The Virtuous Circle of Sustainability – Shirt Economics Creates Jobs

Nature has all kinds of cycles, circles, and circuitous systems going on all the time. Seeds land in the soil, sprout, grow into plants that drop leaves that decay, putting nutrients into the soil, eventually becoming soil, which nurtures a seed that sprouts, and around it goes again.

It’s a virtuous circle. It sustains itself. And, there’s an energy to it that keeps driving it around and around.

At Goodwill NNE, we think a lot about sustainability.

At Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, sustainability is the deliberate integration of economic, social and environmental considerations as the driver of our business model to ensure long term mission fulfillment.


We think about sustaining people because we believe in the value of every human being.

We think about sustaining the planet because we believe in the importance of reducing the impact we all have on the environment.

We think about sustaining Goodwill because we know that the economics of our retail operations makes all of our workforce and health care services possible.

Sustainability starts with a shirt.

Let’s say that this shirt is last year’s style or slightly worn or perhaps outgrown, and someone donates it to Goodwill.  So many things happen as a result:

What’s entailed in recycling a shirt? Consider that everything that went into manufacturing, shipping, wholesaling and retailing that shirt gets a second life. Someone will come to Goodwill and buy that shirt. But the fibers that made the fabric, the dyeing that made the colors, the plastic that made the buttons, the energy that ran the looms and sewing machines, the human labor that created that shirt – none of those materials or that energy has to be expended again.

What’s more, an un-recycled shirt would otherwise wind up in the trash, which goes to a landfill, which is running out of space for more trash.

Shirt economics gives people jobs.

Goodwill can sell the recycled shirt. So we can hire people to sort through the donations to find it. We can hire people to put it on the rack at a Goodwill store. And we can hire people to sell it at the checkout counter. The shirt makes it possible for Goodwill to create these jobs, which means more people can make a living and support their families.

We also make money selling the shirt. After we take out some to pay our employees, the utility bills, and the rent, there’s money we can invest.

We take the money we made selling the shirt, and we use it to invest in all kinds of Goodwill services designed to help people learn and strengthen their marketable job skills.

As our services succeed in getting people into the workforce, those people earn money that they spend in their communities.  As they gain personal stability, they may become less reliant on social services (even our own), which makes room for others who need help.

You see, the shirt represents all the products at Goodwill. If you’ve shopped at one of our stores in Maine, New Hampshire, or northern Vermont, you know that every item is really bargain-priced. So there’s another social benefit in that some of our customers, who may struggle to buy clothing for themselves and their families, are able to find what they need at Goodwill at prices they can afford.

Maybe today someone found a really nice dress shirt at Goodwill – just in time to wear to an important job interview. And that person gets the job, and earns more money, and buys new clothes…which are one day donated to Goodwill.

The virtuous circle begins anew.  And nothing goes to waste – not a shirt, not a shoe, not a person.

Updated 6 months ago by Calvin Gilbert

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