Moving Sustainably

Moving Van Things have been a little light on The Changebase recently, as I’ve traded my school books and CSR projects for cardboard boxes and packing tape.

Yep, the Jablows are leaving Boston and heading back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we’ll both be based while we look for jobs and get settled again on the West Coast.

As my husband Dan and I prepare to pack up our apartment, we’re trying to be as discerning as possible with what we keep and ship back West. If it hasn’t been worn, used or enjoyed in the last few months, we’re getting rid of it.

This has been a tough challenge to give ourselves (and not just because it means parting with my “favorite” clothes that I, ahem, never wear anymore).

No, it’s been tough because it’s hard to know how best to dispose of everything we no longer want.

As cliché as it might sound, I care about protecting our environment. I fret over trees being cut down to make my notebook paper; I’m vigilant about turning off my lights when not in use; and when it comes to this move, I worry that every single scrap I throw out is going to end up in a landfill (or worse, someplace like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

What’s amazing is just how much stuff we seem to have collected – not just since we moved to Boston two years ago, but since who knows when! The amount of paper, trinkets, clothing and other items we’ve managed to accumulate is staggering.

In an effort to be responsible movers, we’ve taken a proactive approach to ensuring that as little as possible actually ends up as trash. Here’s how:

First, we were lucky to have access to basement storage where we could save all of our cardboard boxes from our last move. So, no new boxes – which is great.

Next, when it comes to determining what goes in those boxes, we sorted everything into three categories: “Keep, Donate, or Sell.”

For donations, our main go-to is the Goodwill. As you probably know, all new or gently used items donated to Goodwill are sold in their retail stores to support community initiatives that help people in need.

Beyond Goodwill, Dan and I recently discovered Buffalo Exchange as another place to donate and sell our clothes. We brought in a bunch of stuff to our local Buffalo Exchange the other day – some of it got bought by the store (which earned us a store credit and some cash) but most of it got donated, in this case to a local epilepsy society. The coolest part? When we used our store credit but said no to a plastic bag for our new items, the store gave us 5c to donate to a local charity of our choosing. Might not seem like a whole lot, but it turns out this “Tokens for Bags” program has led to almost $358,000 donated to local nonprofits since 1994 and saved 7.2 million plastic bags. And it definitely left us feeling the warm fuzzies.

For other donated items beyond clothes and accessories, we’re just starting to try out Freecycle. Started in 2003 in Arizona, Freecycle keeps everyday items out of landfills and puts them into the hands of happy freecyclers. Simply sign up for your local chapter, browse current listings to see what people are giving away, or put up an ad for something you no longer want. In just one day, I’ve seen postings for TVs, tennis rackets, baby toys, even couches! By their estimates, the Freecycle program is keeping 500 tons a day out of landfills.

Besides donations, we’re making good use of for-sale sites like Craigslist and eBay for our furniture, electronics, and other household goods. After all, why not make a little money to pay for our upcoming cross country road trip?

While we’re trying to be smart about finding new homes for our things here in Boston, I still deal with a nagging uneasiness around what happens when we get to California. Selling our couch in Boston means it won’t go to a landfill, but eventually we will need something to sit on in our new apartment out West. Which leaves me wondering:

How can we not only responsibly dispose of things now, but also responsibly consume in the future?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question because, in many ways, consumption is a necessary evil. We all need beds to sleep on, clothes to wear, and food to eat. That said, how much more do we need?

At the end of the day, I do think it’s about being conscious with our purchases and not just blindly handing over our credit cards. It’s about understanding our options for buying new versus used, and making use of sites like Freecycle or eBay to help us find hidden gems.

Ultimately, it’s about prioritizing what we really need over what we really want.

This doesn’t have to mean sacrificing our comfort for the sake of sustainability. But it does mean putting in a little extra effort and research to make smarter purchase decisions.

I’m very aware of the irony of donating or selling everything now, only to go out and buy it again later. And yes, some of that may happen. But I’m also going to do my best to be more of a conscious consumer going forward and make smarter, more responsible choices.

I encourage you to take a look around your home or apartment sometime and ask yourself: how much of your stuff is really necessary? Maybe it’s time for a little spring cleaning?

The End of the Barking Dog

Dog Barking
So Ferocious!

What’s your opinion on the purpose of corporate philanthropy?

Is it an example of the powerful partnership that can be created between business and nonprofits?

Or is it simply about writing a check – and checking a box?

I mentioned in an earlier post on The Changebase that I recently attended the 2009 Net Impact Conference at Cornell University, and one of the panels I attended tackled this question.

The panel was called “The Evolution of Corporate Philanthropy: Achieving Greater Impact through Strategic Giving” – and moderator Mark Kramer, managing director at FSG Social Impact Advisors, immediately set the record straight regarding the changing role of corporate philanthropy over time.

His hypothesis is that in the last twenty years, the purpose of corporate philanthropy has evolved from mere existence (he actually used the word "irrelevance") to creating shared value for a company, its nonprofit partners, and its community.

To prove this point, Mark enlisted the help of an impressive corporate philanthropy panel:

Here’s what I learned:

Question: Do you still run into the issue of people doubting whether philanthropy is an important part of business?

Jason from Levi’s started out by noting that his company is privately-owned with a history of philanthropic community support (a factor that I believe is crucially important when it comes to the successful adoption/implementation of sustainability and CSR programs). He noted that the company’s new CEO understands that even in bad times philanthropy is a core component of Levi Strauss’ business.

Anne from Accenture said that, in this tough economy, shareholders don’t always want to see large checks going out the door. To respond to this, she and her team have focused more on donations of employee time through skills-based volunteering – which, given the experience of the Accenture workforce – is certainly a valuable gift.

Question: How can philanthropy be used to drive business goals?

I thought this was an especially important question – as I learned this summer as a corporate philanthropy intern, “doing the right thing” will only get you so far.

In the end, it’s about proving that the corporate philanthropy program is aligned with the business objectives.

Hasting said that philanthropy often reinforces the work that his company does by enabling Shell to have a presence in local communities. For example, every city or town that hosts a Shell refinery also has a community advisory panel (managed by the Shell Foundation and made up of local leaders and city advocates) that meets quarterly to engage in dialogue and share feedback or concerns. Thus philanthropy serves as an entry point for Shell to connect with its local communities.

Jason acknowledged that Levi Strauss engages in philanthropy because it’s the right thing to do, but it also looks critically at how philanthropy can have an impact on the business. One area of focus for Levi’s is its network of over 600 suppliers. Through its Foundation, Levi Strauss is training suppliers and their employees on issues relating to human rights and labor conditions in factories. In this way, corporate philanthropy is another lever that Levi’s can pull to ensure that its business is successful and sustainable.

Question: What kinds of attitude changes have you seen taking place in regards to public/private partnerships?

Anne noted that in the past relationships between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors had been strained, and even antagonistic. But, she believed that partnerships among businesscaretag, nonprofits and governments were growing in popularity – and that when you focus on opportunities to partner with, rather than fight against, other organizations you ultimately create even more value and impact.

Jason highlighted the recent launch of a new partnership with Goodwill as an example of the power that can come through partnerships.

After evaluating their supply chain, Levi’s found that the greatest use of energy in the lifecycle of their 501 jean is consumer washing of the product at home. This made the company realize that it needed to do a better job of educating its consumers regarding how to care for their jeans as well as what to do with them once they were no longer wanted. And thus the Goodwill partnership – and a new Levi’s care tag on the inside of all 501 jeans – was borne.

Question: Given our economy, how has your company’s outlook on philanthropy changed?

In general, all of the panelists agreed that they’ve seen cuts to their budgets and staff. But, they also all agreed that they’re not seeing an abandonment of philanthropy just because times are tough.

As one panelist put it, “philanthropy is about being in it for the long haul” – and companies can’t just leave their communities because the economy is struggling.

All panelists did agree that, beyond measurement, monetizing the impact of philanthropy is a huge challenge. Levi’s, for instance, looks at measuring impact through the “buzz” that their cause marketing campaigns create, while Accenture uses storytelling to demonstrate the impact of their community investments.

Perhaps the most powerful moment of the session came when one panelist asked why corporate philanthropy was being forced to prove financial returns to the business when other functions (like marketing) have always had dubious connections to ROI?

In the end, he said, we need to stop being “the barking dog” - that is, forcing a conversation about why philanthropy matters - and instead showcase the assets that philanthropy has to offer to the business.

I couldn’t agree more!