Welcome to our section of the site which focuses on the sustainable side of retail. It’s exciting times for anyone involved in this area as technology and retailers try to keep up with customers’ demand for all things ethical. From palm oil to fur farms, fast fashion to one-use plastic, excess packaging to food waste – this is where the real action is.
In a nutshell: Monika Wiela founded Give Back Box in 2012 in an attempt to tackle two problems with one solution. Creating a new use for the ever increasing amounts of packaging generated by online shopping and the inexorable rise of clothing sent to landfill. Having established the brand in the US she is now launching in the UK with a clear message that Give Back Box helps clear your wardrobe and offer both companies and customers an opportunity to recycle.
In her first media interview in the UK Monika Wiela explained to Retail Insider how her company Give Back Box hopes to tap into Britain’s strong charity sector and help online shoppers feel better about the large amount of packaging they receive.
In the US the company generates 50,000 charity boxes a month on average and at Christmas time it can be four times that amount so although she would not claim to be reducing consumption directly, there is certainly less waste going unrecycled.
Her motivation she says is to provide a “new way of donating to charity every time you buy from an online company” based on the fact that charitable donations are down and less and less people are walking donations to their local charity shop.
So how does it work? When shoppers receive goods they purchased online they reuse the box and packaging and fill it with unwanted items, download a free shipping label and send back the box.
The selected charity partner pays the shipping costs and Give Back Box informs the collection company, CollectPlus, where to take the parcel. As speed is not of the essence for the charity, Collect Plus will wait until a whole shipment is ready to go to further reduce the costs of delivery. Wiela says that “clothes, shoes, jewellery, toys and cell phones are all ideal items but for example food because of its weight is too bulky”.
In the US, the list of retailers with online operations which give out marketing fliers for Give Back Box in their packages is long and impressive and crucially includes the mighty Amazon with its billions of parcels sent out to American consumers every year.
At present Wiela has only tied in with one UK retailer, shoe company Aldo, because as she explains the business in the UK needs to scale-up evenhandedly with charities and retailers balancing each other out. This is because the ‘Amazon effect’ once in motion can be huge and overwhelming for charities which may not have the logistics operation in place to deal with it.
The charities on the list so far here are the Air Ambulance and ExtraCare while Give Back Box is also working with logistics firm Clipper who will be adding the marketing information to Aldo’s parcels which hopefully customers read and act on. In America the list of charities is also long and varies and donators simply choose which pre-paid charity shipping label to download thereby keeping control over which charity receives their goods.
After six years Wiela has just launched in Canada while Australia will join the UK in starting this year. Her focus in the US has stopped being about increasing the number of boxes and has turned to the charity sector where she explains “it is not centralised enough and needs help organising a production line to help unpack and shift the goods to the location they can realise the highest price while online selling is also underutilised”. She thinks that the charity sector in the UK is more organised with many already having eBay sites to sell donations.
As for the key trends in sustainability, Wiela pinpoints re-use issues as very prevalent. She is passionate that “it’s not just about recycling but re-using and education so that even if people only wear an outfit once or twice they definitely keep it away from landfill”.
Noting that people normally have no idea that a pair of jeans can take 200 gallons of water to produce or that cotton takes so many resources to grow, in essence she feels that “people are basically good” and is also full of praise for the retailers that work with her company. “They are doing it for the right reasons” she claims “it’s not only PR for them, they are absolutely looking for solutions”.
Wiela is very positive about the impact of Give Back Box concluding: “I like shopping as much as the next person but I like helping people too. My company lets you do both at the same time.”