Along a Vietnamese beach walks Claire Chevalier, stepping around piles of abandoned takeout boxes and water bottles. Knowing Styrofoam does not decompose at all — and the plastic won’t for many years to come — her mind pounds with distress.
In Cambodia, she runs her hand through the water, wondering why packaging pollution is still an issue. She thinks of the time she learned about a company that packages water in thin, edible, seaweed-based film that runners can just pop into their mouths during races. We already have the innovations to fix the problem, she realizes. Why don’t major companies use them?
Once, it is 6 a.m. By the shores of Lake Michigan, Claire sits in the sand, gazing at forgotten plastic straws and beer cans. She watches a man tying up the trash bags of bins scattered along the beach, and she asks if he would help her pick up the scattered trash still lying idle in the sand.
“90% of recycling goes to landfills anyway”, she notes. “So why do we spend so much time cleaning up if we can just prevent the problem first?”
This is precisely what Claire is aiming to tackle with Cuapa Monde Conservation (CMC).
Claire’s passion for environmental sustainability has always been core to who she is, having come from a family with similar values. While traveling through Southeast Asia, Claire was spurred to transform her passion into an action plan after encountering shocking amounts of plastic and Styrofoam waste.
In fact, this background of traveling has developed the outgoing, curious, and creative personality that defines Claire. Although her home base is in the suburbs of Chicago, Claire comes from a nomadic family: Her German mother was born in India and raised in the U.S. while her father is French. Claire studied abroad in Spain, visits France every summer, volunteered in Nicaragua, spent a gap year in Southeast Asia, and took another semester in Uruguay. In total, Claire has visited over 13 countries.
This global background taught Claire to be non-judgmental and approach everything with an open-minded attitude. She spent her childhood talking more with adults than peers, and through these more mature conversations, Claire learned a healthy argumentative spirit. Growing up, her parents also taught her to play devil’s advocate just to understand another side to every belief.
“Perspectives are multifaceted,” Claire says.
In Cambodia, when Claire’s program didn’t allow cell phones, she needed to communicate with people of a different background without knowing the language. This taught Claire that most problems are merely the result of miscommunication — an important realization in our increasing globalization.
Now, Claire is a freshman majoring in Marketing Management through the Martin J. Whitman School of Management with an intended double major in Environment, Sustainability, and Policy through Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. She hopes that learning to sell an idea will enable her to enact her dream into reality — in this case, her dream for CMC.
Cuapa Monde Conservation will be a consulting firm that connects existing companies to innovative research labs that create sustainable, zero-waste packaging. “Cuapa” represents Jucuapa Occidental of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, the first place Claire was immersed in a culture other than her own. “Monde” then signifies “world” in French. As a result, CMC is named in honor of the global background that has deeply influenced the development of her business idea.
“We are an American consumer society — that’s never going to go away.” The question just becomes how we end the production of packaging waste. That’s where CMC comes in.
CMC will help major companies — think beer, chip, and soda producers — to realize that sustainable packaging will both benefit the environment and save the companies money. Claire notes that companies focus only on immediate sales gains without acknowledging that long-term, sustainable packaging would minimize their costs. She also expects that in the future, governments will implement more regulations to tax companies for plastic use, and CMC can help the companies project and prepare for these changes.
Claire’s long-term vision for CMC is name recognition. She hopes that someday, large-brand companies we see in grocery stores will have a label: “CMC Certified.” Each label could have a color-code to indicate whether the packaging will decompose in five years, three years, one year, or less. Perhaps “CMC Certified” will also become a token of value that inspires consumers to spend a few extra cents, just as labels like “Organic” or “Vegan” do.
In endeavors like this, it is crucial to have support, so Claire emphasizes the importance of creating meaningful relationships.
“You can’t do anything alone,” she says.
Claire has just started working closely with Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars to build her business roadmap and build the connections she needs.
Claire also stresses that to be an entrepreneur means to be “someone who not only has an idea but makes it happen.” She urges others to follow through with their ideas and pursue the passions that drive them.
“Anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it.” This mindset is precisely the driving force for Claire’s pursuit of Cuapa Monde Conservation.
She states with certainty, “This should exist, and I want it to exist.”
And therefore, it will exist.
If you are interested in contacting Claire Chevalier, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story by Sasha Temerte ’23, LaunchPad Orange Ambassador; photo supplied