Mission-driven startup Give Back Box® was founded in 2012 by Monika Wiela, who at the time was running an online shoe store. The idea was inspired by a homeless man she encountered in Chicago, who was holding up a sign saying he needed a pair of shoes. Wiela returned later that day with shoes for him, but he was gone. She spent that night thinking about what she could do with all the empty boxes in her warehouse and also help people like that man, and a new social enterprise was born.

As Wiela researched further, she learned that, an estimated 11 million tons of clothing, footwear, towels, bedding, drapery, and other textiles end up in U.S. landfills every year. In addition, online shopping is now the preferred method for much of the buying public. According to the EPA, more than 4 million tons of corrugated boxes are discarded and landfilled each year.

With this knowledge, Wiela’s mission crystalized. If online retailers would use Give Back Box, shipping boxes and other items could be kept out of landfills. The impact would be remarkable.

Wiela’s first step to bring her dream to reality was to find a nonprofit with a national footprint that could accept donations on a grand scale. The organization would have to be able to not only accept used clothing but other items that people wanted to donate. The nonprofit enterprise also needed to have a program to recycle the boxes that it would receive, further limiting landfill waste.

Joining Forces with Goodwill

After several years of research and extensive conversations with a host of nonprofits in the U.S., it was clear that Goodwill Industries International, with its more than 3,200 retail locations and $4 billion in annual sales, was the perfect vehicle for the goals and objectives of Give Back Box. Goodwill uses the revenue from the sale of donations to provide employment placement, job training and community-based services such as career counseling, education and mentoring. Last year, more than 2 million people worked to build their career and financial assets by engaging with Goodwill team members (Goodwill is involved in one out of every 200 hires in the United States).

The Give Back Box solution complemented Goodwill’s donation growth goals, as it looked to capitalize on the increasing popularity of online shopping, turning the e-commerce platform into a convenient e-donation platform. After testing the concept, Wiela signed on with Goodwill in 2015. In turn, Goodwill teamed up with several online retail partners to make it easy for consumers to donate the items they no longer needed through the new tool it had in Give Back Box.

The first major retailer to join with Goodwill to use Give Back Box was Newegg.com. The retailer placed Give Back Box fliers in all the boxes shipped to its customers. The flier recommended that customers re-use the boxes their purchases came in and fill them with clothes, accessories and household items, then ship them to Goodwill for free using pre-paid shipping labels. Give Back Box developed a system to track the packages, so when Goodwill received the boxes and scanned them in, tax receipts were generated for appropriate donors.

The Give Back Box platform is free for any retailer who joins as a partner. It is free for donors as well, with the shipping cost covered by Goodwill. Goodwill stocks its shelves with the donations, and the revenues help fund its mission of helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work. Goodwill also recycles every box that arrives at its facilities.

The List of Retail Partners Grows

In the year since Give Back Box named Goodwill as its exclusive nonprofit beneficiary of donations, a growing number of the top corporate social responsibility companies in the United States have joined as retail partners.

Building on their momentum, Give Back Box and Goodwill exhibited at SB’16 San Diego in June 2016, and connected with like-minded outdoor apparel and equipment cooperative REI; within a short time, Goodwill announced would it team up with REI to use Give Back Box to collect high-quality clothing and gear, and ensure those items are reused, repurposed and recycled, eliminating even more textile waste while also providing employment opportunities in communities nationwide.

“Our goal with Give Back Box is to reduce landfill waste and support Goodwill’s mission of helping people find jobs, earn paychecks and care for their families,” a spokesperson from REI said.

“SB’16 provided the perfect environment for us to meet people who are changing the world by making sustainability a part of their corporate culture,” Wiela said. “REI was one of those companies. There was an instant understanding between our organizations. In a record amount of time, the website was live.”

“Well-established brands, such as REI, are signaling their support for the environment and encouraging customers to provide donations to Goodwill,” said Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “These donations are crucial to Goodwill’s efforts to support job seekers, and strengthen families and communities, while also contributing as a leader in the sustainability movement.”

Give Back Box has created a new method of waste diversion for retailers because, in addition to increasing the likelihood that shipping boxes will be recycled, it helps clear closets, create jobs and offer more companies and their customers an opportunity to recycle.

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