Gage Mruz

Gage Mruz, a senior environmental studies major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, poses for a portrait with a t-shirt from Greenstain, a sustainability company he started, in the Innovation Studio on Nebraska Innovation Campus on Monday, March 25, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Gage Mruz, a senior environmental studies major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he thinks everyone could trace one of their happiest memories back to nature.

The outdoors are the base for some of his own happiest memories: he remembers spending time with friends and family in national parks and hiking alone to see the sunrise from the top of a mountain in New Zealand.

Mruz said he feels the most present and most free in nature — he just has his hiking backpack and the views, no other possessions, obligations or places to be.

Mruz’s love for the environment is now giving him many responsibilities through his company Greenstain. The company sells eco-friendly T-shirts and provides educational resources for environmentally sustainable living.

Mruz started planning Greenstain on the plane ride back to Lincoln as he returned from his summer 2018 internship abroad in New Zealand, but he said the ambition started even before his departure.

“When I went to New Zealand I was like, ‘You’re going to figure it out here. When you leave, you’ll have a game plan,’” he said. “I went there with a mission to learn as much as possible.”

As an intern with the New Zealand Green Building Council, Mruz analyzed buildings to see if they qualified as a green building. The checklists and spreadsheets of consultant work showed him that he wanted to interact with people in his career.

“I knew I could do consulting work and materials and have an impact that way, or I could go after people and change the culture,” he said. “And that’s how big change happens.”

Greenstain goes after cultural change by providing solutions for environmental sustainability. On the website’s blog Mruz posts about the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and gives advice about how individuals can contribute to a more sustainable world in their own lifestyles.

The company takes its own recommendations through its products by selling the most eco-friendly T-shirts in the most environmentally sustainable way possible, according to Mruz. He said he selected T-shirts as the company product because he saw an opportunity to bring sustainability to the fashion industry’s waste and pollution problem.

Mruz said he hoped Greenstain’s example will help his audience realize how their favorite brands can do better to help the environment.

“I wanted to find the most eco-friendly way of making clothes and that would be my first solution,” he said. “I’ll show people this better way of making clothes and provide information on how to hold other companies accountable for not using those methods.”

Greenstain’s website details the shirts’ impacts: For every 100 shirts, 600 plastic water bottles are recycled in the fabric, 49,000 gallons of water are saved and 533 ounces of chemicals and 640 ounces of crude oil are reduced in production. The shirts’ manufacturer also helps provide wages to individuals in Haiti, which the website notes can benefit the entire community.

The measurements’ specificity is no accident. Mruz wants his audience to understand how they’re making a difference by adding a Greenstain shirt to their wardrobe. He said it’s not enough to ask people to “be the change” for the environment, he wants to show them exactly how their purchase can make an impact.

The tree planting partnership takes the shirts’ reach even further, he said. Mruz donates part of his profits to One Tree Planted, an American nonprofit that works with businesses and individuals to plant trees in North America, South America, Asia and Africa, according to its website. Greenstain’s contributions go toward reforestation in California, in light of the state’s wildfires.

“We’re not just selling stuff,” he said. “We’re selling a solution and informing you why it’s better, and here’s how to hold other people accountable to this solution. The biggest thing is just awareness, nobody really knows we already have solutions to this kind of stuff.”

When Mruz put the shirts on pre-sale in late February, it became obvious that people were eager for Greenstain’s product and mission. He quickly sold out of shirts and was surprised and overwhelmed by the support.

“I was printing them all by myself and I was getting scared I couldn’t keep up with the orders,” he said. “It’s the best problem to have.”

John Pfeifer, a senior business management major and Mruz’s roommate, remembered the excitement and hard work that led his friend to February’s pre-sale. When Mruz returned from New Zealand, Pfeifer said he saw a new version of him.

“He was so fired up about starting his own business and showed nothing but excitement and ambition for the cause,” Pfeifer said in an email. “He was so determined to make this happen and I had no doubt that he would continue to pursue it.”

The February pre-sale came after four months of work on the company. Mruz started Greenstain in October 2018, before re-launching it with a new approach in December. He obtained the licenses and permits for the business to become an official, legal entity as a Limited Liability Company a couple days before Christmas, and he said it’s been months of hard work and investment. He even quit his job at UNL’s Office of Sustainability to focus on the company.

“I was like ‘I gotta go full time with this,’” he said. He remembered thinking: “‘You’re going to be broke as s*** for a while, and it’s going to suck. But make money out of your business, be successful there and back yourself into the corner so you have one way out.’”

The support Mruz has seen has been the most encouraging amidst the stress of time management and finances. A friend texted him over spring break: “Dude, I was just walking through Zion [National Park] and I saw someone had one of your shirts on.”

Greenstain has large goals — changing the culture, helping people care about the environment and giving people pathways to sustainability — but Mruz said the T-shirts can help accomplish them in a non-condescending way.

“Ultimately, the more people wear it, the more [sustainability] will be brought up in conversations,” he said “When you can say, ‘Hey, check out this shirt, it’s made of recycled material,’ it frames the conversation by just being like, ‘Oh yeah, that is dope.’”

Pfeifer said he’s confident Mruz will make an impact with Greenstain. He’s seen Mruz’s determination in his hard work and his passion for the outdoors through their afternoons hammocking at Pioneers Park or their hiking trips to Zion National Park.

“Gage has already had tremendous success and I have no doubt that Greenstain will continue to thrive,” he said. “He made his mind up a long time ago that his business is going to succeed, and nothing will stop him from achieving that goal.”