Advancing National Service

Sustainable Furniture Company Puts Veterans to Work

June 4, 2014
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Sustainable Furniture Company Puts Veterans to Work
Screengrab via YouTube
EcoVet hires soldiers to create goods out of reclaimed semi trailers.

What’s more all-American than serving your country in the Armed Forces? Well, for one, furniture that’s made in America by U.S. veterans.

As more young servicemen return home in search of work, the Arkansas-based company EcoVet is tapping into the veteran workforce to create all-American, sustainable furniture.

The company, which launched in 2011, trains former service members to design and create high-end furniture out of reclaimed materials from old semi-trailers — typically from Walmart — that are destined for landfills. Rather than adding to trash heaps, EcoVet strips materials from trailers like oak or maple floors to create custom-made items like an Adirondack chair, which retails for $850. The company also donates other parts such as plywood to the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and tires to automobile shops.

EcoVet has trained and hired 28 veterans since its inception and aims to employ 500 over the next three years. Focusing on college-aged U.S. veterans — which have a staggering unemployment rate of 24 percent — EcoVet pays its workers about $15 an hour along along with stock options and flexible hours to help those that are going back to school.

“They’ve been taught how to get things done,” co-founder Drake Vanhooser told Fast Company. “They all have the skill of being adaptable.”

Thirty-year-old EcoVet shift manager Jeremy Higgs is pursuing an associate’s degree in agriculture, food and life sciences at a local community college. The veteran-friendly environment means employees are understanding of outside responsibilities as well as emotional issues including PTSD.

“Everyone is going through some issues,” Higgs said. “We give each other advice.”

EcoVet is slated to open three more decommission centers in Chicago, the Carolinas and Nevada to add to its Springdale, Arkansas factory. The first is expected to open in the next 18 months. With 15,000 to 20,000 scrap heap trailers going to waste each year, EcoVet is hoping to remove 10,000 trailers from the stream of garbage annually.

MORE: Here’s a New Website Bringing Unemployed Veterans and Understaffed Tech Companies Together

Expansion shouldn’t be too difficult for a sustainable product that’s American-made by U.S. vets, according to Adrian Dominguez, the vice president for business development for EcoVet’s parent company, EcoArk. “It’s a profit center for us,” he said. “We manufacture furniture and wood accessories, and we are able to label it as 100 percent recycled, repurposed wood, made by American veterans, right here in the United States.”

Aside from furnishing Walmart vendors, EcoVet has managed to partner with wholesale retailer Sam’s Club, which features two lines on its website. EcoVet is also developing a high-end line for upscale retailers for the likes of stores like Macy’s.

The hope is to not only eventually pluck all scrap heap trailers out of U.S. waste, but to create a welcoming environment where vets can be proud of their work, too.

ALSO: A New Program Transitions Soldiers into Successful Tradesmen

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