Shaun Oshman has spent the last eight years of his life as a “dolphin in a shark costume.”
Or, to put it more simply, an environmentalist in a nice suit.
Over the better part of the last decade, Oshman built a thriving technology support business, iSupportU, in Boulder, Colo. Throughout its evolution he’s made a point of blending his deep value of environmentalism with smart, savvy business practices, spurring his company to grow from a guy on a bike stopping by your house to fix your computer to a company bringing in over a million dollars in sales each year, based out of its own commercial business space in town.
All for the good of the planet — although you might not know it at first glance.
“After I had a couple decades to reflect on Unity’s lessons, I realized that the idea of saving the earth is all well and good but it has to start with saving people from themselves,” said Oshman. “People don’t want their minds changed. The pitch can’t always be ‘saving the environment.’ You’ve got to meet people where they’re at and give them a reason relevant to them to change. I used to be such an idealistic environmentalist; I thought I could change people’s minds if I just told them about the world. But now I’m a humanist, and how humans feel is really the most important thing.”
Oshman firmly believes that you have to approach both customers and other businessmen from a direction they recognize and understand. Instead of leading with sustainability, he focuses on informing people about how sustainable practices are intelligent business decisions first and environmentally beneficial second — if he mentions that at all. He speaks their language and garners their respect on their own terms.
Oshman used iSupportU’s push to move companies over to cloud services as an example of framing a potential environmental issue in a way that appeals to the customer. According to Oshman, companies that have in-house servers often use 800 watt power supplies that are always running, which is “crazy inefficient.” So he pushes cloud-based solutions as a way for them to save on power bills, without actively pushing the customer to focus on what’s really near and dear to his heart: reducing their carbon footprint.
He also sees the base idea of fixing a computer, repairing what’s broken as opposed to throwing it away, as an environmentally sustainable practice.
“You have to understand that computers are disposable commodities. Yet inside every computer are very rare minerals that need to be mined from the earth through really harmful processes,” he said. “We’ve always tried to keep things running here, making sure people use their computers as long as they can. Your computer is the most toxic thing you own, and in the end it’s going to have the biggest impact on the earth out of probably everything you do.”
Besides pushing quiet environmentalism in iSupportU’s core practices, the company’s commercial office space runs entirely on wind power, and Oshman has made a point of installing charging stations for electric cars in the building’s parking area. The business also became B Corp certified in 2015 — what the organization calls the business version of food’s “Fair Trade” or “Organic” certifications. Oshman said that B Corp is all about returning businesses to their historical roots as members of a community by “making businesses a place where people can pursue their passions in a safe environment around other people who care. It involves everything from environmental sustainability to gender equality.”
Oshman sees Unity as the place that helped him “refine how I felt about my relationship with the planet.” Growing up in New Jersey, he always felt like a “bit of an outsider” when it came to his love of nature.
“I didn’t really come into myself until I got to Unity College because it was finally safe to be who I was. It was almost like an incubator developing my character. Who I am,” he said. “I know how to listen to people, and meet new people while having fun and being who I am, and all that stuff definitely came from Unity. It’s all about learning life skills.”
“The real key to success is just learning how to learn. And if Unity can keep doing a good job of teaching kids that, it doesn’t matter the curves life brings to a person: they’ll be able to deal.”