Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle with Joe Connell

Joe Connell has been Executive Director of the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) since 2017. Being in the building trades since I was 15 years old, and in reuse nonprofits for the last 20 years I am a builder at heart. Whether it’s renovating our 1887 home on an offshore island in Maine, or restructuring and building a nonprofit for success, I delight in looking for ways to improve systems and structures. Building a successful nonprofit, is not much different than building a solid house; square, level, plumb, is the trick; and keep the junk out. The difference with nonprofits is that the people are the foundation; and that’s the fun part.

Since 2000, I have been a leader in the reuse industry, first in the Northwest where I helped launch several local reuse groups in Portland, Oregon; and served on the City of Portland’s Deconstruction Advisory Group to pass the nation’s first deconstruction ordinance. Then nationally with Habitat for Humanity through my work on the National ReStore Committee. I am now continuing that work nationally with the BMRA.

While with Habitat we built the Portland Habitat ReStores into one of the nation’s top 5 ReStores in revenue and net profit. Since joining the BMRA I have been revising and refocusing the organization to align the BMRA with other industries in the sustainable materials management industry and continue to heighten the awareness of reuse and deconstruction. I am also strongly focused on the incredible potential for workforce development and social ventures within the reuse economy.

Joe Connell – Get To Know Joe

Joe grew up in an inner city,  New Jersey working class family.  He went to school in Chicago, Wheaton College and got into construction because his father was a painter.  Joe started working with his dad when he was 13 and then decided he did not want to be a painter, so he learned how to be a carpenter.

“Growing up in an inner city in New Jersey it was a rough place, a rough environment,  I didn’t get out of New Jersey or really see trees without buildings until I was 13 years old and went to a camp in upstate New York in the Adirondacks and it blew my mind.” -Joe Connell

Early Start of Career

While Joe was at camp, it was his first exposure to the natural world.  He was the kid that walked around without permission exploring without permission.  They were always looking for him, but he always found his way back. The men Joe met at this camp became the most influential people in his life.

“They taught me what it meant to be a person of honor and respect and gave me something bigger to shoot for while at the same time teaching me that the natural world  was an extremely valuable place.” – Joe Connell

Making a Career in Sustainability

Joe lived in New York City after college working as a carpenter and was frustrated with the trades and the amount of waste.  He didn’t really know what to do about that or how to wrap his head around it. Joe then moved to Maine and started working with some contractors who were working in the very early stages of green buildings and were way ahead of the curve.  Once they stopped swinging their hammers I went back to school.

“I went back to school and got a degree in Conflict Management Mediation and Facilitation because I’d gotten involved in a couple board of directors locally and wanted to turn to non-profit.” – Joe Connell

Potential of Building Materials

Joe got a job while going to school at Habitat for Humanity Restore.  He knew construction and building materials but not the sales side of building materials.  They were doing about $250,000 in sales that year but Joe knew it had more potential. In the 12 years he was there they increased their employees and went to 4.5 million a year in sales.

“I went to my boss and said we’ve got to change this up or I’m going to go because we’re just nowhere in mapping the potential here.” – Joe Connell

Book Recommendations

Essays of E. B. White by E. B. White, Malcolm Hillgartner, et al.

Tune into this podcast to listen to the rest of Joe Connell’s journey in this podcast hosted by Charlie.

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