Green Libros: the thousand lives of a book

"Conocen Green Libros? (Do you know Green Libros?)"I am lost in Bellavista, looking for an elusive warehouse and have been pacing the same street for the third time in two minutes to the great amusement of the eucalyptus leaves street vendors whom I seek help from. "Claro, los chicos que venden libros por Internet... (Of course, the guys that sell books on the Internet....)"

 Photo by Sophie Halart
Photo by Sophie Halart

Green Libros (Green Books) is such a wide-ranging project that introducing the founders as “the guys that sell books on the Internet” would be quite reductive. The idea came to life when North American Alan Mackiewicz joined forces with two Chileans, Jaime Knabet and Juan Cristobal Prieto to create a social business initiative that collects donated books, puts them back in shape and re-sells them on their website at a fraction of the original price. I met the three of them in their book-packed warehouse to discuss the idea behind the project.

 Photo by Sophie Halart
Photo by Sophie Halart

As I arrive, Mackiewicz and Knabet explain to me that they met while working for Better World Books, a similar social enterprise based in Indiana, USA. Back in Chile, Knabet noticed that the country lacked this kind of second-hand book outlet, one combining financial self-sustainability with social and environmental work. The three associates took their project to the government business chamber Corfo and have obtained one-year worth of funds to fully develop their initiative.

Social Enterprise

 Photo by Sophie Halart
Photo by Sophie Halart

Green Libros partners with local schools in Santiago from which it collects books to freshen up and resell. It has also installed containers at the entrance of Providencia’s libraries and literary cafes to encourage people to donate the books that they do not need rather than throwing them away. Once the books are collected, they are cleaned and entered into Green Libros database.

With a clear emphasis on educational publications, the site also sells a wide amount of history, biographies, dictionaries and encyclopaedias as well as fiction literature both in Spanish and in English. For each book sold, 10-15% of the amount is donated to a partnered organization. At the moment, the social enterprise works with eight institutions such as Fundación Moreau – Fundamor that provides support for children in difficult situations.

Green Libros also has as an ambition to facilitate access to books and education, especially in under-privileged milieus. For these reasons, a certain amount of books are directly donated to the institutions that need them the most.

 Photo by Sophie Halart
Photo by Sophie Halart

Creative Recycling

About 35% of the books collected by Green Libros are in too bad a state to be sold on their website. Up to now, the company has been recycling them but the founders are thinking hard to find creative ways to extend a little longer the longevity of these books. As the founders explain, beyond their educational function, books are also objects, some with great aesthetic value.

In line with this spirit, Green Libros has partnered with the art gallery Galeria Espora to organise an exhibition of artworks created from these books. Enhanced with beeswax, paint or glue, the books are turned into colourful paintings, imaginary maps and surprising objects, thus finding a second life in the hand of these artists.

Green Libros also contributes to the Chilean initiative ReMade that collects discarded material and encourages young graduate designers to create from them. Last March, the winners of the Remade in Chile competition had their works shown in the Galeria Animal in Vitacura.

Out of the 20,000 books collected thus far by Green Libros, about 7,000 are currently on sale on the website. The rest has been donated, recycled or possibly turned into a very trendy lampshade. Listening to Mackiewicz, Knabet and Prieto talk about their work with books, the possibilities seem endless and make you realize the extent to which waste often results from a lack of imagination.

In a country where the absurd tax imposed on books makes you think twice before buying the latest Robert Bolaño opus, Green Libros gives you the chance to read for cheaper while contributing to the company’s social and environmental effort.

To learn more about Green Libros project and to purchase good quality and affordable books, go to www.greenlibros.com

To donate books, you can use one of the many containers placed by the company around Providencia. Or if you wish to donate a large chunk of your library (over 100 books), you can contact Green Libros and they will come and collect them from your house.

To be kept informed of the art exhibition organized with Galeria Espora, like Green Libros page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Green-Libros/229452529761?sk=wall

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