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Interview with Save That Stuff’s Adam Mitchell

Over on the Boston Local Food Festival blog, I talk to to Save That Stuff’s Adam Mitchell about how the company is able to divert so much waste for the festival. (They’re so successful that we’ve contracted the company for the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival in September!) I was also really interested in what he had to say about community outreach and building sustainable businesses—read on for the second part of that interview.

As a Sustainable Business Network board member, how do you participate in their outreach?
This past year I’ve put my efforts into building a Brookline Local First movement. That’s been very satisfying, because it’s helping to build the SBN as a statewide organization by building strong local networks. I really felt that was one of the most important impacts that I could have as a board member—to work in my local community. We had a conference call last week talking about how to keep your members engaged, how to plan events regularly so that they know when they happen, and how to recruit more people to join.

Adam Mitchell

Any advice for motivating people to participate?
Once you have a winning recipe, you’ve got to freshen it up so people stay interested and engaged. I’m a big fan of the pledge. McKenzie [author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior] says it takes people about 20 times to hear anything and comprehend it. Whereas if you make them act, for instance signing their name to a pledge poster, the physical prompt of actually putting pen to paper embeds that mission in their brain a lot more. And that’s the neat thing about the food festival; it’s getting people to actively sort, so it’s going to embed that message in their brain in the same way.

The City of Cambridge was looking into how they could increase participation in one of their lower-diversion neighborhoods, so they engaged the local Little League team in a project. For a couple weeks they did a set-out report, how many apartment buildings or units were setting out their recycling carts each week. They targeted the ones that weren’t setting them out, and they sent the baseball team there to say, “If we can increase participation here in the recycling program by x%, the city of Cambridge is going to donate $500 to our Little League team. Would you help us?” They actually got a fair number of people to start supporting them through recycling. So it’s looking for that other hook, as opposed to just being good for the environment.

How does Save That Stuff fit with the Sustainable Business Network?
A lot of ways our mission is the same as the SBN’s: building economies that are green, local, and fair. The green we’ve got covered. We’re also the largest locally owned recycler in Boston. And we’ve had a long history of, for instance, helping our helpers on the trucks to become drivers, and helping our sorters in the plant to move up and become supervisors—just looking for an opportunity for folks to grow with the organization and compensate them fairly.

How did the event recycling side of your business start?
Eight years ago, my wife and I would set up the recycling racks at the Falmouth Road Race and work with the volunteers. My kids would come along and I’d pay my son $20 to help with the box truck, to pick up the recycling and the racks. And just like any small business, it grows to a point where you can formalize it and have staff, which is very satisfying.

I just saw it as another service that we could offer. It was a way of getting our name out there and also helping to fill a hole, because no one else was doing it.

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