Where Even Giving Is Green

Posted on Jan 1, 2010 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Goodwill considers sustainability from racks to recycling

Goodwill Industries International and Levi Strauss & Co. partnering to protect the planet? That’s exactly what was announced last October. Each new pair of Levi’s sold in retail stores will sport a care tag encouraging the wearer to save energy by washing it in cold water, line-drying it when possible and eventually donating it to Goodwill.

Donating goods as a way of recycling and reuse is the very principle on which Goodwill was founded in 1902. Edgar Helms, a Methodist missionary, collected no-longer-needed goods to share with poor immigrants, who he employed to repair and sell the goods. With cash generated, he created work training programs and classes to help people learn English. His concept has grown to 166 Goodwills in North America, with more than 2,300 stores. The 21 retail stores of Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin operate on the same basic model today.

“People entrust to us goods they no longer need and expect us to use them wisely,” says Bob Pedersen, Goodwill NCW’s Chief Visionary and Storyteller. “Their donations create jobs and job training opportunities in our stores. That generates income to fund some 20 Goodwill programs and services that improve people’s lives and, ultimately, the communities we serve.”

Pedersen’s personal passion for people and the environment inspired Goodwill NCW leadership to bring lean manufacturing principles to the organization three years ago.

“To be the best stewards of the donations we receive means we need to eliminate waste from our processes, and reuse and recycle as much as possible. Now, our ‘true north’ – our vision that drives everything we do – is ‘putting people first while protecting our financial future and our planet.’”

Scott Copeland, chief operating officer of retail and logistics, explains, “Last year alone, members of the community donated more than 16,000 tons of used goods to NCW. Unfortunately, not everything that is donated will sell in our stores..”

Mary Haller, Goodwill NCW’s director of logistics, oversees the work of repurposing unsold or unsalable goods.

“We try to get maximum value out of every item. That gives us more money for our mission and keeps items out of the landfill.”

For example, some 90,000 pounds of t-shirts, terrycloth and flannel are cut, packaged and sold as GoodWipers! cleaning rags each year. Textbooks and technical works that don’t sell well in stores find a market online through Goodwill’s relationship with Amazon.com, and other items are marketed through www.shopgoodwill.com.

“We’ve found customers for bulk shoes and clothing items, and have even located pulpers who will buy our unsalable books for recycling,” adds Haller. “And, we’re in the final stages of test-marketing a specialty line of clothing accessories created by program participants using reclaimed materials.”

During the past year, Goodwill NCW has repurposed more than 400,000 pounds that previously would have been dumped in a landfill.

Goodwill NCW also sells cardboard, pallet components, scrap metals, plastic garbage bags and other byproducts to recyclers to earn income, prevent waste and allow for reuse. Packaging materials are collected internally and provided to the e-commerce operation for shipping.

In addition, Goodwill NCW buildings have been retrofitted with insulation, motion sensors, energy-saving lighting and other enhancements to save energy and dollars.

When possible, new Goodwill stores are “recycled” from existing buildings. The Green Bay West store, which opened in 2008, is in a formerly vacant consumer electronics building. The newest store in Antigo, once a grocery store, was outfitted to LEED certification standards.

Goodwill is also working to maximize savings for its extensive truck and service delivery network, reducing traveled miles by more than 4 percent in 2009, even though the number of stores increased by 10 percent.

Goodwill’s human services programs are part of the green movement, as well. The Harmony Cafés in Appleton and Green Bay provide their coffee grounds to local gardening organizations for composting, and host educational sessions on environmental issues. And, Goodwill’s Community Garden Partnership is just finishing a test of Good Garden Works, a garden-in-a-bag concept that helps people learn to grow their own vegetables in a small space.