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Moroccan children share a donated computer.
Moroccan children share a donated computer.


Scrap that computer - and do good Add to ...

Thomas Seuberlich wants to "move the world."

That may sound like a lofty ambition, but all he really needs to accomplish his goal are corporate cast-offs. A lot of them.

Mr. Seuberlich is director of Waste To Wonder, a Mississauga, Ont.-based business that takes redundant office equipment that is normally sent to landfill and redistributes it to charitable organizations locally and internationally.

Unwanted chairs, desks, white boards, filing cabinets and computers might become the genesis of a new school in Morocco or a rehab centre in Liberia. In exchange, companies get an environmentally friendly and socially conscious way to dispose of their corporate waste.

"I worked in the office furniture industry for many years in Toronto and Vancouver, bringing furniture into offices rather than taking it out," Mr. Seuberlich, 58, says. "So it's kind of a cyclical and balanced thing for me. I've rounded the world a few times and seen people in charities with a lot of passion doing great work, and to support them with this venture is what drives me."

Waste To Wonder launched in Britain in 2002, and the Mississauga location became the company's first franchise in North America when it opened in January. The company employs what it terms the "environmental management process." When a company needs to dispose of office waste due to company relocations, internal moves, rebranding or mergers and acquisitions, it can contract Waste To Wonder to get that waste into the hands of charities instead of littering landfills.

While Waste To Wonder doesn't do any of the physical work, it plans and oversees the entire operation: It identifies which items can be redistributed before the physical move, and then a process manager works with movers and monitors the entire removal process. It directs items into either the redistribution, recycling or landfill stream, and provides a contract for transfer of title, which releases the client from any liability.

Items earmarked for redistribution are then either given to local charities or shipped overseas to a waiting charitable organization as part of the "Big Bright Future" program.

"We fill a 10- by 40-foot container with enough items to put together a school or medical clinic in Africa, Asia, Central or South America," Mr. Seuberlich says. Currently, his team is filling 10 40-foot containers with office equipment and furniture as part of an initiative by non-profit group World ORT to create training facilities for the people of Haiti.

Waste To Wonder also produces reports, case studies and press releases, which the client can then share with employees, their shareholders or the public. The idea is that companies not only get to dispose of office waste in an environmentally friendly way, but they are able to enhance their public image as good corporate citizens. According to Mr. Seuberlich, the cost of contracting Waste To Wonder is comparable to what it would cost to dispose of office waste in landfills. But companies get the added bonus of good PR.

"It's like the example of the Unicef card - even if it costs 10 cents more, you are encouraged to buy it because of the goodwill that comes with it," Mr. Seuberlich says. "It's the same here. Our service is either cost-neutral, or it's marginally more, and very small compared to the benefit the company gets in publicity about it."

In Britain, Waste To Wonder has completed more than 200 international projects, with a client list including IBM, American Express and LexisNexis. But getting a foothold in a new market can be difficult. For example, Mississauga's Waste To Wonder has been trying to work with area hospitals to obtain their waste to outfit medical clinics in war-torn countries, but have so far been unsuccessful.

"We are very new to the marketplace," account executive Elena Jusenlijska says. "Right now the model when it comes to waste is landfill and recycling, so to bring in a new option like redistribution is something totally different, and something people need to hear about for a while to change their mindset and embrace it."

One of the ways Waste To Wonder has been able to get the word out is by taking part in the Reverse Marketplace, an event hosted by the Toronto City Summit Alliance. It's part of the Greening Greater Toronto initiative, an effort to give smaller green vendors the chance to hear from a panel of national corporate procurement executives on how to attract their business.

Pamela Schott is director of strategic sourcing for the Bank of Montreal and one of the executives on the Green Procurement Leadership Council. She helped organize the event, and says it benefited both the green vendors and larger companies.

"Corporate responsibility is a huge focus for us," Ms. Schott says. "It sends a clear message to our customers that yes, we want to buy products and services at a competitive price, but we are also really focused on having environmentally friendly goods and services within our supply chain, and extending the life of the cities that we live and work in."

The primary goal of the event was to help green vendors get that elusive foot in the door. Ms. Schott said the fact that Waste To Wonder gets used office furniture to charities in the Third World is a "big attraction" for larger companies like her own.

"Big businesses are constantly looking at new and innovative ways to recycle where and when possible," she says.

Because of an infusion of funding from an ethical trust fund, Waste To Wonder's British head office plans to roll out 50 more franchises across North America. Here in Canada, the Mississauga office hopes to eventually be joined by representatives in Vancouver, Alberta, Quebec and the Maritimes.

"While we are very young and fresh to market, we are growing fast, and there are going to be a lot of us across North America," Ms. Jusenlijska says. "We're looking to change the perception of waste, to do a lot of good while improving the way companies operate."

Related links:

  • Waste to Wonder: http://wastetowonder.com
  • Toronto City Summit Alliance: www.torontoalliance.ca
  • Greening Greater Toronto: www.greeninggreatertoronto.ca
  • World ORT, the company that Waste To Wonder is working with in Haiti: http://www.ort.org/asp/default.asp
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