Waste-Based Social Enterprise Supports Job Training, Jobs, and Services

Dates of Project: January 2010 to mid-May 2016

Description: St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, Ore., (SVDP) provides a range of services to 84,000 people each year. To provide support for these services, plus jobs and job training for individuals with significant barriers to employment, as well as quality goods to the community, while at the same time reusing and recycling a variety of products that otherwise would add to the waste stream, the organization operates a set of waste-based social enterprises, including the largest mattress recycling business in North America.

“Problems only get solved when you work on them, not when you sit around complaining about them.”—The in-house mantra at SVDP

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), staff from SVDP formed the Cascade Alliance and tested the replication of the mattress recycling business in two other nonprofit social service organizations between January 2010 and December 2012 (Phase 1). Beginning in May 2013 (Phase 2), Cascade Alliance staff also began working with additional organizations (a total of nine as of December 2014) throughout the country to establish mattress recycling and other waste-based businesses to assist those organizations in developing revenue, providing jobs, and reducing the waste stream. The replication project extends until mid-May 2016.

Accomplishments Thus Far:

“We like to see a little bit of grit, a little bit of creativity, and a stick-to-itiveness in these groups.”—Cascade Alliance Economic Development Director Sue Palmer

  • As of November 2014 the nine members of the Cascade Alliance are in various stages of business development and implementation. Some examples include:
    • Opportunity House in Reading, Pa., with help from Cascade Alliance staff, has set up eBay sales of upscale clothing (with record high sales every month) as well as online book sales. Opportunity House plans to open a retail thrift store in spring 2015.
    • Cascade Alliance staff have helped United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in Lowell, Mass., to develop a mattress recycling facility. As of November 2014, UTEC was bringing in 500 to 1,000 mattresses per month, with three full-time employees and about 15 youth workers. The chief innovation officer is optimistic they will meet their goal of 2,000 mattresses per month.
    • With help from Cascade Alliance staff the Up Center in Norfolk, Va., is bringing its online book sales business to profitability. Alliance staff is also working with the Up Center to develop mattress recycling and helped the center become an official recycler for the Department of the Navy.
  • As of November 2014, SVDP leaders have talked with several other organizations that have potential as Alliance members and are pursuing support from other foundations to help continue this work after RWJF funding ends in May 2016.
  • As of June 2015, according to McDonald, “the Cascade Alliance is the recognized leader nationally in mattress recycling.”

“The long-term vision is that people want to be part of the Cascade Alliance because it gives them a competitive advantage in the real marketplace to attack social problems in their community.”—SVDP Terry McDonald

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Charitable organizations provide jobs & goods, reduce waste, make money through recycling businesses