The Future Will be Couponized: A Conversation with Ian Yolles of Recyclebank

These are exciting times at Recyclebank. The company is moving ahead on several fronts, scaling up its recycling program through a partnership with Waste Management, collaborating with TfL in London to encourage residents to walk and cycle more, building a network of partners at Recyclebank Ecosystem and developing its successful digital platform. The company also announced recently the re-certification of its 2009 B Corporation status, enhancing its status as an important player in the growing B Corp community.

One of the masters behind this increasing activity at Recyclebank is Ian Yolles, its Chief Sustainability Officer. I had the chance to talk with him last week about the latest developments at Recyclebank.

Moving to new directions

Recyclebank was built on the idea that environmental solutions provide economic opportunities, creating a win-win strategy that revolutionized the recycling household market. Now it wants to take this model and implement it in other areas, such as energy, transportation and water usage, helping consumers realize the financial benefits of making greener choices. Their first collaboration is with Transport for London (TfL), providing Londoners with monetary incentives to cycle or walk.  According to Yolles, the program will be launched in May this year, just in time for the Olympic games. Yolles said he has no additional transportation partnerships to report at the moment, but he mentioned that Recyclebank has signed an agreement with a company in the energy sector that hasn’t been announced yet.

Engaging consumers and scaling up

Yolles and Recyclebank are trying to build a community of engaged users, working to educate and reward them for making their life more sustainable. Yolles believes Recyclebank‘s recycling program can become a “behavioral wedge” empowering people to take further action on lowering their environmental impact. He acknowledges that although we see rapid changes, sustainability efforts are still not part of the life of mainstream America. There’s a need, he adds, to scale up the efforts.

This is where the collaboration with Waste Management enters the picture. This partnership, which was announced last October includes a strategic investment of Waste Management (WM) in Recyclebank as well as the introduction of Recyclebank’s rewards program to WM’s nearly 20 million North American customers over the next several years. This is definitely the scale up Recyclebank has in mind, given that currently the company is serving “only” 3 million members in the U.S. and the U.K.

Another strategy Recyclebank has been pursuing to scale up its reach is the development of Recyclebank Ecosystem, which is a network of companies working with Recyclebank to motivate and reward people for taking green actions. Launched last October, this Ecosystem already includes partners such as Barnes & Noble, Preserve, Macy’s, Zumbox and UncommonGoods. By creating and enhancing a network of relationships with powerful brands, Recyclebank is leveraging its reward program and is becoming a green hub that generates a substantial impact on people’s life. In other words, in few years you can expect to be rewarded directly or indirectly by Recyclebank with coupons for every green step you take.

The digital factor

Still, even if coupons will be driving the green revolution forward, they’re not the only factor that can make a difference. Yolles points out that digital platforms provide us today with scale-up opportunities we didn’t have before. The digital environment helps to create innovative new business models, enhance the development of collaborative consumption, and engage with millions of people.

Recyclebank is an example of an innovative business model making an effective use of the digital platform, not only to engage with consumers, but also to make money. The company has created an effective media platform for its community of users, where they can, for example, check the status of their rewards and choose which coupons they want to get. This media platform also has value for Recyclebank’s marketing partners, like eBay for example, who are interested in promoting their green offers.

Proud to be a B Corp

Earlier this month Recyclebank announced the re-certification of its 2009 B Corporation status. Yolles says this certification is very valuable for Recyclebank. First, it serves as a sign of authentication for the company. Second, it has an internal value as employees feel pride to be part of a B Corp. It also helps the company to monitor and evaluate its environmental and social performance. Finally, it is a way to influence public policy in support of the development of the sustainable economy. Yolles also see the similarities between B Corporations and Michael Porter’s Shared Value model, as both represent a broader approach to economic value creation and are driven by a multiple stakeholder approach.

The future of Recyclebank

Yolles sees Recyclebank growing its business and influence in three ways:

1) Continuing to build its recycling business, which still remains the company’s core business

2) Moving to new areas of engagement with consumers to educate and reward them for green actions

3) Developing of the company’s digital platform, enhancing its value for marketing partners.

It might sound ambitious, but if you look at the way Recyclebank did from a small start-up to a green powerhouse in just 7-8 years, you shouldn’t be surprised if the company will fully succeed in its scaling up efforts. The future can certainly be couponized.

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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