Eric Hudson, Founder and CEO of Preserve, on starting a company that he feels good about, sustainable design, and seizing opportunity.
"Be passionate about your idea; don’t be in it just for the money. And if it is a social business, remember that it will need to be run well, just as any business is, in order to make it a long term endeavor."
Innovative consumer products creator, Preserve, combines socially and environmentally responsible business practices with groundbreaking design to create stylish, eco-friendly products for the home, including a full line of kitchen, tableware, and personal care products. With over 75 products ranging from toothbrushes to cutting boards, the organization operates from the premise that choosing eco-friendly products doesn't mean sacrificing quality, price, or performance.
Can you tell us the story of how you developed this idea?
Eric Hudson: I started Preserve in 1996. I wanted to start my own business that developed creative ways to conserve and re-use the Earth’s resources. There was a lot of recycling going on back in the early 1990s but there weren’t a lot of companies putting those materials back into new products. I saw an opportunity in the fact that 45% of people recycled because I thought those people would also be interested in purchasing products made from their efforts. The biggest opportunity was with #5 plastics. They weren’t being recycled well nor reused well, which provided a lot of room for innovation and improvement.
I also wanted to start a company that I would feel great about coming to every day. Not only did I have an idea for an opportunity in recycling, but I also had developed an idea for a toothbrush when I was a teenager. My dentist always told me to brush in a certain way, with a 45 degree angle, but the brushes out there just weren’t made to do that. I worked with my dad, who was an industrial designer of cars and boats, to design the first Preserve® toothbrush with input from dental professionals from around the Boston area.
It seems like when you founded Preserve in 1996, you had a concept that was a bit before its time. Do you have any insights or thoughts regarding how to bring an idea that is before its time into the mainstream?
EH: I have to be honest that I don’t. My inspiration for Preserve was not to bring an idea to market that was before its time. My idea was to do something that I had a conviction about, to be more resourceful, and to reuse Earth’s resources. I would feel very lucky if we have another idea soon that might be considered before its time and I would hope that it is something that also helps us reduce our human impact on the Earth.
In what ways are your products environmentally sustainable?
EH: Our products are considered environmentally sustainable for a number of reasons. They are made in the USA and made of 100% recycled polypropylene. The two exceptions are our toothpicks, which are made of sustainably harvested birch wood, and the Preserve 2 Go container, which is made of 50% recycled polypropylene because of the more limited availability of clear recycled material. The Preserve 2 Go, our newest product offering, is a reusable takeout container that can be used by schools, hospitals, corporate offices, etc., to lower the financial and environmental costs of their food service programs that too often generate a lot of waste from single serve items. We also provide other reusable options where single-use is common, such as in food-service and partyware products.
For partyware, we have an offering on Preserve’s online store called Shareware, which encourages sharing and reuse of our tableware sets, so not only are you reusing at home, but you are reusing within your community. Shareware sets come in various sizes to meet your party hosting needs, and come in tote bags from our friends at Blue Avocado, which are made of fabric derived from recycled plastic bottles. With Shareware, instead of buying disposable tableware for each party, you and your community can wash dishwasher-safe tableware after each party and reuse it over and over, saving money and the planet with each party you host (we have factored washing into the impact analysis).
Our products are also Earth-friendly because they are recyclable through Gimme 5, our groundbreaking program in Extended Producer Responsibility. Preserve’s Gimme 5 is our #5 plastic recycling program supported by our friends at Stonyfield Farm, Brita, Burt’s Bees, Plum Organics, Berry Plastics, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and Whole Foods Market. Since many communities don’t recycle #5 plastics (and those that do generally mix them with other less-valued plastics), we created this program to create a recycling solution for Preserve products and for any other clean, rigid #5 plastics.
Gimme 5 bins are located at Whole Foods Markets and food co-ops across the country (locations can be found on the Preserve website). The #5 plastic that we collect via Gimme 5 is used to make new products here in the USA. We also work with municipal recycling facilities to help us sort the #5 plastics. We are proud of Gimme 5 - it is a program that ensures there is a recycling option available for our products and our partner products, and through the program we are helping consumers and municipal programs bust down the barriers to #5 recycling.
What business practice are you most proud of?
EH: Most recently, it is the steps that we have taken in the last few years to establish ourselves as a B Corp. We have always been a business that takes more into account than the bottom line. The B Corp certification process gave us the form and structure to measure and review our progress and to improve as a business that delivers social value. It also brought the whole team to the same understanding of the value we are creating and the steps that we take to deliver this value.
What is your favorite Preserve innovation?
EH: Gimme 5. I love that we created a program to solve a consumer need. We had been making products from recycled materials, but still hadn’t addressed the need that consumers had for recycling them at end of their life. Gimme 5 met this need and created a more personal connection between our consumers and our mission. For the many people who didn’t otherwise have a suitable #5 recycling solution, we helped them to recycle and take this step for the Earth. With Gimme 5, we created a hands-on way for our “Preservers” - our term of endearment for our consumers - to more closely connect with our mission and be a part of reusing a spent package and turning it into a new product in the US.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are endeavoring to launch their own business? What mantra should new entrepreneurs repeat to themselves?
EH: Be passionate about your idea; don’t be in it just for the money. And if it is a social business, remember that it will need to be run well, just as any business is, in order to make it a long term endeavor. To be successful, a company must be well-run, regardless of its mission.