By Liz McGehee
When Shawn Seipler began recycling bars of soap in his friend’s single-car garage, he didn’t know he’d one day run the world’s largest organization recycling hotel soaps or that his company would help save millions of lives around the globe.
Seipler, a vice president of a technology company at the time, was logging over 150 nights in hotel rooms when the idea came to him. He called the front desk to find out what happened to all of their discarded soap only to discover it was unceremoniously thrown away. That’s when Seipler, along with a few close friends and family members, saw an opportunity to change the world.
“The real aha moment at that time came when we realized 9,000 children under the age of five were dying every single day from pneumonia and diarrheal disease—the number one and number two leading cause of death among children worldwide. Yet all these deaths could be prevented if we give them soap and teach them how and when to wash their hands,” said Seipler, a father of four.
Today, Clean the World has saved countless lives, distributing over 41 million bars of soap in 118 countries, and they won’t stop there. In 2017, the organization donated 60,000 hygiene kits to Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston, 50,000 kits to Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico and 75,000 kits locally to those affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida.
Unsurprisingly, the organization has become a global leader in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a model for social entrepreneurship and is now reshaping social entrepreneurial education across the country.
But Clean the World is far from an overnight success. “When we started, we would daydream about how big it could get; how impactful it could be globally. But you’re still sitting in a single-car garage scraping soap, and you’re so far away from that goal. We would talk to continue the hope, but we didn’t necessarily think in our hearts that it would happen. I sit here today amazed and grateful.” Seipler said.
Initially, the passion project took a backseat to his full-time global sales position, but Seipler was quickly forced to make a choice between his financial security and his responsibility to change the world.
“Once the cat got out of the bag, leadership did not view [Clean the World] as a charitable thing, rather, they saw it as me starting my own company. It happened earlier than I thought it would. I left within a few months of that career, and we struggled financially for some years.
Seipler and friend, Paul Till, emptied their 401(k)s, life savings, kid’s college funds and pursued their initiative with everything they had—literally. Luckily for millions of families around the globe, Shawn Seipler and company didn’t give up hope.
When asked about failure, Seipler says, “Failure is a subjective word. What one person considers failure, another may not. People might think, ‘Shawn is this awesome, successful guy,’ but I have had thousands and thousands of failures; it’s a step on the road to success. But what is most important are our families, friends, community and the way we can help others. Treat people with love, respect and dignity; those are the things that are most important.”
Despite Clean the World’s enormous global impact, Seipler feels they are capable of doing more and continues to set new goals for the company. “What keeps me going are the 5,000 children dying every single day, and the two billion across the planet without access to water or a toilet. Though we’ve seen an awesome reduction in dying children since we started, there is still so much opportunity and so much need,” he said.
Based on U.S. market statistics, Clean the World estimates 200 million metric tons of solid waste are produced each year by the combined hospitality segment, making hospitality one of the largest producers of waste. Only a dismal 30 percent of that waste is recycled and processed.
For those that want to change the world, Seipler recommends volunteering for causes you love. This will help you figure out how to solve problems, make connections to those who share the same passion and give back to your community.
How can people get involved with CTW? Shawn Seipler says there are three ways
Go to cleantheworld.org and donate. 94 percent of every dollar is put directly into the mission.
You can volunteer at one of the recycling centers in Orlando, Las Vegas, Hong Kong or the forthcoming Dominican Republic location.
If you’re a hotel or corporation, you can purchase products to build hygiene kits and participate in the Hospitality Recycling Program. If you’re an individual, ask hotels in your area if they are a part of the program.