethiopia. The towers will provide more than 1,000 people with clean water in a country where less than half the population has access to a clean water supply.

Seamless isn’t the only company in the online food delivery business with an active corporate responsibility program. Chicago-based GrubHub has partnered with Feeding America to provide more than 50,000 meals to hungry people across the United States.

“We want to thank our diners and celebrate our growth by giving back to people who have not been as fortunate,” said GrubHub co-founder and CEO Matt Maloney, upon announcing the partnership. Maloney’s company employs around 250 people and has raised more than $84 million since being founded in 2004.

“Our diners span the country,” he added, “and Feeding America allows us to give back to every community that has helped us grow over the past eight years.”

Not every company in the industry is involved with corporate responsibility. OrderUp, which was only founded in 2009 and, like most startups, has not had the resources to invest in corporate responsibility programs, does not overtly engage in charitable activities.

[Image credits: cote, Flickr; Bidgee, Flickr]

Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

One response

  1. “eco-friendly orders” … I’m glad they’re doing this. The delivery biz, especially in New York is notoriously wasteful. But I wish they’d cut out the term “eco-friendly” … it’s such a sad cliche. Why can’t they just say “I’m not a glutton” or “I don’t need more trash” or “I’m going trash free” …

    I’m willing to bet they’d get better results – the term “eco-friendly” is very preachy and annoying…

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