In the final 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 daily articles introducing our semi-finalists. Today, meet Isidore Electronics Recycling.
Los Angeles-based start-up Isidore Electronics Recycling has three distinct missions:
- Create long-term environmentally conscious jobs in Los Angeles
- Divert electronic waste (e-waste) from Los Angeles landfills
- Reduce the recidivism rate in Los Angeles by hiring, and providing on-the-job training for, 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 Isidore co-founder Kabira Stokes.
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 e-waste responsibly and also, for the companies that were, they were often sending the waste to international locations, such as China. Not only was this creating an unnecessarily large carbon footprint, but also it was 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 sentenced to an eight-year term within the California prison system. 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 re-enter 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 both still have value,” says Malloy.
Stokes and Malloy are adamant that the environmental and social development of Los Angeles remain 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 Major League Soccer stadium in the United States. In addition, they have partnered with several organizations to collect their e-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 strives to partner primarily 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 20 workers within the next year or two, and increase their recycling output to at least a 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 competition with the intention of increasing their partnerships, as well as educating businesses about their company structure.
“The [environmental and social] problems that we are seeing cannot be solved by governments alone,” says Stokes. “This year alone, 9,000 people are leaving the California justice system with no plans. These people are resources. They have done their time and can be utilized.
“We are putting out the call to L.A. We are small but we have this audacious mission: We are a local social enterprise, trying to create jobs in L.A. and divert waste from our landfills. However, the overall goal of Isidore is to be a model for other cities.”