Our first foray into international waters takes place in the Philippines. The Philippines has been ranked as the third-largest polluter in the world by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, largely due to its huge manufacturing capacity. This leads to large amounts of ocean-bound trash in the Philippines’ rivers and coastlines. A silver lining to the high pollution levels: much of it is very recyclable. By intercepting and recycling the trash before it enters the ocean, it can have a second life as a multitude of products instead of entangling sea life. We’re currently focused on cleanup up Manila, in waterways like Manila Bay, the Pasig River, and more.
While our Community Cleanups are big events and our High Yield Cleanups are one-time projects, our International Cleanups will be consistent, Monday-Friday trash collection on coastlines, riverbanks, and in-water in the Philippines. Regular cleanup allows our trash collectors to stay on top of the daily trash that washes in from the ocean or out to the coast from the river system.
Throughout the three months we were actively cleaning the Philippines in 2020, we were able to remove 30,031 pounds of trash. We’re planning to remove a minimum of 250,000 pounds through International Cleanups in 2021. Learn more about our International Cleanup Program.
Blue Friday looked a little different this year. We usually host a month’s worth of in-person events leading up to our biggest DIY cleanup day on Black Friday, but thanks to you-know-what, getting together wasn’t an option. Our volunteers and customers embraced the DIY attitude of Blue Friday and opted outside to do some solo cleanups (or with their quarantine crew) all over the country! We had 87 Blue Friday cleanups officially recorded, including in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Washington DC, Illinois, California, Colorado, Vermont, and New York.
We typically partner with nonprofits, community organizations, local municipalities, businesses, and more to bring our Community Cleanups to life. Even though our partnerships looked different in 2020 due to the pandemic, our Cleanup community and partners rallied to make Blue Friday a success! Special thanks to our Blue Friday partner organizations: Tacony-Tookany Frankford Watershed Partnership, Riverfront North, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Schuylkill Action Network, Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Conservancy, Aqua Vida, Alice Ferguson Foundation, Rock Creek Conservancy, Bolsa Chica Conservancy, Schuylkill River Greenways, Inland Ocean Coalition, Outdoor Gear Exchange, Patagonia Denver, and EcoEnclose.
The COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down our retail stores and cafes, while simultaneously threatening our wholesale business as our retail partners shut down as well. United By Blue had to pivot to survive, and we transformed our retail stores and cafes to serve as marketplaces to meet community needs: which, at the time, were groceries and household supplies. We were able to use our connections to local, independent farms, grocery cooperatives, and restaurant suppliers to transform our flagship store into a neighborhood mini market and takeout service. While grocery shelves were empty, our local, fresh, and organic supply never depleted. As a community-oriented business, this transformation allowed us to serve our community what they needed while keeping the business afloat.
The carefully curated grocery menu, local agriculture, and organic items caught the attention of local health insurance company, Independence Blue Cross (IBC). IBC was looking for a way to help their senior citizen and at-risk members avoid grocery stores and any risk of contracting COVID-19. Together, we created an innovative partnership to source, prepare, and deliver groceries, PPE, and home goods to the doorsteps of at-risk populations. The program took off, and was renewed four times over the course of the year. Now, we’re expanding the grocery and wellness offering to other local health-related nonprofits and health insurance companies. As a sustainable living brand, we know that food is an integral component of a sustainable, healthy life and economy. We can now support the local agricultural economy, mitigate COVID-19 risks and address food insecurity for at-risk populations, and support our own business and employees through this unexpected new business stream.
Even though this is a very different product than what you might purchase at unitedbyblue.com, our high sustainability standards and promise to remove one pound of trash for every product purchased remain intact.
Certified B-Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.
We’ve been proudly certified as a B-Corp since 2011, the second year we were in business. Recertification happens every three years, and is performed by B Lab, the independent nonprofit that sets B-Corp standards and certifies B-Corp businesses.
Our 2017 B-Corp score was 80.1. This year, we’re projected to score over 100 points - a huge increase in score! The predicted increase in score will come primarily from our new initiatives to track environmental metrics like waste in our supply chain, and our effort to track and eliminate all single-use plastics from our operation. Our company volunteer initiatives, new internal and external diversity efforts, manufacturing transparency, and product sustainability will also be key contributors to our predicted increase in score.
As of January 2021, we’ve submitted our B Impact Assessment for review by B Lab. We will complete an audit and site review within the first quarter of 2021, and will receive our finalized score by spring 2021.
If you would’ve asked us in February 2020 what our most popular product of the year would be, we never would’ve guessed the answer: face masks. When the pandemic and subsequent PPE shortage hit the US in March, we began making face coverings from deadstock hemp blend fabric at our main apparel factory. In January 2021, they’re still one of our best-selling and most-reviewed products on the site.
For each Salvaged Hemp Blend 3-pack purchased, we donate 1 mask to Chosen 300, an organization that distributes them with hot meals to Philadelphians experiencing homelessness. To date, we’ve donated 30,700 masks with more to come in the spring.
With the rise of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer, we turned our lens internally to analyze our current contributions to the world of intersectional environmentalism, and where we could do better. We released a pledge to ensure that representation of BIPOC communities in our photo shoots and social media partnerships meet or exceed 2/3 of the people we work with.
Through donation matching and sales of our Outdoors For All tees, created in collaboration with Black artists we love, we donated $10,000 to the NAACP, $1,450 to Colour the Trails, $930 to Black Girls Trekkin’, and $1,420 to Urban Roots. We hope to continue our Outdoors for All line of collaboration tees to benefit marginalized communities in environmentalism and the outdoors through 2021 and into the future.We decided to make the swap to not only a more user-friendly returns process, but a more sustainable one. In October 2020, we made the move to Happy Returns, which directly decreases our carbon footprint by reducing cardboard and individual box sends, and allows customers more flexibility with the dreaded return process (no boxes/labels needed if choosing to drop at a Happy Returns Return Bar location!).Through the Mission Brand Alliance, we’re challenging the age-old rule that a business exists to simply maximize profits for shareholders. We’re working together with 27 brands to create a more equitable economy - a mission-brand economy - that values positive impact over profits. While many of us are traditionally competitors, we believe that a rising tide raises all ships, and it’s imperative that we push together for the norm to be businesses that bring good things into the world. Learn more through our writeup in Forbes.Even though we weren’t able to host Community Cleanups this year, we were able to pull off a few High-Yield and International Cleanups that helped us *almost* reach our 2020 goal of 1,091,086 pounds of trash removed from waterways.In 2020, you purchased 987,745 products from our e-commerce, retail, and wholesale channels, and we’re rolling over the 109,225 pounds we didn’t manage to get in 2020 due to the pandemic. We’re hoping that 2021 means the return of our beloved Community Cleanups (come on, vaccines!), and we’ll be leaning on our International and High-Yield Cleanups programs to pick up the slack. We can’t thank you enough for making our mission possible, and for your continued support year after year. Let’s make this the most impactful one yet.