The Circular Economy can end homelessness! (ESG Case Study)

Connecting ESG Reporting to real outcomes

Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy is an opportunity to showcase that in a circular economy, we can maximize social outcomes, minimize cost and maximize environmental impact through carefully tracking social impact. Companies have an opportunity to make ESG a dynamic tool to drive decision-making supporting real-time environmental and social outcomes, not just report after the fact. 

Canada’s National Housing Strategy goal of removing 530,000 families from housing needs should be viewed holistically to include both the housing unit and its furnished contents. An empty apartment with no dishes, beds or furniture is not a successful home; it is a shell. Purchasing home furnishing for a home for four people can exceed $7,000 plus delivery, even when buying discounted goods. This would consume $3,710,000,000 of the Reaching Home funds available.

How can socially responsible companies use circular economy tools to bring down this cost, preserve government funding to drive the supply of housing units and still provide a positive homing experience? Since the start of the Covid19 shutdowns in March 2020, I have been driving a strategy in cooperation with Furniture Bank, IKEA Canada and the City of Toronto that demonstrates both Canada’s Reaching Home strategy and Circular Economy goals can be accomplished while saving costs for all parties!.

The Toronto Experience

Furniture Link facilitated a three-way collaboration to support Reaching Home goals with ESG/Circular Economy goals. Piloted in 2020, Furniture Bank created “Homing Kits” for City of Toronto Rapid Housing Initiative units using donated and reused goods from IKEA Canada and other commercial and residential donors.

These packages included everything that would settle people in a home. Transforming these empty housing units has been defined as “Homing” as a distinction from empty “Housing.” A single household receives furniture, kitchenware, bathroom essentials, cleaning products and personal hygiene supplies. Before the impact of rising gas prices, we were able to collect, assemble and deliver these homing kits for under $1200 per household.? Creating homes from housing for over 530,000 families creates is a saving of $3,074,000,000 or a cost of $636,000,000 versus $3,710,000,000.

How does this model work? The keys to executing the strategy were as follows.

  • Partnerships with companies like IKEA to direct new goods returned by customers to reuse programs (like Furniture Bank) rather than have items sent to landfill or liquidators.
  • Having Furniture Bank act as a central point for in-kind donations from other nonprofits like GlobalMedic
  • Furniture Bank continued its pickup social enterprise to capture unwanted goods from households.
  • Furniture Bank hired local staff in our warehouse and workshop to fix donated items in need of refurbishment, package the donated goods into bundles and, when Covid19 restrictions allowed it, walk families through their warehouse so that they could select their packages of furniture to suit their homing needs and preferences.
  • Where necessary, items were purchased in sufficient quantities to take advantage of discounts from corporate partners in this program
  • Furniture Link helped align a detailed impact tracking system that identified the costs of delivering the services, the goods that flowed through the process from each source (IKEA, bulk donations, and households), that tied into ESG and Social Value standards.
  • The charity’s indigenous-led workshop supported further furniture refurbishment and the creation of needed coffee tables, dining tables and side tables.
  • The impact reporting model also tracked what was distributed and broke out beneficiary families into target groups such as indigenous, women and children leaving shelters, new immigrants etc.).
  • The throughput tracking allowed us to identify the goods that were not able to be redistributed and what portion was recycled versus discarded.
  • The social impact reporting provided a more holistic set of reports on the social, economic and environmental impact of corporations working with charities this way.
Reaching home with government NFP IKEA

Left to Right

  • James Maloney, Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore
  • John Tory, Mayor of Toronto
  • Ahmed Hussen,  Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion
  • Haroon Azam, Sustainability Business Partner at IKEA Group
  • Dan Kershaw, Executive Director Furniture Bank



What's the opportunity?

Canada sees a tremendous amount of household goods discarded as needs change and possibly a larger flow of purchased goods returned to vendors. Capturing these corporate sources and re-directing them to support programs like Reaching Home and reuse organizations like Furniture Banks is an opportunity that we should not miss.

The case study developed over the past 2 ½ years in the GTA can be leveraged nationally to continue to gather the data and work nationally with commercial partners like IKEA and hopefully companies like Wayfair and Amazon that have a huge flow of returned items.

Furniture Link works with our commercial partners, charities across the country and governments to build on the reporting system and create a stable source of data that demonstrates both the social impact of reaching home, but the environmental impact of reuse of goods for this programs. This can support the tracking and reporting of results and identify issues as they arise in program delivery cost.

These are all national problems with national solutions when the circular economy work Furniture Link undertakes gets matched to the social impact work of hundreds of reuse organizations of the Furniture Bank Network. Furniture Link sponsors the FBN to create more commercial and charity collaborations that ensure all families have more than empty housing – they have safe dignified and supportive homes to live and grow in.

Let’s use the knowledge gained over the past few years to maximize the impact of this much-needed program, be a proof of concept for the impact of circular strategies and drive local employment across Canada

Picture of Annalee Sawiak

Annalee Sawiak

Founder & CEO of Furniture Link Inc.
Sponsor of the North American
Furniture Bank Network (FBN)

Let’s make some magic and make something from nothing! Companies and reverse logistics companies can turn returns into comfortable homes without creating grey markets, cannibalizing sales or cost increases.


Let’s grab all that trash and create real change. 

@Wayfair? @Amazon? @SouthShore? @Structube? @UrbanBarn? @CanadianTire?

Learn more about ESG aligned social impact

About the Reaching Home 2022 Announcment

“Today, homelessness is a difficult issue, and each and everyone of us deserves a safe home. That is why our Government, through the Reaching Home Program, will continue to work with local partners like Furniture Bank to deliver plans and projects to address priorities that meet the needs of our residents right here in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and across Canada!"

Reaching Home Canada

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