Social Impact
Social impact businesses prioritize doing business in a way that actively helps a local or global cause. Over the past few decades, the social impact sector has grown considerably. A perfect example of such an organization is Humana, a Spanish-based second-hand vintage clothing store chain. It recycles used clothing in its shops and then uses the profits from the shops to support community cooperation projects in Spain, Africa, Asia and Central and South America. That is why this non-governmental organization is the perfect blend of fighting for environmental protection and participating in domestic and international humanitarian aid.

What is Humana?

In 1987, the international Foundation Humana People to People brought the Humana vintage store concept to Spain. There are 44 Humana stores in Spain and many more Humana branches throughout the world. The organization collects used clothing in collection bins in cities in Europe and North America where it is sorted and assessed in dedicated sorting centers and then sold in its vintage stores. Humana also sends some of the clothing to Belize and six countries in Africa to further sort, assess and then sell it. Humana works with municipal leaders for the collection and sorting process. By reusing and recycling unwanted clothing, Humana positively impacts the environment. In Spain alone in 2019, the organization collected almost 18 million tons of clothing and footwear.

Humana’s Social Impact

Humana stores may look like any average second-hand retail outlets, but they operate chiefly to make a significant social impact. In fact, Humana aligns with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and offers its support to countries that aim to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  In Spain, Humana’s income per year is above 25 million euros, generated essentially by the sale of clothing. It distributes its profits to development cooperation projects, environment protection programs, social assistance projects, education and awareness projects and support for clothing collection and social farming in Spain and in Asia, Central and South America and Africa. Importantly, regardless of the social projects, the Humana stores in Belize and the six African countries that continue to sort and assess clothes offer the locals a sense of dignity by offering them the luxury of choice in the realm of fashion, at very affordable prices.

Humana People to People, the parent organization, operates across five continents and in 45 countries. It has supported more than 9.6 people and invested in more than 1,238 project units.

Humana’s Environmental Impact

From 2014 to 2016, Humana conducted a sustainability study of its collection and sorting facilities in Germany to assess their ecological impact. Although the facilities consumed 6,148 cubic meters of water for the entire process chain, they saved 75 million cubic meters of water needed to produce new clothes. The same applies to their CO2 emissions. The process chain generated 5,253 tonnes of CO2, but their activities prevented the production of more than 112,892 tonnes of CO2. Consequently, this eased the strain on the environment by a total of 107,639 tonnes of CO2.

On top of that, these Humana facilities attempted to use as much renewable energy as possible throughout their process chain, which makes a considerable difference. Since only 21,000 MWh of energy was used compared to the potential 602,000 MWh that would have been used on producing new clothing, the company saved approximately 581,000 MWh in 2016 alone in its German collection and sorting centers.

Finally, although the sustainability report only represented a fraction of the entire Humana franchise, it gives an idea of the Humana People to People business model scope in terms of benefitting people throughout the world and the planet itself.

– Alexandra Piat
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

What is yellow and found in most American cities? Planet Aid bins. Founded in Boston in 1977, Planet Aid was at first a small operation. Donations became so plentiful that the nonprofit had to upgrade its office space and nondescript drop boxes.

Planet Aid’s mission is to inspire people to “bring about worldwide and environmental progress.” The organization is part of the Humana People to People Federation, a source of resources for 32 aid groups working across the globe. Every year, about 12 million people are benefited by Federation projects.

Though Federation aid groups provide an array of services, Planet Aid focuses on collecting and recycling used clothing and supporting development projects.

Discarded clothing is reduced to two functions: sitting in a landfill and creating carbon emissions. About nine percent of American methane emissions are produced by landfills. Over eight percent of landfills are rubber, leather and textiles. Recycling clothes is a step toward reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, but it is also expensive.

Local governments are hesitant to cover the cost, and so Planet Aid steps in. Their bright yellow boxes are beacons of light for environmentally conscious old-jean-holding citizens everywhere. Once collected, some of the clothing is shipped off to domestic thrift stores.

Most, though, are taken to overseas buyers. Why sell overseas? The market is huge. Quality shirts, pants and shoes can be sold to someone in need for a couple dollars.

If people need them so badly, why sell? Because charity can wreak havoc on local economies. It’s better to stock a merchant’s shelves with affordable goods than to put him or her out of business.

Planet Aid revenues are invested in development projects that meet the goals of their mission: “strengthening communities,” “reducing poverty,” “increasing health awareness” and “promoting small enterprise,” among others.

The organization runs projects in 15 countries. So far, Planet Aid has taught 9,500 teachers in India and Africa. From 2010 to 2011 alone, it provided over 5.5 million dollars in micro-finance to Indian women. It raised HIV/AIDS awareness, established a club that teaches sustainable farming practices and founded several vocational schools.

Everything is funded by profits made from clothing and monetary donations. Through its work, Project Aid has shown that humanitarian aid and environmental sustainability are not conflicting interests.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Planet Aid 1, Planet Aid 2, Planet Aid 3
Photo: Bethesda 365