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Green Collar Jobs

In our show, Green Collar Jobs, NOW profiled two inspiring organizations—Green Worker Cooperatives and Materials Matter—that are working to create jobs, save the planet and help those in need.

Project Name: Green Worker Cooperatives
Challenge: An excess of pollution and garbage in the South Bronx, an area also plagued by high unemployment rates.
Solution: Create an organization dedicated to setting up worker-owned and environmentally friendly cooperatives in the South Bronx.

Green Worker Cooperatives is the brainchild of Omar Freilla, a Bronx native. Over the years, Freilla has watched his community become the dumping ground of New York City. The burrough is home to a vast sewage treatment plant, two power plants, and 15 waste transfer stations. Twenty-five percent of New York City's trash is shipped into the Bronx each day. As a result of poor air quality, the Bronx suffers from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the nation—one in five children there are afflicted with the disease.

Tired of watching his community deteriorate, Freilla founded Greenworker Co-operatives, which aims to set up environmentally-friendly businesses for local residents. "Because it's a cooperative, the people that are actually benefiting are the workers. The workers stay in the community so the community is benefiting," Freilla tells NOW. To implement his strategy, Freilla studied the cooperative movement—in fact, he based his vision on a Spanish coop that generates $4.8 billion annually. He's already raised $900,000 for his cause.

The first of his co-ops is Rebuilders Source, a store that sells recycled and donated building materials at affordable prices—items that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. The items are found by staffers who contact contractors, building supply distributors, and hardware stores to find donations.

While Freilla sees Rebuilders Source as a good start, his ultimate goal is to completely transform the Bronx by creating a thriving green economy that will not only cut down on pollution, but create sustainable jobs.

Contribute: To donate to Green Worker Cooperatives, click here

Project Name: Materials Matter
Challenge:Usable construction materials end up in landfills even though non-profit organizations could put them to good use.
Solution: The creation of a regional center that coordinates the donation of building supplies and redistributes them to charitable housing organizations.

In 2004, Jason McKinstry and Alison Riback set up Materials Matter, which connects donors of building supplies with non-profit agencies who desperately need such resources to renovate homes for the needy. Last year, Materials Matter was overwhelmingly chosen by NOW on PBS viewers as America's most innovative social enterprise.

McKinstry and Riback came up with the idea after working for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit group that constructs low-income housing. While there, they discovered that many companies wanted to donate construction goods but were overwhelmed by solicitations from a plethora of organizations. "A lot of times when we were talking to donors they said: 'We want to help more' ... It would be nice if there was one place that we could call to make donations that we know could be fairly distributed out to all the other agencies," McKinstry tells NOW.

So they set up the California-based non-profit, which collects donations—items ranging from paint to windows to kitchen sinks—sorts through them, and trucks them out to groups such as Habit for Humanity and HomeAid. All of that sorting and trucking requires money. Materials Matter relies on some grants, but most of its operational costs are paid for from revenues from its Home Improvement Outlet, a retail store which provides the public with home improvement products at about 50 to 80 percent below retail prices.

The non-profit is doing its part to save the environment, says Scott Gordon, a board member of Materials Matter. "We're proud to say 75 million pounds of perfectly good construction material has been kept out of landfills as a result of Materials Matter," Gordon told NOW.

Contribute: To donate to Materials Matter, click here

Green Collar Jobs
Video: Green Collar Jobs

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Blog: The Latest from Materials Matter

Interview: The Future of Green Jobs

To donate to Green Worker Cooperatives, click here

To donate to Materials Matter click here

Enterprising Ideas is a project of NOW on PBS, with support from:

PBS Foundation
Skoll Foundation