Pilot sustainability initiative focuses on textile waste

WeWork partners with Housing Works and Looptworks to deliver pillows to N.Y.C.'s homeless

You walk out of your apartment with a reusable tote bag and take out the recycling and compost—bottles rinsed out to avoid contamination. You’re cutting down on waste. You’re saving the planet. 

But many people don’t realize that the garment industry is contributing 13 million tons of textile waste each year that will end up in landfills or in the ocean. What’s worse is that as the clothing waste breaks down, it releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that traps heat more efficiently than CO2. That’s right, that adorable new romper is contributing to global warming. 

To raise awareness about this issue and repurpose some of WeWork’s textile materials WeWork’s sustainability and wellness team organized a T-shirt drive to ensure that the WeWork swag employees have collected over the years is put to good use. 

Reduce, reuse, recycle—a great environmental sustainability mantra to live by. But Camila Leal, an intern on WeWork’s sustainability and wellness team, explains that part of living sustainably means working toward a circular economy—rather than over-indexing on recycling, we should place more emphasis on the reduce and reuse steps of that process. What is a circular economy? “On a holistic level, the idea is to utilize everything,” Leal says, “and avoid creating products from virgin materials—from the fabric on our couches to the material we use to build furniture.” 

It doesn’t take a lot of digging to see that people are starting to care about this issue—there’s a reason that companies like Rent the Runway and Nashville Creator Awards winner Queen of Raw, an online marketplace for buying and selling used fabrics, have taken off in the past few years. 

In July, the team launched the T-shirt drive with a three-fold goal: 1) to help divert WeWork swag from landfills, 2) to educate people about textile waste and the circular economy, and 3) to give back to the local community. 

To accomplish their first goal, Leal and the team encouraged WeWork employees to donate WeWork T-shirts they were no longer wearing in collection boxes that they placed in eight WeWork locations in New York. Leal traveled to the buildings to provide information about textile waste, upcycling clothing, and the circular economy.  

To give back to the local community, the team partnered with Looptworks, a company that repurposes and upcycles clothing, to turn the WeWork swag into pillowcases for the local homeless population in New York City—a suggestion that came from an N.Y.C. WeWork community manager. “If we shipped the pillowcases far away, it would offset the environmental good we were doing,” Leal explains. “So it was important to keep it local.” 

Over the course of one week, the team collected nearly 200 T-shirts that Looptworks upcycled into pillowcases. WeWork employees volunteered to stuff these pillowcases, which are now being distributed to N.Y.C.’s homeless with the help of Housing Works, a nonprofit that helps the homeless LGBTQIA+ community. 

“I think a lot about the homeless population in New York,” says Lauren Levy, who is an operations coordinator at WeWork and attended the pillow-stuffing event. “I always wish I could help, so this is a great way to do so.” Levy, like many others, used to throw out her clothing because she didn’t know what else to do. “This event really gets me thinking about what else can be done.”

Because it takes about 713 gallons of water to make one cotton T-shirt or pillowcase, this process saved about 142,600 gallons of water that would have been used to make textile products using virgin materials.  

From start to finish, the sustainability and wellness team was invested in making sure this project was sustainable, local, and effective. “I love that our company is mission driven and that we’re actually doing something about garment waste,” says Santhiago DeVicente, a senior manager on WeWork’s talent acquisition team who also attended the event. “WeWork is committed to environmental sustainability and this is an event where you can really see your impact,” Grace Pan, an account director at WeWork, adds. 

WeWork’s sustainability and wellness team is excited about the future of the circular economy and WeWork’s leadership role in the sustainability space. “We want to get to a point where we can take everything that we have in our local community and make them into new things,” Leal says. “We’re early on in our work,” she says, but this is the first step.  

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