The Cleveland Model: A Green Cooperative for Local Industry

Cleveland_Model-1311862914Article by Sarah Ball

Cleveland, Ohio has suffered dramatic losses in employment in recent years. Now, a new economic and environmental initiative that’s become known as the Cleveland Model is gaining local and national attention. It is a uniquely designed cooperative that redirects investments to the local community, improves social and environmental impact of local industries, and lowers operational costs.

According to Josh Daly, Associate Chaplain at Loyola University, “the Cleveland Model is an exciting new approach to community wealth building, one New Orleans anchor institutions and social enterprises could mimic.” Daly is interested in developing a similar project for New Orleans.

The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative was launched in 2009, and it supports environmentally-minded and worker-owned cooperatives in Cleveland. Businesses that are supported by the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative employ local workers who, after 6 months of employment, can contribute to their ownership fund, which is redistributed to the owners/workers. Workers are also guaranteed a living wage as well as benefits.

The funding for the Evergreen Cooperatives has been collected from a variety of organizations: private local “anchor institutions” that have a vested interest in the well-being of surrounding neighborhoods include Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospitals, and the Cleveland Foundation and the City of Cleveland have also contributed funding.

Early Evergreen businesses so far include Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, the Ohio Solar Cooperative, GreenCity Growers Cooperative, and the Neighborhood Voice, a free community newspaper dedicated to surrounding neighborhoods. Each of these businesses is committed to environmental stewardship and worker rights, as well as to profit.

The Evergreen Cooperative’s geographic reach is, at first glance, relatively small. It encompasses what is known as “Greater University Circle,” a collection of six neighborhoods surrounding the hospitals, clinics and universities that compose University Circle. Focusing on a small area has multiple advantages: the benefits of employment are more concentrated in neighborhoods and therefore more readily apparent, for one, and businesses that participate in the model tend to be uniquely suited to their environment. For example, the Evergreen Laundry Cooperative provides low-waste laundry services to the large medical centers in the area, which produce enormous quantities of laundry each year.

The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative has been approached by other groups and communities throughout Ohio and the country that are interested in implementing similar programs. Ideally, this model will continue to function in relatively small, geographically coherent areas even as it gains national popularity, so that each cooperative can focus on the specific needs of its community.

The Cleveland Model is yet more proof that although the health of our environment is important, and vitally so, environmental initiatives often work, and can do more good, when paired with intentional social benefits. And this is great news! Despite arguments that now is no time, economically speaking, to worry about the environment, the Cleveland Model shows us that social and environmental well – being ought to, and maybe even need to, be treated as part of the same vision.