It was an eye-opening night Tuesday for people interested in different models of business culture, as reSET, the Social Enterprise Trust, held its 2012 awards event in downtown Hartford.
The nonprofit group, dedicated to advancing business with a community-improving social purpose beyond profits, honored five local firms.
What is social enterprise? Its many forms were illustrated in the difference between Kenai Sports, the firm that won reSET’s Connecticut Innovations Technology Trailblazer Award, and Warby Parker, an eyeglass maker that was recognized by reSET at the event at the restored Society Room on Pratt Street.
Kenai, of New Britain, reduces trash in landfills by making performance sportswear, including uniforms at Babson College and other schools, out of plastic that’s been thrown out. Plenty of companies use plastic from recycling streams; Kenai focuses on trash that missed the recycling bins altogether.
The usable plastic trash that is not recycled in the United States every year “is enough to fill Fenway Park to the brim 22 times over,” said Phil Tepfer, Kenai’s co-founder.
Warby Parker sells eyeglasses and is committed to helping one underprivileged person, often in a developing nation, receive a pair of eyeglasses for every pair it sells — not by giving one away, but by working with nonprofit agencies. The glasses are made in east Asia in a traditional, if closely watched, supply chain, said Lane Wood, director of social innovation for the firm.
Wood gave a colorful keynote address in which he told business owners to “always be the most generous brand in the room,” and “find a way to be interesting.”
His firm does its social enterprise work on the back end, while firms such as Kenai are concerned with how they produce their goods, rather than what they do with profits.
Also receiving awards Tuesday from reSET were Combat2Career of Simsbury, which matches veterans with higher education programs (winner of the Boehringer Ingelheim Care Foundation award; Good Cause Gifts, a Middletown retailer that people with disabilities; NIRO Design Center, in Hartford, which combines training, design and other services to help young people; and The Hartford Artisans Weaving Center, which teaches handweaving to older and sight-impaired people.