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Jason Utgaard headshot.

Meet the Ecopreneur Who Loves to Talk Trash

When Jason Utgaard ’07 talks about landfills overflowing with the tons of waste Americans produce, he sees beyond the heaps of trash. Instead, he sees endless potential.

In his TEDx talk, Utgaard asked people to stop thinking of themselves as consumers but temporary users instead. On stage, the ecopreneur pointed to his clothing and explained the uniqueness of each garment – his shirt and pants made from recycled polyester, a belt designed from recycled inner tubes, sunglasses crafted from discarded CDs and shoes created from recycled rubber. Even his socks, he pointed out, were once plastic bottles.

Recycling unlikely things such as fishing nets, cigarette butts and used denim is as much about innovation as it is about preservation, he explained. His point? We have to think about designing for the future using recycled materials.

Offsetting our environmental impact

Utgaard has taken his passion for the environment in many directions. He’s the founder of The Spotted Door, an eco-friendly company featuring goods made from recycled materials. At Momentum Recycling in Salt Lake City, he spearheads marketing projects and community outreach. And, as an active member of the Al Gore founded nonprofit, The Climate Reality Project, he helps educate people on how to reduce their environmental footprint.

“There’s really nothing that we can do these days that doesn’t leave some type of impact on the environment,” said Utgaard from his home in Salt Lake City. “What we can do is work to offset that or to minimize that.”

One of The Spotted Door’s most popular pieces is a floor mat made from recycled fire hoses. Sourced from fire departments in the Midwest, the mats include a tag indicating the fire department that used the hoses and when the hoses were decommissioned. Ten percent of sales from the mats go back to the fire department that donated the hose.

Products featured on The Spotted Door have to be made from at least 50 percent recycled content, said Utgaard, who is drawn toward compiling an inventory of innovative, under-the-radar items.

A cause, passion and curiosity

Utgaard started to hone his entrepreneurship skills while attending St. Thomas. He double majored in entrepreneurship, leadership and management. He vividly recalled pitching business ideas in class to a panel of local entrepreneurs as a memorable and tough challenge he described as “brutal yet beneficial, and surprisingly entertaining.”

The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship’s Alec Johnson remembered Utgaard as always being curious, having a can-do attitude and wearing a giant smile.

“When I saw he had launched his current business, I was not surprised,” said Johnson, who teaches entrepreneurship. “He’s an intellectually engaged, positive person with a cause, passion and curiosity.”
Utgaard is the first to admit running a startup hasn’t been easy. With plenty of ups and downs in the business, he is able to break even at this point. He calls himself an everyday alumnus “trying to do something different.

“It’s a challenge to be more sustainable and to not do what everybody else is doing just because it’s easy, cheap and accessible,” Utgaard said. “Any company can do something. Every company has to try.”