Image: Photo by Alex Brisbey.

There are some incredible companies in Detroit that embody Triple Bottom Line (3BL) business practices. The three businesses below use found or donated materials to create one-of-a-kind products; the result is lower demand for new materials, which in-turn reduces the business’s impact on the environment.

Perhaps even more important, these businesses put their people first and envision their employees as a catalyst to transform their communities. They focus on empowering members of their communities by enacting socially just hiring practices, paying a living wage rather than a minimum wage, and focusing on skills development both for the job and the life of the individual. Employees at all three companies are taught how to create something beautiful and useful from discarded material. And in the process, they have the tools to transform their own lives.

The Empowerment Plan – Homeless Families

The Empowerment Plan, founded by Veronika Scott in 2012, focuses on ending generational homelessness in Detroit by providing parents living wage employment and opportunities to support their families and move out of shelters. The company produces a weather-resistant coat that can transform into a sleeping bag. Once produced, coats are distributed to organizations around the world that help the homeless sleeping on the street. The company also has an option for individuals to sponsor a coat to be given to someone they know in need.

Within a two-year period, employees are taught the skills they need to complete their role in the company and provided support services so they can find housing and future jobs. According to their annual report, “Roughly 60% of the paid work week is dedicated to coat production and 40% dedicated to educational programming and supportive services.” Most importantly, 100% of employees and “graduates,” or former employees, are no longer homeless.

Pingree Detroit – Veterans

Pingree Detroit, co-founded by Jarret Schlaff in 2015, is a worker-owned social enterprise that takes recycled leather from the automotive industry and creates new shoes, bags, and accessories. According to their website, 77% of their profits are shared by their employees. Their goal is “to create resiliency and living wage work for veterans and Detroiters and to create sustainable products that maximize well-being.”

One of Pingree’s missions is to serve as a positive catalyst within their community by providing employment to veterans returning home to Detroit. These veterans have given everything to their country, and yet many do not have the support they need when they return home. Pingree seeks out these hardworking veterans and teaches them new skills, provides them with professional development opportunities, and alternative therapy to address PTSD and other afflictions veterans face when returning home.

Rebel Nell – Women

Rebel Nell, founded in 2013 by Amy Peterson and Diana Roginson, was started as a social enterprise to help previously disadvantaged women retain living wage employment. Employees gather fallen fragments of graffiti and transform them into unique pieces of jewelry. They become the creative designers and are given the tools and training to manufacture jewelry. Eventually, employees graduate to new jobs that align with their specific goals.

One of the unique characteristics of Rebel Nell is their emphasis on creating future women entrepreneurs. While providing professional and personal development opportunities through their nonprofit arm called T.E.A. (Teaching. Empowering. Achieving.), the founders also wanted to focus on the personal and business skills of entrepreneurs. Their hope is that one day their employees will go on to launch other women-owned businesses in Detroit.

Next Steps

These companies are working to end the stigma of being homeless, unemployed, or experiencing a hardship. The work they are doing is important. And, they are not alone. Many of our readers are working to change the conditions of our current society and using their businesses as a tool to do that.

If you are interested in making a change in your business, there are resources available to help you start. For example, why not reexamine your pay structure to see if you are paying your employees a Living Wage. And, attend an SMSBF event to network with other local businesses and learn about what they are doing.