The PTA Thrift Shop: Inspiring Community through Support and Reuse

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ptathriftshop-squareThe PTA Thrift Shop was established in 1952 to supply funds for art education in the Chapel Hill school district. Recently, Green Plus spoke with executive director Barbara Jean-Black asking her about her experiences with sustainability and what it’s like being a Green Plus certified business.

What inspired you to join Green Plus?

A few things:

  1. Oftentimes non-profits are constrained by funding and other resources to address all components of the triple bottom line.  We are typically focused on doing more with less and are mission driven.  As a non-profit, I wanted our organization to serve as an example for other non-profits, that being mission driven does not have to exclude your organization from addressing all components of the triple bottom line and that the 3P’s (People, Profit, Planet) work synergistically and make your organization more successful and attractive to funding sources.
  2. I chair the Foundation for a Sustainable Community and felt it was important to support this program in an actionable and intentional way.
  3. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the triple bottom line, even before I knew what to call it.  The Green Plus Program just made sense from an ethical and moral standpoint for me.
  4. For the longest time “sustainability” has been preached to the choir.  Green Plus moves it from the “choir” to the “congregation,” which at times thought this notion to be too “left.”  It is wonderful to see a vehicle which has capacity to bring “sustainability” mainstream and to the masses.

What are some things that the PTA Thrift shop does to better their environment and the lives of their employees?

  • Distribute our profits to the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools.
  • Donating clothing to the annual Project Homeless Connect
  • Donating clothing to the clients of Interfaith Council via a voucher system (more than 40,000 items per year)
  • Donating food and personal items to IFC which have been donated to us by the community, but cannot be offered for sale by us.
  • Limit landfall contribution by finding ways to create revenue out of unsellable items.
  • Sell scrap metal to a recycle. We also have an unsellable clothing, shoe, and book program whereby we sell those items to a third party to be culled and resold.
  • Switch to a more environmentally friendly pest control company.
  • When we don’t use donated items, we purchase recycled products whenever possible.
  • Family friendly employee policy.
  • Pay 85% of our full-time employees’ health insurance premiums. Pay for full-time employees’ long term disability benefits, as well as a life insurance policy for them.
  • Vacation/sick leave and seven paid holidays.
  • Encourage executive staff to volunteer their time in the community, and allow time to do so.
  • Installed more efficient HVAC system at Village Plaza location.
  • Due to the age of our Carrboro location we have programmable thermostats, fluorescent lighting.
  • Future plans include expanding their Carrboro location and creating a space that incorporates water and energy conservation plans.
  • Dream of a LEED certified Thrift Shop!

The Thrift Shop has also been very proactive to changes in consumer protection laws – for example, due the recent addition to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, effective February 10, 2009, the PTA Thrift Shop, Inc. will no longer be accepting or selling toys or children’s’ products. How does new regulation affect your business?

Sometimes following the law is unpopular.  We had a few negative reactions in the press and from some of our customers.  Some of our customers didn’t understand why we were doing it and other resell organizations were not.  They were disturbed by the fact that there would be an increase in landfill activity, as well as by the fact that a segment of our community would now be forced to shop beyond their means for those items at higher priced, often big box stores.  All good points, but the bottom line for us was, as a community organization, supporting our local school population, we were duty bound to protect the assets of our organization from potential liability and to follow not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of it.  Almost nine months later, if you didn’t know we had toys prior to the legislation, you wouldn’t miss them.  We’ve tried to educate our customers and community, by posting a link to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

How have your customers responded to these changes and your overall push towards being a more sustainable business?

Unfortunately for us, we have not done a very good job to this point in “tooting our own horn” about our efforts to being a more sustainable business.  This is something we are in the process of changing.  We have a parent volunteer with a marketing and PR background who is going to help us frame this message and tell our story better.

Have you experienced any drawbacks to being more sustainable?

Not really.

Do you have any other projects or things you plan to commit to in the future?

As I mentioned earlier, the prospect of expanding our Carrboro location is very exciting and will allow us to become more sustainable by incorporating all of the conservation components which are currently out of our reach.  This commitment is our biggest and I think will position this organization to remain relevant for years to come.

What are your plans now that you’ve been Green Plus Certified?

To continue to work on the things we are currently doing and enhance them.  To always look for new and innovative ways to do what we do better.

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