More and more entrepreneurs are starting businesses with a triple bottom line model: businesses that benefit people and the planet, and experience growth and profitability. One company, e-Cycle is leading this trend with its success and profitability as a business that provides an environmental service to businesses and non-profit organizations by recycling old cell phones, as well as an opportunity to help support charitable organizations and causes using the funds from the resale of these phones.
press release like the one for e-Cycle, a company that recycles cell phones for businesses and for non-profit organizations.The earlier post was about their incredible success and their phenomenal growth which led to their placement by Inc.on the 5000 list of the fastest-growing, privately-held, for-profit companies in the U.S.
But the real treat for me was to follow up on this story with an interview with Tonia Irion, co- founder of e-Cycle and vice-president of marketing of this innovative company and to discover the ways they not only help the environment, but help companies to give back to charity.
But first a little bit of background and history. Back in 2005, Tonia and her husband Chris were high tech executives who were looking for a change in their careers. With the goal of working together as a couple, and balancing their roles within their new company, they came up with an idea to help companies recycle their used cell phones by buying them, deleting all the information and recycling them through an EPA approved facility.
Since the start of this company in 2005, in Ohio, the company has seen 400 percent growth that has continued to provide employment to over 60 people in these three years of a struggling economy.
L. How did this business start and what was the inspiration for tying it into charitable giving?
T. We spent a lot of time speaking to entrepreneurs in the area and they told us to do something that we were passionate about. And we spent some time mulling that over and came up with that we were passionate about technology, we were passionate about the environment and we were passionate about creating a for profit company where we would be able to give back to charity.
So when we started the company, actually we were vetting the ideas that we had, our first client was American Cancer Society and we collected phones through their Relay for Life walks. They collected 60,000 phones, and we wrote them a check for $30,000.
L. Where did you go from there?
T. What we realized prettyquickly in order to be able to scale and to be able to write charities large checks, which is what we wanted to do, we would be better off partnering with businesses and encouraging businesses to donate all or a portion of their profits that they were going to receive back from the sale of their cell-phones to a charity of their choice. That was the premise for how we began to grow the business and today we work with companies that have chosen this route of whether to give all the proceeds or a portion of the proceeds.
L. So basically you are the channel for these businesses where you write the check to the charity of their choice. This makes it easy for businesses especially if in this economy they are cash strapped, They get this little bonus that has come their way to give back.
T. In this next year we will be looking into starting an actual foundation where we are selecting several charities, we will all let it be up to the client, if they have a charity of choice that they want to give to and also we get the question form a lot of clients about who do you you recommend. So we need to spend a lot of time thinking that through and setting up the charity.So if we are pointing the client in the direction, it has been a vetted charity.
L. Do you have any sense when you set up the foundation of what kinds of charities you will be interested in?
T. There are several that we are looking at this. We haven't made the decision yet . We will probably ultimately choose one or two national and one or two international, and we will choose one or two that are ongoing and a couple that we change every year.
L.Do you still work with nonprofits?
T. Yes we do . We do it in the same way where we are collecting them for businesses, they collect them and we buy them from them. Non-profits are a big portion of e-Cycles's clients and the funds they receive from us go back directly to them..
L.You must feel very good about being more than a triple bottom line company, really. It's a wonderful model, there is such a virtuos cycle here. It also impressive that your company is doing so well.
T. Yes, are very happy about that.
This is a great way for any sized companies to give to charities without having to dip into their revenue. Companies that are looking for ways to give back to charity can pick which charity to allocate the funds to and can use eCycle as the channel through which this can be processed. This is a quadruple win-win-win- win- for the environment, for charities, for companies and for eCycle.