Jesse Putnam is the founder and director of Eco Encore, a Seattle-based nonprofit that generates financial support for environmental organizations through the sale of used books, CDs, DVDs, and videos.
Monday, 24 Feb 2003
After making the very eco-efficient commute to work (right out of my kitchen, left at the lamp, straight ahead to my spare-bedroom-cum-home-office), I fire up my Gateway and download today’s Eco Encore orders. A woman in State College, Penn., purchases The New French Feminisms: An Anthology. From Rock Hill, Mo., comes a request for Les Miserables: Original London Cast Recording. My inbox soon displays five orders from people across the country. Each of these orders will be filled thanks to our modest but diverse inventory of used CDs, videos, DVDs, and books — all of which have been donated to Eco Encore — and the proceeds from each sale will be distributed to environmental organizations in the greater Seattle area. For example, the Les Miserables CD will net a respectable $14.91 for ONE/Northwest, the finest tech-support provider to Northwest environmental organizations. In addition, each of these sales ensures that a used and unwanted item will remain in use and out of the landfill.
Eco Encore lists all of our items for sale via our Amazon.com online store and many through a Half.com store as well. We package our items in reused envelopes and ship them out via U.S. Postal Service media mail. Thus, the environmental impact of each transaction is truly minimal — especially as compared to the ecological demand (think manufacture, advertising, packaging, delivery) of the same item were it sold new.
I have packaged and shipped all of the items we have sold thus far (about 700 since we started up last October) and will handle today’s orders with the trusty support and companionship of Ripken, Seattle’s most friendly dog and an honorary Eco Encore board member. But our two-creature staff will soon get some help as the rest of the Eco Encore board is meeting tonight for a training session, to learn about our listing and fulfillment process in preparation for an anticipated boost in business. Our outreach committee decided at their last meeting that the board should understand the process for listing items on our Amazon and Half.com stores and get trained on how to fill orders before we get flooded with donations and orders.
Before the training workshop I have a meeting with a prospective intern, Michelle, who will soon graduate from the University of Washington and is interested in being involved with Eco Encore. We are looking to find an intern to lead our outreach effort, and if Michelle decides to join us she will likely serve as the staff person for the outreach committee and be responsible for increasing local community awareness of our project and getting us more donations. Early indications are that the folks most interested in donating used media (books, CDs, DVDs, and videos) to Eco Encore are people who are moving or cleaning out their garage or basement and who like the idea of their old “junk” being transformed into cash for local environmental groups.
Right now I gotta pack up this morning’s orders and get them in the mailbox before Ken (we are cozy with our local USPS staff) comes to get the day’s mail!
Tuesday, 25 Feb 2003
Monday turned out to be one of the most productive days we have had thus far. Not only did we gain a large donation from a donor who found Eco Encore via an Internet search (looks like Google has updated and now includes us in their searches), we also gained our second staff member (not including Ripken, our favorite canine environmentalist).
Michelle Zeidman came to Eco Encore via a search for an intern at the University of Washington. We were looking for a capable and energetic person with an environmental heart and an outreach mind who really gets what we are trying to do. I met with her yesterday at Still Life, a local coffee shop, and she really impressed me. She recently worked for Heidi Wills, a pro-environment Seattle city council member, and is just finishing her degree at the University of Washington’s Program on the Environment. In addition to being a committed environmentalist and clearly good at getting out a message, Michelle lives just a few blocks from the Eco Encore office! Michelle will lead our outreach effort and will work closely with me and Lisa Hymas, the chair of our outreach committee, in developing ways that we can gain the attention of more donors willing to pass along used CDs, videos, and books. [Editor’s note: It so happens that Lisa Hymas is also a Grist contributing editor.] Having Michelle join the Eco Encore team gives us a great boost — not only for the help that she will offer, but because we all enjoy working with creative and upbeat people who are also committed to seeing the environmental movement succeed.
The Eco Encore training went very well on Monday night. Three of our board members (Lisa, Tom Iurino, and Elizabeth Perera) were joined by Eco Encore volunteer Angela Emery and our new outreach intern Michelle to learn all about the process by which we list items for sale online. This building of “institutional knowledge” will help as we grow and need to enlist volunteer help in a pinch. As more donations come in our sales will increase to a level that may require an “all hands on deck” call to go out from time to time. The training night was fun for all and even Ripken enjoyed watching as we cut cardboard (for mailing items) and practiced how fast we can read a UPC code!
Today’s featured sale is Wonderful Ways to Love a Child by Judy Ford and Christine Raquepaw, to be shipped off to a buyer in Reston, Va. It was donated to us last week and the proceeds will go to ONE/Northwest. We are averaging 15 sales a day over the past two weeks, so things are really picking up!
Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003
Things have slowed down a bit since the furious activity at the beginning of the week. Today began with the typical half-dozen orders in my inbox, and I expect another six or so to come in by midnight. The featured sale for today is one of my all-time favorite CDs: the Indigo Girls’ self-titled release from 1990 (I love the song “Kid Fears”). This CD was ordered by a woman in Beaver Dam, Wis., and the proceeds gained from the sale will go to Transportation Choices Coalition, a very impressive organization that promotes alternatives to automobiles and petrol addiction.
Sales are usually strong after Eco Encore gets a significant donation — especially one that includes CDs, as they sell better than other items. We have not had a large donation of CDs for over a week, so the rate of sales is beginning to slow a tad. A welcome reprieve from the packing tape!
I have to spend a good part of today preparing budget numbers for our next board meeting. I’ll be meeting with our treasurer, Owen Rogers, next week to go over the numbers and settle on a Q2 budget that the board will be happy with. Both Owen and I (and the board) feel that one of the line items needing a significant increase is the one dealing with salary. At the moment Eco Encore is pretty much volunteer-run (I’m getting about $100 per month in this start-up phase), and that’s according to plan; we want all of our expenses to be covered by earned income. We are not doing our start-up according to the “dot.com” model (gaining investors, loans, grants to cover a large budget). We are instead making sure that all of our costs are covered by earned income. This is a challenge primarily because the majority of the money we bring in is then given away to our recipient environmental organizations. That’s the whole point, after all — to raise money for good environmental groups. Of course we need to cover our expenses so a small part of what we take in is used to cover our basic costs (we’re proud to have under 10 percent administrative costs — that means over 90 percent for our program!). The key to our success is a manageable increase in donations and sales; at some point this will lead to a reasonable salary for the director and perhaps an additional staff person as well.
With this lull in activity I have had a chance to reflect on all of the great things that have happened for Eco Encore since we began this project less than six months ago. Perhaps what I am most happy with is the activity and investment of our board of directors and volunteers. We truly are blessed to have seven amazing people on our board, all of whom bring talent, energy, commitment, and, perhaps most valuable to me, a remarkably thoughtful disposition to their work with Eco Encore. I cannot recall ever working for or with an organization that was able to get almost half of the board to a training night (code for “work will come”) as we did on Monday. In addition to the solid board, I am grateful for our volunteers, led by star volunteer Angela Emery. Angela has the distinction of being the first person to hear about the idea for Eco Encore (she was my roommate last September and I woke her up at midnight to share my brainstorm). I owe a lot to her because she embraced the idea and encouraged it, just as dozens have since.
This day will bring a slight divergence in mission (although I see it as all connected) as I plan on joining thousands of people across the country in a virtual march on Washington to oppose war with Iraq. I am scheduled to make calls in the early afternoon to my two senators and the White House. But I may not make the latter call, as I doubt they listen much to what we have to say.
Thursday, 27 Feb 2003
Yesterday brought a bounty of good news throughout the day, the most impressive being that Eco Encore gained our first grant, a $10,000 gift from an anonymous donor to support our start-up costs and help us begin paying staff. Obviously this was welcome news for me! (Ripken seems happy as well.)
We also got two indications of how this Grist journal is benefiting us. From New Orleans came an interesting email suggesting that we should be working to raise money for environmental organizations outside as well as inside the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, Eco Encore is beginning to think about developing a “how-to” kit for people in other areas of the country who want to replicate our system and apply it for the benefit of their local environmental organizations. The writer also said he would donate used media to Eco Encore if we were raising money for national organizations — obviously a compelling point.
It is worth noting that when we began our work in September 2002, I made several calls to large, national organizations that are operating in the Northwest, but few expressed interest in our project. As we gain attention and sales (and thus more revenue to distribute to groups), national organizations will likely notice what we are doing. For now, we are happy to be supporting eight organizations that are doing solid work in the Northwest, all of which were eager to be involved with Eco Encore from the start. Also with regard to the issue of our support of national organizations, we are considering working with American Rivers and Earthjustice (both of these organizations have a Seattle office and were warm to our initial outreach), and one of our existing groups, Government Accountability Project, has a D.C. office.
The other cool Grist connection involved a sale we made to a woman in Los Angeles who bought two books from our Amazon.com online store — the proceeds of those sales will support ONE/Northwest. It was a fun transaction as she alerted me to the fact that she found us via Grist and she even got a shipping discount for buying two books! So, two great Grist connections on Wednesday — one from LA and one from L.A. (I just had to get that in there.)
Today’s featured sale is How You Feel Is Up to You: The Power of Emotional Choice. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Washington Trails Association. This item was purchased by a man in the great state of Iowa, a state that many will have their eye on as 2004 approaches.
Speaking of politics, I must say that from my perspective the virtual march on Washington was super. I called Washington’s two senators at 4:56 and 5:01 p.m. as directed by my email alert and told them of my opposition to war in Iraq. If this organizing model works then perhaps we can do the same thing when it comes to preserving the Arctic wilderness or stopping the assault on the forests in the Northwest or … alas and regrettably, the list goes on.
Friday, 28 Feb 2003
Over the last couple of days, I have received several encouraging emails from Grist readers — thank you! It is nice to know that there are so many thoughtful people utilizing this online resource. Grist is clearly a great organization — well run and passionate about the world we all care so much for. Go Grist!
Eco Encore has built up a great group of Seattle-area environmental organizations that we support with proceeds from our sales of used media (CDs, videos, DVDs, and books), but we’d like to add a special guest to that list for the next month — Grist. During March, any donations of used items that we get from Grist readers will go to benefit their favorite online environmental magazine. Just mail them to Eco Encore headquarters with the word Grist clearly marked on or in the package — check out our shipping instructions to find out more. And please see our how-it-works webpage for details about the Eco Encore system and, in particular, what sorts of items are most likely to sell and thus be of most benefit. CDs, DVDs, and light books are the best items to include in a donation that’s being mailed in as they are the least expensive to ship yet often bring a good return. (For this special Grist benefit, we’ll be consolidating all contributed items into one big donation, so we won’t be able to send out individual tax receipts. But you’ll know that your items are going to a great cause!)
Yesterday, I took a batch of books that we were not able to sell online to the Friends of the Seattle Public Library. These books will be sold at a biannual sale that benefits the library. This component of our system is critical to ensure that these would-be landfill items have another life as useful products. It is an especially nice experience to go to the Friends warehouse because I get to talk with Joan, the director of their program — an energetic and welcoming woman who really gets the environmental part of their book sale and our program.
Today’s featured sale is another feel-good one: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, a CD for kids and their parents. It was purchased by a man in Rome, Maine (which I happen to know is on the lovely banks of Great Pond next to the beautiful town of North Belgrade). The proceeds will go to ONE/Northwest.
Because I have spent much of the past week journaling about what Eco Encore does (sales, budgeting, personnel, etc.), I thought it would be good now to talk about some of the organizations we support. While our work is absolutely about environmental protection and sustainability, we are not out in the community as much as those we help fund. So, without further ado, let me introduce a few of our recipient organizations:
The Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP) is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to clean, flowing waters for Washington. CELP’s mission is to protect and restore the natural integrity and enjoyment of Washington’s precious rivers and streams. I simply love this organization — not only because it does such great work, but because the staff members (Jill, Aaron, and Karen) were such early and enthusiastic supporters of ours. CELP invited Eco Encore to its holiday party and asked board members and volunteers to bring in their old books and CDs, and did they ever! They raised over $400 from that collection of “old stuff” and provided us with a much-appreciated boost as we began our work.
Not to be outdone, 1000 Friends of Washington has been just as encouraging as the other recipients and the group does amazing work. It recently won a huge victory by successfully opposing a poorly designed state initiative (Referendum 51) that called for massive road building without integrating solid transportation alternatives. 1000 Friends’ work really makes a difference — stopping sprawl from encroaching on our dwindling farms, forests, and open space; making our towns and cities better places to live; and empowering local residents to be strong advocates for their own communities. It should be noted that their efforts to limit sprawl are much more thoughtful than some other anti-sprawl campaigns that have unfortunately targeted immigrants as they try to get at the problem.
Joining 1000 Friends in defeating Referendum 51 was Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC). TCC brings citizens’ groups, businesses, public agencies, and concerned individuals together to work to expand transportation choices and give people real opportunities to ride buses, take trains, walk, bicycle and carpool, as well as drive alone when needed. Like our other recipient groups, TCC is led by some really sharp and committed folks (Peter and Melissa are our contacts there). TCC and 1000 Friends also graciously host an Eco Encore collection bin in their office in Capital Hill, Seattle.
Speaking of sharp and committed, Washington Trails Association (WTA) has a team of staff, board members, and volunteers that are truly up to the task. I’m lucky to call Elizabeth (WTA’s director) a friend and a mentor (if you ever want to see difficult work done with sparkling attitude, see her). And if you’ve hiked in Washington, you’ve benefited from the work of Washington Trails Association. Its trail maintenance efforts are unparalleled, and it lobbies hard to protect natural areas from development and destruction.
Perhaps Eco Encore’s most loyal and involved recipient has been ONE/Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit with a seven-year track record of helping Pacific Northwest environmental groups make strategic and effective use of computing infrastructure, the Internet, databases, and other high-tech tools. ONE/Northwest may well have the most potent and effective staff of any nonprofit organization I have ever worked with. Their mission is right-on and their work is amazing, but when I think of ONE/Northwest the first thing I think of is Jon, Lisa, Sean, Gideon, and the rest of their dynamite staff.
Of all the groups we work with Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation (WCRC) is the most closely allied with our philosophy of reuse and recycling. WCRC works with citizens, government, and businesses to promote resource conservation through waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. WCRC is currently working on an aggressive producer responsibility campaign that pushes for policies that would require manufacturers to adopt effective recycling practices. Maureen and Sego at WCRC have been super cheerleaders for Eco Encore and just yesterday they delivered a bag of used books which will be transformed into cash for their work!
There’s not enough space to detail all of our recipients, but you get the picture — a great group of organizations led by some amazing folks!
Thanks for reading my journal entries this week. It has been a lot of fun for me (and Ripken) to be in communication with the Grist readership and we welcome any thoughts, feedback, or a simple hello. You can visit us online, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.