By Buddy Teaster
It’s hard to believe that April marked the 43rd annual Earth Day, an American creation that Wikipedia reports is now the “largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than one billion people each year in 192 countries.” Here’s my perspective on why it matters.
To celebrate, I headed to White Plains, NY, as the town kicked off a major shoe drive to celebrate Earth Week and honor Soles4Souls.org.
The goal was to collect 20,000 pairs of new or gently used shoes for my company. The project leader is a high school friend named Jill Iannetta, and I couldn’t have been more proud then to be a part of her event.
What’s really important is that there will be hundreds and hundreds of such activities around the country. Engaging so many people on any social good has to matter because of the difference it makes in our collective consciousness about these issues.
It does raise the question, though, of what we’re doing the rest of the year.
We know that Americans throw away, annually, more than one billion pounds of clothes and shoes. One billion! If we went back in time one minute for each pound, we would be in the middle of the Roman Empire.
And the amount of clothing that’s tossed doesn’t include what goes to my company and others like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and thousands of other groups that give these items a second life here and around the world. And it doesn’t include what gets chucked by the rest of the developed world.
It’s a lot, no matter how you add it up.
At the same time, the demand for used products like these, especially in the developing world, is practically unlimited. It makes me wonder if the problem is not so much a “stuff” problem as it is an information problem. Anytime there is that much of a mismatch in the market, you can be sure that a lack of information is the cause of most of the distortion.
Sure there are logistical issues, big ones, but I believe that most Americans, whether they’re celebrating Earth Day or not, would like to do better than just throw things away. Knowing the scale of problem, where to take things, what impact your used shoes and clothes can make—are all part of the everyday solution. If Earth Day is a chance to create and expand that awareness, then Earth Day matters.
Last year, Soles4Souls kept more than three million pounds of shoes and clothes out of landfills.
Though that’s only one-third of one percent of what might be put to good use, it could support micro-enterprise merchants in Haiti or Honduras, people living on two dollars a day; or help distribute footwear in Africa to keep people there from contracting an inflammatory skin disease known as “jiggers“—a disease preventable by wearing shoes; or clothe hundreds of thousands of disaster victims, refugees, and severely impoverished villagers around the world.
We want to do our part to keep things out of the landfills—that’s a great cause in and of itself. But if you want something to celebrate on this Earth Day, then take the things you can’t wear or don’t want to wear and give them to people who do. You’ll be making the world a better place in a million ways.
About Buddy Teaster and Soles4Souls.org
This Nashville-based charity collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you. The charity distributes these shoes to people in need, regardless of race, religion, class, or any other criteria. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has delivered more than 19 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes. The shoes have been distributed to people in more than 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal, and the United States.
“The idea behind gifts of shoes is nothing new to the Soles4Souls team, as they coordinated relief efforts for the Asian Tsunami and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, netting over 1 million pairs donated for these disasters,” explains Buddy Teaster, the organization’s CEO, noting that the Soles4Souls originally operated as katrinashoes.org, with several churches partnering in the collection and distribution of footwear.
Teaster’s passion for philanthropy and global change led him to take on the role of leading the largest provider in free shoes to children in need around the world.
“We have a great team and a growing, passionate group of supporters and donors around the country and the world. We’re doing work that really matters, and I look forward to doing my part to help even more people regain their dignity and break the cycle of poverty.”
Teaster was previously president/COO of Executive Business Services (EBS), a holding company that includes RTM Networks, StarKart, and the National Association of Local Advertisers (NALA), where he first encountered Soles4Souls. There, he sharpened his skills of taking a growing company to the next level. Before that, Teaster was the Chief Network Officer for Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), a nonprofit organization committed to developing better leaders through education and idea exchange. YPO is the largest CEO network in the world with more than 20,000 CEOs in 100+ countries.
He enjoys trail and long distance running and has finished numerous ultra marathons (50K +), including almost a dozen 100-mile runs. He sits on the board of the North Texas Trail Runners.
He earned his BA in Religious Studies and French from Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, and holds an MBA/MA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Share your spare soles with Soles4Souls!
- Click here to help Soles4Souls.org.