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Buy Social: The easy-to-use option for hard-to-recycle office items

December 9, 2015

Social enterprise Green Collect provides reuse and upcycling solutions for hard-to-recycle office items. This creates employment and training for people who face barriers to employment, including people who have faced refugee experiences, mental health issues or homelessness. Staff collect recyclables, assess them for the best environmental outcome, then repair, tear down or upcycle items for another life in their current form, or as part of their cleverly designed notebook range, available online or in their Yarraville shop.

While many recyclers offer services to recycle paper or office equipment, Green Collect has identified a useful niche for its corporate market. “We found that when companies move office, they discard huge amounts of desktop items,” says Darren Andrews, Green Collect’s Executive Director. “With a limited amount of time to relocate, they find it hard to reuse those things you find in your desk drawers or cupboards. So basic things like folders just get thrown into landfill.”

One of the key challenges for Green Collect in establishing their business model has been working with companies to shift the mindset that it’s easier and cheaper to call in a skip for these problem items. One of their biggest clients is the Victorian State Government, who have been using Green Collect services for over 10 years.

“Most state government departments are very interested in the environmental outcomes of what we do. They are required to report on waste generated and how much is recycled, as they have targets to reduce waste to landfill and maximise recycling outcomes,” says Darren. “The social procurement angle is certainly a bonus for clients like this. But their initial interest in us was largely environmental, as well as job creation.”

Green Collect has built a close working relationship with the Environmental Managers of state government departments, who are passionate about the impact of their work. Waste audits only show a snapshot of office waste at one point in time, so larger clients like these are keen to include the everyday items thrown away during a move, which is often left off their audits. Their social procurement contracts have allowed them to develop data from meticulous record-keeping, which allows the state government to track exactly what goes in and out during critical moving times.

“Everything that comes in to us is weighed and documented. So all of our corporate clients get a full report back on what was collected from them, when it leaves our warehouse, and whether it was recycled or upcycled,” says Darren.

A flexible business model for everyone

Green Collect now markets their service as a ‘one stop shop’. This encompasses the common recycling services of their competitors (such as e-waste or toner waste), as well as their specialised ‘hard to recycle’ service. It allows them to engage with their clients on a number of different levels and to customise a highly flexible service. Green Collect’s adaptable fee structures range from one-offs, to an annual management fee and a service fee per kilo or box of waste.

Darren sees that with some clients underestimating the amount of their waste, Green Collect’s services must be flexible and open. “We want them to return, we want them to recommend us to others and to build a good reputation, so we’re always working with our clients to get a win-win outcome.”

Social outcomes benefiting broad government mandates

With such a broad range of client interactions, Green Collect’s social procurement contracts have enabled them to plan strategically for the future. Green Collect management can now predict whether current resources are enough for the next 1-5 years, and to set and meet targets. Plans are underway to move their warehouse to a bigger facility in Melbourne’s west to better suit their growing business and allow the public a more direct retail front. They are also developing a digital presence to sell their stationery online.

Over the years, Green Collect has seen demand grow for their service, particularly in state and federal government departments. “Environmental and social outcomes are certainly part of their broader mandate. As we’re a social enterprise with employment outcomes, labour is our biggest cost. So if our business outcomes are great, then that’s the thing that government definitely sees as benefiting their broader purpose. That comes back to our integrity, and they understand that, particularly the state government.

“When clients visit our site, then they really get a solid understanding of their outcomes. They say ‘wow, ok, I get it!’ It’s one thing to see what we do on paper, it’s another thing to actually see our process firsthand.”

Casual work and beyond

For such a simple and niche idea, Green Collect has grown a sophisticated business model that affects dozens of people and their employment prospects. There are currently 30 people going through Green Collect’s employment and training process, with hundreds going through since their inception in 2002.

“Our jobseekers are people who would have otherwise experienced huge barriers to employment,” says Darren. “Green Collect’s training helps people get something on their CV.” In getting good, regular work and a reference, or even gaining employment elsewhere, Green Collect is even asked to recommend their staff to other employers in the sector. “All this gives them so much confidence. We can easily tell them our staff are reliable, timely, and hardworking.”

Resource recovery social enterprise Green Collect works for social and environmental change. They create supportive workplaces that allow people to find and maintain employment.

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