Posts

Our social enterprise celebrates 10 years

Furniture Link – our social enterprise arm 

This year was the 10th year anniversary of our social enterprise arm Furniture Link, so we thought we’d take a look back at our time as a social enterprise and reflect on the #SocEnt space in general.

 

What is a Social Enterprise?

As many who read this may know, a social enterprise is a unique organization that, as per Wikipedia, ‘applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.’

In fact, the definition of a social enterprise is multi-faceted, epitomised by the fact that there is no legal business form for, nor even a common international definition of, a social enterprise (Social Enterprise Canada).

What can be said however is that social enterprises are entities with an explicit focus on the positive social impact they create; any revenue maximization strategies undertaken are rooted in the desire to extend that impact.

 

Furniture Bank has had one for over 10 years!

FB-Pickup-Banner

There are of course many different forms and paths that organizations take in order to realize a social enterprise model. For Furniture Bank, registered as a charity since 1997, our social enterprise – Furniture Link – was created to generate a stable revenue stream, allowing us to continue to serve clients in need of furniture without being dependant on grants and external funding. For those unable to drop off their unwanted furniture at our warehouse in Etobicoke, Furniture Link provides a GTA wide pick up service (starting from $99), coming to your home and removing your furniture and houseware items for you.

A similar model has been recreated at other charitable organizations such as St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto, which recently took the wraps off their new social enterprise, Klink Coffee. The enterprise itself and the funds generated contribute directly to the job skills training, internships and placement services St. Leonard’s offer their clients (individuals returning home from prison).

In both instances, the positive social impact is baked directly into the product or service being sold.

 

Social Enterpises need to excel at what they do

YMM FB LOGO

However, to be successful, social enterprises need to be just as dynamic and committed to excellence as their commercial counterparts. It is no longer enough to ‘merely’ have a social purpose; consumers expect to have a superior experience when they make their purchase. This was demonstrated at Furniture Bank when we recognised we were missing out on furniture donations because of the lack of an express pick up service. Even though we lack the capacity to offer such a service, we have teamed up with one of the largest private sector suppliers in this space YouMoveMe, to meet that demand.

In fact meeting a demand and excelling at it is quickly becoming a hallmark of a great social enterprise. The fact that each purchase also contributes directly to a positive social outcome makes a compelling case for consumers.

Know of a #SocEnt that’s excelling at what it does? Got any comments about the #SocEnt space in general? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Furniture_Bank

Inspiring Earth Day Events and Quotes From Around The World

 

How Do People Celebrate Earth Day?

Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, is a  worldwide event demonstrating  support for environmental protection. Debuting in the United States in 1970, it is now celebrated in more than 192 countries!

This week in accordance with Earth Day, organizations and community groups from around the globe will be hosting fun innovative events to raise awareness of environmental issues in their communities.

For example, In Africa, the Jambo Africa Tourism Organization Network will be educating local women in Kenya on the advantages of using bamboo cook stoves (Facebook page here). In China, Beijing hikers are rallying together to clean up the Great Wall. And in Latin America, the Keep Bermuda Beautiful organization will host an art competition for art made from trash found on local beaches.

7 Inspiring Earth Day Quotes for you to share today:

 

1. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

-Henry David Thoreau

2. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”

-Evo Morales

3. “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

-Marshall McLuhan

4. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

-Native American Proverb

5. The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”

-Lady Bird Johnson

6. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

-Albert Einstein

7. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.”

-Mother Teresa

 

 

Five fun facts about south Etobicoke

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Toronto proper, south Etobicoke is the home to Furniture Bank and a wide range of other organizations, green spaces and vibrant area residents.  Also referred to as New Toronto, the area was once a major hub of Toronto’s manufacturing industry and still maintains an authentic, hard working feel, complemented with exciting new housing developments and major improvements along the shore of Lake Ontario.

 Since we moved our headquarters and primary showroom to the region in August of 2012, it’s been a pleasure getting to know the members of our community and sprouting roots for our organization in the process.

 To shine a light back on some of our newly-minted neighbours, here are five fun fact you may not have known about south Etobicoke.

South Etobicoke has a brand new public green space as the second and final phase of the Mimico Waterfront Park opened in June of 2013. Offering residents and visitors direct access to the waterfront for the first time, the Park stretches 1.1 kilometres  between Norris Crescent Parkette and Humber Bay Park West. Check out this article in the Torontoist for some shots of the Park.

Did you know that the Toronto Maple Leafs practice in south Etobicoke? It’s true! The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence houses four rinks (three NHL rinks and one Olympics) and is the official practice facility for both the Leafs and their AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. For you reality TV fans, the third season of the popular CBC television program Battle of the Blades was shot at the facility. You can learn more about the Mastercard Centre here.

 Pro hockey players aren’t the only people training in south Etobicoke. The Toronto Police College training facility on Birmingham Street opened in September 2009 and passes hundreds of individuals, from new recruits to senior officials, through its doors every year. The College also has partnerships with other leading learning institutions such as Guelph University and the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, as well as community safety partners at the Toronto Transit Commission, the Toronto Housing Authority, and the University of Toronto.

The New Toronto Historical Society is a community organization with a mandate “to preserve and promote the history of the Town of New Toronto”. Staffed by volunteers from in and around the south Etobicoke region, the Society hosts meetings throughout the year with topics focused on the rich history of the area. Their next event, slated for October 5, 2013, is a historical walk and celebratory tea in honour of New Toronto’s 100th anniversary.

The local Member of Parliament for the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding (where our facility is located) is Bernard Trottier of the Canadian Conservative Party. Bernard has been in office since late Spring 2011 when he succeeded former Liberal Party of Canada leader Michael Ignatieff and is an Etobicoke resident himself, residing in the area with his wife and two children. Check out some images of a recent visit Bernard paid to our showroom from his official website here.

What do you love about south Etobicoke, or about your neighborhood? We would love to hear from you about the people and places that make where you live and work a community.

By Cam Gordon 

Cam is a Toronto-based PR professional and freelance writer. He volunteers his time to write for Furniture Bank.

The New Frontier of Recycling

Recycling – a fantastic process whereby used materials are whisked away to be cleaned, processed and turned back into new items. Every one of us does our part – diligently separating the glass bottles, plastic bottles, cans and paper from the rest of our garbage every day. Some of us even separate food waste and organic materials – all of which gets picked up by our municipal government service providers and taken off to be recycled. It’s a logical system, and we all feel good about doing something  to keep our environment clean and healthy. Since household recycling became common-place in Ontario in the early 1990’s, there has been an increasing general awareness about litter reduction and the state of our over-flowing landfills. And awareness is a good thing.

The problem we face now is that we are all still using this historic reference point when we do our ‘good deed’ by recycling. We think about diversion from landfill; we think about keeping our parks and roadways clean; we think about the trees and the wildlife and how they must be so proud of us for doing our part. Very few of us have expanded that thinking to include other items; or, even more profoundly, to look more closely at our own buying patterns to assess whether we actually need to buy this specific item, or that specific item. For the most part, very few of us have connected our excessive consumption patterns with the growing volumes of waste and recyclables that we put out at the curbside each week.

We have been taught that both economic and environmental processes are linear: from the birth or creation of something new, through to the end of its (useful) life. This is especially true with regard to our consumption patterns: We know that ‘something’ is taken from the ground and built into ‘something’ else; we purchase that ‘something’ and use it for a period of time; and then when that ‘something’ is no longer useful to us, we dispose of it. And often, because we see these processes as linear, very few of us question what comes after. What happens to the glass bottle once my blue box is picked up? What happens to the old couch left at the curbside?

We have also been taught with simplified messaging to see things as a ‘whole’ rather than as their component parts: a bottle as ‘just a bottle’, rather than a container, a label, and a lid; a couch as just a couch, rather than a construct of fabric, stuffing, wood and metal.

Our landfills are filled with wasted value  – unrecyclable plastics that still contain energy potential (BTUs), food waste that still contains nutrients, and even building components such as wood that could be used to repair or construct new products for use.

At a macro-level, regional and national economies, as well as multi-national corporations are looking closely at their supply chains to assess the implications of exponentially-increasing consumer demand combined with the increasing costs of essential resources. Outside of North America there is a growing feeling that we, as a species, need to reassess the systems we’ve created if we want to survive another two thousand years. We need to reconsider the linear model in our minds, and move to something else altogether. One model that is gaining traction and attention in particular is called the Circular Economy – and it is a model that is thrusting a more sophisticated view of recycling back into the public sphere again after 20 years of status quo.

The Circular Economy is a sophisticated technical concept that extends traditional linear thinking to deliberately, and by design, re-integrate components and materials from used items back into the manufacturing process: Effectively ‘closing the loop’ so that all parts of a product can be recycled and re-integrated back into a new product – with no waste going to landfills, and a reduced need to extract raw resources from the earth at a high cost to environment and community.

The Circular Economy future requires a renewed emphasis by manufacturers to design their products in a way that reduces toxic components, incorporates recyclable materials, and allows for easy disassembly as part of a recycling process once the consumer is finished with it. This future also requires governments and service providers to implement more comprehensive collection infrastructures so that 100% of these products and components can be captured and directed back into these efficient manufacturing systems. It sounds like a tall order, and there is no shortage of skepticism related to the technicalities and logistics required for such a system to actually work.  But regardless of criticisms, it is becoming increasingly clear that the status quo, linear way of doing things is no longer sufficient if we want to ensure any type of future for our children.

If community-level initiatives could align with and imitate the changes that are needed at the macro-level, meaningful change would be within our grasp. What can we take away from the concept of Circular Economy that could help us to do our part to mitigate some of the negative impacts of a high-consumption society?

If we look to the foundation of Circular Economy thinking, we find a few key strategies that every person, everywhere can build on:

1)      Think about what you are buying: Is there a similar product that comes with less packaging, or that contains less toxic ingredients and materials? Is there an alternative to buying this brand new item – or could an older one be upgraded or repaired instead? Can you envision what will happen to this item once you are done using it? Every purchase decision you make represents an opportunity for you to think more holistically about how your choices can impact the rest of the world – for worse or for better.

2)      Think about what you are getting rid of: Could this item or a part of this item be used for something else; by someone else? If so – get on the internet and find out how to get it diverted for reuse. Furniture Bank is always interested in helping to ensure your old furniture and household items are redirected to those in your own community who are in need. Furniture Bank is even investigating opportunities to repair and repurpose slightly damaged items as one more way to help clients and keep valuable materials from going to waste. There are many organizations throughout the GTA who want to put your ‘old’ stuff to good use, such as Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores. The more we can find new uses for things, the closer we get to ‘closing the loop’ and being more resource efficient as a society.

It may take many decades for the world’s economies to evolve into a more circular, efficient system – but what is clear is that we need to start: decisive action needs to be taken now. It is time for us to assume a greater sense of ownership for our decisions – if not for your neighbour, then just for yourself – because the implications of continued high consumption and waste will affect each of us, in one way or another, and much sooner than we expect.

By Jennifer Russell

Jennifer has been recently appointed to the Board of Directors at Furniture Bank. Her background is in waste management and sustainability.