By Candice D McLeod
Each week leading up to the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) finals on June 5th, where the runner-up will be decided via live online public vote, we will feature two articles on an SBIO semi-finalists. Meet semi-finalist Isidore Electronics Recycling.
Isidore Electronics Recycling is a social enterprise that is positioning itself as a triple threat. The Los Angeles-based company has three distinct missions – 1) create long-term, environmentally-conscious jobs in Los Angeles, 2) divert electronic waste (e-waste) from Los Angeles landfills, and finally, 3) reduce the recidivism rate in Los Angeles by hiring formerly incarcerated Angelenos as employees.
“Here in California we have two problems – our landfills are overflowing, and our prisons are overflowing. We believe that we can help solve these two problems by creating green job prison reentry programs,” says Kabira Stokes, co-founder of Isidore Electronics Recycling.
Stokes studied both Prison Reentry Policy and Environmental Governance, as a master’s student in Public Policy at the University of Southern California (USC), with the intention of finding a way to merge these two interests.
“I was looking at the California justice system as a graduate student, when I realized how hard it was for people to make an honest living, coming out of the system,” says Stokes. “Then, I started looking at what sustainable businesses were coming down the pipeline, as a way to create jobs, when I discovered that e-waste was one of the largest waste streams in the world,” says Stokes.
Stokes was particularly intrigued by two facts - that there were organizations that were not recycling their electronic waste responsibly and also, for the companies that were recycling their e-waste, they were actually often sending the waste to international locations, such as China. Not only was this creating an unnecessarily large carbon footprint, but it was also deflecting much-needed jobs from Angelenos.
During her research process she met co-founder, Aaron Malloy, an MBA student at USC.
“I met Aaron Malloy, my co-founder and Isidore’s COO, through USC and because of his experience and background we knew it would be a great fit,” says Stokes.
That background refers to Malloy’s business training at USC’s Marshall School of Business, where he concentrated in marketing and entrepreneurship, as well as his past experience as an inmate. At age 16, Malloy was charged with robbery, and was sentenced to an eight-year term within the California prison system. However, he ultimately returned to school, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, before acquiring his MBA at USC.
“Trying to reenter right back into society is a challenge. Even after earning an economics degree from Berkeley, and an MBA from USC, I still had trouble finding employment because of my past,” says Malloy.
The duo then created Isidore Electronics Recycling, which is a full-service recycling company that also offers data destruction and reselling services, using formerly incarcerated citizens as employees.
“The irony of training the previously incarcerated to recycle electronics is that both the electronics and the workers coming through here still have value,” says Malloy.
Stokes and Malloy are adamant that the environmental and social development of Los Angeles remains the focus of their company. Therefore, the success of Isidore’s business has relied on the strength of the local partnerships that the team has developed during its short tenure.
“We ask ourselves, what are we doing with our resources that can move us forward as a city and a state,” says Stokes.
When Isidore first started, the company subletted a corner of American Apparel’s warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, which allowed them to escape many of the capital costs associated with started a recycling business.
“American Apparel really supported us. We had access to everything we needed, from forklifts to security guards,” says Stokes.
Since then, the business has moved into another space – a 5,500 square foot facility located in the community of Lincoln Heights – and is still growing their partnerships. They have collected waste at the Home Depot Center in downtown Los Angeles, which is the largest soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer in the United States. In addition, they have also partnered with several organizations to collect their electronic waste, including media conglomerate, MGM studios, Helms Bakery District, and the Pitchess Detention Center.
For the downstream partners that are responsible for recycling Isidore’s collected waste, the company requires that they comply with similar environmental standards. Therefore, Isidore only partners with RIOS/R2 and/or E-Steward-certified companies such as Sims Recycling Solutions, one of the world’s largest electronics recyclers.
While Isidore has only been in operation for approximately one year, the team has lofty goals. They have currently processed over 130,000 pounds of waste with a staff of seven, but aim to increase their staff to twenty workers within the next year or two, and increase their recycling output to at least one million pounds.
“Finding employees is the easiest part. We work with professional social services organizations to hire employees who are work-ready and have an interest in electronics,” says Stokes, “The biggest challenge has been to get organizations to trust us to recycle their electronics as a small, new operation.”
Therefore, the company entered the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open with the intention of increasing their partnerships, as well as educating businesses about their company structure.
Stokes says, “We are putting out the call to LA. We are small but we have this audacious mission. We are a local, social enterprise trying to create jobs in LA and divert waste from our landfills. However, the overall goal of Isidore is to be a model for other cities.”
Visit Isidore Recycling Electronics to learn more about their mission to reduce recidivism and recycle e-waste. You can also meet co-founders Kabira Stokes and Aaron Malloy at the Sustainable Brands Solution Expo at SB’13. Enter the discount NW3pSB13 for free entry.
Candice D. McLeod is the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open Co-Coordinator. She received a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, concentrating in Energy Management & Policy, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Connect with her on Twitter @candicedmcleod.