By Andrew Held
During his keynote address at the second annual Greenovate summit this past weekend, Andy Brooks of Bootstrap Compost struck an interesting note. Pondering on what it means to be “innovative”, Brooks came to a surprising conclusion: “What if true innovation is just hard work?” A simple conclusion, some might say, but is it true in an age when new ideas are produced, crowd-sourced and abandoned every minute? When millions of people are trying to have a say in everything, it is easy to get overwhelmed by different viewpoints and decide to do nothing. Maybe innovation is really as Brooks puts it, “getting into the dirty with your hands, and making some compost”.
Brooks is the owner and CEO of Bootstrap composting, a Boston based year-round food scrap pickup service. For a small weekly fee Bootstrap will pick up compostable material from your home and business and take it to a local farm to be composted. The subscriber then receives a bucket of “cured compost” for his or her own use. Brooks started Bootstrap in 2011 after quitting his job as a sports writer for the Harvard Gazette. He joked during his address that after “covering Harvard Hockey, Harvard soccer, Harvard Hockey, Harvard football, Harvard Hockey, Harvard Lacrosse, and even Harvard Swimming… I knew somewhere in the back of my mind I would really like to be a small business owner.” Bootstrap has grown from just one man company to a multi-person operation over the years. Starting with just a handcart riding the T, Brooks now has four vans that service 1000+ households per year, and employs around twenty workers. Bootstrap has diverted over 800,000 lbs of organic waste from landfills over the years. Brooks appeared alongside Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans as the two keynote speakers of Greenovate Boston.
For those who don’t know, Greenovate Boston is a program run by the city government to promote and award community efforts to help reach Boston’s climate goals. Now in its second year, the Greenovate summit aims to collect community input, and facilitate community education by offering workshops and guest speakers for those who attend. The Greenovate awards are also presented to showcased individuals and businesses that are helping to take action on climate change. The goal set by the city for climate action is 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. A demanding challenge to say the least, and certainly calls for getting a little dirt on one’s hands.
This year’s Greenovate summit aimed to demonstrate how integrating sustainability into public schools and higher education can be done. Topics also covered how maintaining public green space and neighborhood planning have been handled in Boston. Last year CABA was in attendance to help bring concerns of small businesses to the table. In the end we succeeded in adding language that prioritized small businesses development in the city’s climate action plan. This year we came to raise awareness and check out the different workshops the summit had to offer.
What peaked my interest here was how spot-on Brooks was about collective action. Speaking to a sparsely populated room, one had to wonder: “Why isn’t the entire city packed into this room?” Until people realize the inherent effects of climate change, they won’t take action. Boston is currently at risk of being under water in the next 100 years with small businesses feeling the brunt of the impact. It will take composters and clean energy enthusiasts and business leaders to mitigate climate change. And while the city’s plans are an important start, it’s going to take businesses and people being “innovative” to take action.
Brooks also hit on how government plays a role in this. When talking about his relationship with the city: “The city needs to enable this, Boston needs to enable this.” Brooks’ claim was that he has not received a single dollar to help in his efforts to make Boston more sustainable. He reckoned that until composting becomes cheaper than normal trash pickup, it would never take off.
There is clearly a two way street that must exist for true action to take place. While businesses and activists are doing their share, Boston and cities everywhere need to be incentivizing said action. The Greenovate summit is a great start to doing this.
As Brooks finished, Boston city rep Carl Spector shook his hand saying: “We love what you are doing, we should talk.” But still, it stands that people should have a deciding voice in climate action. And individuals should be able to go out and make a difference, like Andy Brooks. Small businesses can be a key driver in climate mitigation and adaptation policy.
Boston’s Climate Action Plan is an ambitious one to say the least. While currently we are not on track to meet our 2020 goals, the 2050 goal is the real mountain to climb. And it will certainly take more than individuals and businesses getting their hands dirty to make it there.