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Old Window Workshop (OWW) is a woman worker-owned cooperative. Located in the Massachusetts Pioneer Valley, a former industrial hub for paper, textiles, and gun manufacturing in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, they are surrounded by old, empty factories that are being renovated and repurposed. Rather than replace the windows, developers, builders, and cities turn to Old Window Workshop to restore these very old and beautiful windows.
Old Window Workshop removes, decontaminates, and restores old windows. That is their business; there are others that do this. What makes OWW special is that their product and their cooperative business model promote sustainable development goals. Pam said "There was a realization that new windows are costly and require extraction of raw materials, which are then, transported long distances, damage the environment, are paid for by money that never returns to the community and never pay for themselves in energy savings." Most old windows end up in landfills or are incinerated at a great cost to our earth. Old Window Workshop focuses on and educates the urgency on materials that are being wasted in today’s world that essentially can be turned to be shared and developed everywhere. In the future OWW plans to uses these material, such as the beautiful wood from the old windows, to share around the world for renovation and to see what other innovations can be discovered with window renovations.
Pam has focused on developing low-income housing for decades. As she continued her work, she developed an awareness of the environmental costs of new home building. The sourcing of lumber from Canada, for example, with its concomitant costs of trucking. The increased use of new glass, which depletes sand, a non-renewable resource and its high carbon dioxide emissions. As Pam worked side-by-side with families building their homes through what she described as “self-help housing” projects, she saw the hard work and resilience of the women who were building their own homes. She saw the economic needs of female-led single parent households and the women’s building skills first-hand. This inspired the development of Old Window Workshop to empower women and improve gender equity through learning a trade that would support environmental sustainability. OWW aims to teach and guide women to be part of a trade and to learn a skill where they do not have to worry about getting harassed, and also be able to provide for their families. “Every window is like a week's worth food on the table" according to Pam Howland.
Old Window Workshop has partnered with The City of Springfield, Springfield Technical Community College, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Develop Springfield, and Wellspring Cooperative to support environmental sustainability, local economic investment, and skilled workers.
Through revitalization and restoration our local cities retain their unique and historic character. Window details, such as holes from old window pulls, are preserved by OWW during restoration to showcase the building’s history. At the same time, the window renovations increase the building’s energy efficiency, making them attractive to businesses.
Seventeen women have learned how to restore windows through Old Window Workshop’s apprenticeship training. These women used their new skills to start their own window restoration business out of their homes. According to Pam Howland, restoring one window produces the economic benefit of a week's worth of food. Working flexible hours from their own homes, or "mother's hours" as Nannette Bowie, Production Manger, explained, they have increased their economic stability and independence.
Five tons of waste was avoided through just one project. The Ludlow project was a restoration of 141 windows. Each window weighed approximately 43 pounds. That's five tons of potential waste that did not end up in a landfill.
OWW’s business structure is set up to save money for the clients they do business with. Saving the original windows in a building provides significant cost-savings. Take for example a case study published on the OWW website: “An average 15 square foot, 6-over-6 historically similar fiberglass or aluminum-clad replacement might cost $3,000 not including waste disposal fees for the old sash. Our price will be less than half of that.” Cost savings of 50% is huge for any business and to add, it makes the business look good on a corporate social responsibility level as they are utilizing sustainable means on both an environmental and socioeconomic level by agreeing to give their business to OWW. This in turn helps OWW to fulfill their mission of creating a more sustainable environment and just economy.
Pam stated “OWW provides employment and business ownership opportunities for women struggling with poverty, criminal justice issues and other challenges. The cooperative contributes to economic empowerment while reducing recidivism, fostering family stability and helping to create a safer community.” Women are able to provide for their family and become independent. Women do not have to resort to criminal means to provide for themselves or their families. The burden on the tax-payers is also reduced due to more people contributing to the tax pool and less on welfare. The environment benefits through the reduction of waste that the old windows would have otherwise contributed to landfills. Even better, the windows will not have to be burned and pollute the atmosphere with their toxins, such as lead paint and asbestos found in old windows. Since the old windows are being restored, it provides the opportunity for a reduction in the demand to source raw materials to make new windows. Hence, Old Window Workshop provides sustainable consumption while paving the way to end poverty, and bridging the ever-present gender and economic gaps.
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Pam Howland, Director