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For social entrepreneurs, the 'bottom line' is people, not profit

Posted by Alex Pearlman  January 12, 2012 05:53 PM

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bootstrap compost.jpgBy Kristen Bahler

Overcompensated and underworked, The Greedy CEO may be the most hyperbolized character in America.

He eats, sleeps, and breathes the NYSE, risk management, and financial services. He loathes the Occupy movement, uses the term "class warfare," and argues that corporations are, indeed, people. As scheming as he is oppressive, The Greedy CEO has an insatiable desire for wealth, and he makes no qualms about it.

Though he'll never disappear, the bigwig with the limitless expense account may soon be forced to share the spotlight with a new VIP: the chief executive with a conscience. In Boston, he already has.

Eric Hudson, founder and CEO of Preserve, a Waltham-based company that sells home and personal care products made from recycled plastics, is a veteran of the socially conscious startup scene. For 17 years, Hudson has created recycled and recyclable toothbrushes, disposable razors, and kitchenware for retail giants like Target and Whole Foods. Winner of Forbes.com's "Boost Your Business" contest in 2007, Hudson and dozens of Boston-area professionals form an extensive network of social entrepreneurs.

"There has been, over the last 20 years, a recognition from owners that doing good business is good business," Hudson said. "Being a company that is considerate of the resources they consume, the emissions they cast off, the waste they create, or the waste they stop from being created is highly regarded."

David Warner has a similar disposition. In 2000, Warner and his wife, Kristine Cortese, founded City Feed and Supply, a locally sourced grocery, café, and deli with two locations in Jamaica Plain. Since the company's inception, the pair has sponsored dozens of local organizations, from Little League baseball to the Lantern Festival.  For Warner, a "socially conscious" business is, above all, a champion for its community.

"In terms of being a sustainable and a progressive-minded business, one of the most important impacts you can have is the one you make on your neighbors," he said. "That small-scale community interaction…is the greatest satisfaction I get from running this business."

Today, City Feed is a Jamaica Plain staple and has been voted a 2011 Business of the Year by Boston Main Streets, a "Good Neighbor" by the Sumner Hill Association, and 2009’s Best Lunch in Boston by Improper Bostonian, proving that a socially minded and community-centric business plan makes for both a sustainable society and a sustainable business.

Andy Brooks, another Boston-area social entrepreneur, knows this lesson better than anyone. Brooks founded Bootstrap Compost, a bicycle-fueled kitchen scrap pickup service, last January.

"I got really excited at the idea of starting my own business and creating something from the ground up," Brooks said. "My main motivation was having a steady income, but at the same time, I wanted to do something that felt worthwhile. Helping the city reduce its wastefulness and become a more sustainable place made sense."

For consumers, the bottom line seems to have changed as well, Brooks said. Although Bootstrap Compost started with one just customer, the company now has a team of five employees that serve over 200 Boston residents, each of whom receive a portion of the resulting compost; they donate the surplus to community gardens in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.

"I would attribute [the success Bootstrap Compost and similar businesses] to positive cynicism resulting from the collapse of the traditional economy," Brooks said. "Also, the notion of being local and community-minded…those two ideas have helped mold socially beneficial enterprises."

Hudson credits positive group-think -- the byproduct, he said, of socially responsible membership organizations like the Social Venture Network and B-Lab -- as a main influence of the movement.

"That's the magic of it: You've got a lot of companies acting in a way they feel is the right way to act, as related to social values," Hudson said. "When you bring those people together, the momentum really builds. You start to exchange ideas and do things collaboratively. A lot of great things have come out of that."

Great things like Preserve, City Feed and Supply, and Bootstrap Compost.

What do you think of the social entrepreneurship movement?

Photo courtesy of Bootstrap Compost

About Kristen -- Fresh out of graduate school, my allegiances are in fearless reporting and impeccable enterprise journalism. That said, follow me on Twitter @bostonpipeline!

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