Give Back Box

Connector Winter 2017

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 US landfills every year. In addition, online shopping is now the preferred method for much of the buying public.

With this knowledge, Wiela’s mission crystalized. 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 large 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.

Goodwill Industries International, with its more than 3,200 retail locations, 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.

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.

Give Back Box® has teamed up with some of the biggest retailers in the US, including, Overstock, Amazon, Loft, REI, Levi’s, Asics, Ann Taylor, Uncommongoods, Bon-Ton, Viva Terra, Ecru, Bonobos, Scrubs & Beyond, eBags, Lou & Grey and Cherry Mad. Retailers place Give Back Box fliers in boxes shipped to their customers. The flier recommends 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.

Give Back Box has truly 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.