Sustainability spotlight: Goodwill Industries of Denver

Most people recognize Goodwill Industries of Denver by the nonprofit’s 18 retail stores selling secondhand goods, but that arm of the organization only serves the greater mission of helping members of the community reach their full potential.

Toward that end, Goodwill has started an Energy Workforce Program at East and Montbello high schools. The program is aimed at preparing students for an expected influx of jobs in the state with renewable energy companies drawn here by tax incentives offered in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from the Obama administration.


Amber Smith, Goodwill Energy Workforce Program case manager at Montbello High School, instructs senior Mike Marshall in building a solar box oven.

Goodwill serves 23,000 at-risk youth each year, and these students in the career-focused mentor program learn skills integral to starting successful careers in the energy sector. They study to pass the Edison Electrical Exam, a common prerequisite for many energy jobs. Joyce Schlose, vice president of workforce development at Goodwill, says the goal of the program is to train and place 90 percent of the students in jobs and internships in the energy industry.

The program is funded from a grant from the Metro Denver Wired Initiative and corporate partners such as Namasté Solar Electric, EnCana, Energy Corp. of America, St. Mary Land & Exploration Co. and Kinder Morgan. Some partners simply provide volunteers and mentors for students in the classroom.

One recent project tasked students with working with professionals to conduct an energy audit of a Montbello home and retrofit the house to make it more environmentally friendly and efficient, saving the homeowner money over time in heating and electricity bills. 

“So the intent of the program is to really not only prepare students who are interested in going into these fields but also help students harness that passion and discover what it is they want to do,” said Meaghan Carabello, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Denver. “And just be overall more prepared for the world of work.”


Goodwill has “a triple bottom line” philosophy. It means the true success of the organization is measured by being successful in its retail business, helping people through the revenue from its retail operation and using sustainable, “green” practices in both.

The organization saves 50 million pounds of goods from landfills each year and sells them in 18 Denver-area stores, using the money to help fund projects such as the “Green Team” of 13 students involved in retrofitting the Montbello home.

They teamed with Grant Swanson, co-owner of GB3 Energy Solutions, to conduct a half-day energy audit on the home. The verdict: Adding a new furnace, new windows and other weatherization, an energy-efficient washer and dryer, and converting incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights would help save the homeowner thousands in future energy bills.

“Most homes, regardless of age, are in need of some type of work,” said Swanson, who donated the $425 cost of the audit. “We go into a lot of homes that are less than three years old, and a lot of them still have energy problems.”

The Goodwill group used $10,000 in grant money to make the changes in the home once the audit was done, and the students did much of the heavy lifting.

“There is both an environmental and a socioeconomic impact that Goodwill is having through this project, and that two-for-one aspect, I think, makes it compelling.”



A solar box oven

Adding a green initiative such as the Energy Workforce Program doesn’t create revenue for Goodwill Industries but it could aid the entire business community by helping to provide more skilled workers in the near future.
Helping to fill that void builds goodwill for the organization and could lead to further investment and expansion of the program.

“For each dollar they’re investing, they kind of get a double return on their money,” Swanson said. “They get a return on their money because they are helping to save energy, which is something we all need to work on. But they also get a return on that dollar because they’re helping out a lower income home owner, and that dollar is going to come back to goodwill and that homeowner in the form of lower utility bills.”

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