"I didn’t get into it thinking of creating the great humanitarian business. It was finding an item of waste and then researching what could be done with that waste." After seven years of a job where he was on the road four days a week, Shawn Seipler had an epiphany.
"One day in a hotel room, I started looking at the bar of soap and wondering what happens when they are done using it. I called the front desk and they laughed and said they throw it away. So, I got on the computer to look up some facts. I discovered that we throw away about a million bars of soap every day in the U.S., and about five million a day around the world."
Today, Seipler is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Clean the World, whose mission is to eliminate hotel waste by recycling soaps and shampoos. Their goal: Prevent millions of deaths caused by hygiene-related illnesses.
The statistic that sparked an idea in Seipler's mind was this: "We found studies that showed up to 9,000 children a day are killed by pneumonia and diarrheal disease. They also showed that if you give those children and families soap, hygiene products, and education on how and when to wash their hands, you can cut deaths by 40-60%."
Although the Florida-based Clean the World is an international organization, about half of their products are distributed domestically. "We have more than 40 million Americans who are on food stamps. Those stamps can’t be used for soap, shampoo, lotion, tooth brush, toothpaste, disposable razors, and washcloths." Food stamps can, however, buy you cigarettes and lotto tickets. But those won't come in handy during the flu season.
"We're different from a lot of non-profits in that we don’t do a lot of fundraising or grants," says Seipler, talking about the unique way Clean the World is funded. "We ask hotels to come to the table with a monthly program fee." While building those relationships during a poor economy was difficult (the non-profit launched in 2009), they have since developed partnerships with Walt Disney World, Hyatt, Marriott, and others.
Seipler attributes the organization's success to two straightforward principles: "Number one: the idea is so simple, majorly impactful, and we have had tremendous partners and organizations that got it and stepped up. And, number two: we brought clear business technique to this non-profit." On top of that, since launching in 2009, they have had over 6,000 volunteers spending over 40,000 volunteer hours with Clean the World.
Seipler already has plans for what's next in Orlando. "I really envision a social-entrepreneur accelerator in Central Florida. I hope that Clean the World can help lead the efforts to help build it and help make that happen." His goal is to tap into recent college grads who are socially conscious and entrepreneurial. "Just like we have technology incubators, we need to have the same thing for social entrepreneurship."
Mark Pérez interviews local business and non-profit leaders in theORLANDOAN's Focus on Philanthropy series.