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Using Social Media to Encourage Social Responsibility

Earth Day Salute to Rochester Greenovation

On this Earth Day, we wanted to share our chat with Jay Rowe, Executive Director & Founder of Rochester Greenovation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing landfill waste by providing and promoting alternatives for reusable materials.  Although this kind of social responsibility movement is not new, our conversation with Jay revealed that modern idea sharing practices are having a big impact on his organization and our environment.

Jay, tell us about Rochester Grennovation.

We started about a year and a half ago as a non-profit organization with a mission to operate programs that keep items that might have a further use out of the landfill.  It is estimated that every year America throws away 250,000 homes. This means that every day, that demolition debris is heads for burial in landfills across the country.   Some estimate that 1.2 billion board feet of usable lumber ends up in the garbage, along with salvageable hardware, fixtures, wiring, piping doors and windows.  Landfill space is particularly a problem in New York, where the traditional burial sites are filling up.  Communities like Rochester actually import trash, placing an even bigger burden on our community.  So we started looking at the biggest industries that contribute to landfill waste and construction waste along with electronic waste leapt to the top of the list.  We wanted to become the one stop destination for any non-hazardous material that would otherwise end up in a landfill.  We also wanted to help encourage local entrepreneurs who aspired to start businesses built around recycling and reuse.  We see this as a great way to engage the community.

Wow, sounds like a noble, but expensive endeavor.  How are you funded and organized?

We are basically self-funded through the sale of the materials reclaim and the products we make from them.  We also get some demolition contracts and have had one local grant.  We have a seven member board with about twelve other regular volunteers.  We are working hard to partner with the City of Rochester so that we can join together to share the idea that even though it may be cheaper to knock a building down and have it hauled away, the long term benefits of identifying and reclaiming all reusable materials will far outweigh the short term costs.

How do you get people excited about this effort?

One thing that has gained a lot of energy in the local area is working with schools to see these materials as potential art.  When something, like a door, for example, can no longer be used for its original purpose we encourage the community to get creative.  We’ve held workshops from grade school up through college and have been amazed by the imaginative and inspired ideas young people can offer.

We’ve also found that even when people don’t get excited about traditional “recycling,” the idea of “upcycling” or making something better, more useful or more beautiful is really appealing.

How has modern technology impacted your work?

The impact of social media on our efforts can’t be overstated.  Technologies like Pintrest and Facebook give people an easy way to share their passion along with their projects with a community much larger than the one we can reach in traditional ways.   People come to our workshops or stores, get out an iPhone, snap a picture, and very soon, we have new visitors.  Social media is a great way to identify what the community wants to see.  For example, we’re doing a class on building your own windmill out of things like old dishwasher motors and PVC piping.  Our social media community is really excited about it and we can’t wait to share.

Can you talk a bit about the role of communications for your organization?

Because we have a very tight budget, we have been relying on personal cell phones and email as our main communications tools.  This has been enough to get us started, but even in our modern society, sometimes people want to pick up the phone and call a business, or even send a fax.  It has become necessary to take our group up to the next level of professionalism by adopting a business phone system.  Fortunately, we've decided to implement ShoreTel Sky's cloud-based phone solution. We couldn't be happier because it will help us continue our mission.

What other communication and collaboration tools do you regularly use?

Like a lot of other modern small and medium businesses we rely greatly on many free resources that are now available online, including Dropbox, Google Docs and Skype.  These tools make it possible for us to work basically from anywhere.  If we are working together on a design template, for example, we don’t all have to come into the office to review it.  We also can accommodate board members who need to attend meetings remotely.  It’s an important part of our daily life.

Just one more question Jay, do you ever get overwhelmed by the enormity of this challenge?

Sure, sometimes I wonder what I am doing here, but the cause is far more important than my own personal level of comfort.  The environmental movement has always been under my skin, but I wasn’t really committed until I started having kids.   I thought, “How can I sit back and watch this happen, knowing that my kids are going to have to deal with it someday?”  I knew it was an issue that I had to take on, even if I can only do a small part.  But as soon as I got started, others started to take up the cause as their own.  They understand that this is something the community of Rochester needs.  Maybe it starts with just one or two people, but pretty soon 100 people are saying, “Let’s recycle more, shop locally and keep these businesses going.”  Every little bit of traction makes it feel like it is all worth it.