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CERO (Cooperative Energy, Recycling, and Organics) is a Boston worker- owned cooperative that offers food waste recycling for the commercial sector, as well as compost soil products to Massachusetts agricultural projects. CERO offers compost program training, food waste recycling pick-up services, zero waste event services, and compost soil products.
We sat down with CERO’s Sales Team Leader and Worker-Owner, Maya Gual to learn more about their mission and work.
What is the mission of CERO?
CERO’s mission is simple: to keep food waste out of landfills, save money for our clients, and provide good green jobs for Boston’s hard-working communities.
What is the story of your company?
By day, Guadalupe Gonzalez did backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings. At night, she picked bottles form the trash, selling them to earn precious extra money to support her family. Determined to put the brake on unacceptable wages and working conditions, Guadalupe and a team of MassCOSH worker center members joined forces with Tim Hall and Boston Workers Alliance to create a worker-owned compost diversion enterprise.
Unique as a bilingual and multi-cultural co-op, CERO completed a year-long Direct Public Offering, raising capital by selling shares of dividend-paying stock to regular community people. Lenders who were initially hesitant to take chance on lower income entrepreneurs in the green economy are now on board. CERO is growing and providing the jobs it promised to workers who own the company. We are proud to be part of a burgeoning solidarity economy fostering workplace democracy and new forms of community investment.
How did your organization get started?
Josefina Luna, Steven Evans, and Tim Hall are the founders of CERP Cooperative. They created CERO and its mission with the ideas of engaging the sustainability industry in the Boston metro area, diverting food waste from landfills, and creating green jobs for Boston residents.
In 2014, after completing a successful round of funding through a Direct Public Offering, CERO officially launched. Regular community people, with or without prior investment backgrounds, were offered the opportunity to buy shares of CERO stock. In less than a year CERO raised over $350,000 via nearly 100 community investors.
What have been your major successes?
One major success was growing CERO by 300% in 2016 and by 150% in 2017. We also had the opportunity to work with great companies, including Rubicon, Wegmans, Carney Hospital, Partners HealthCare and DiSilva Fruit as we grew our company.
What are some challenges you have faced as you grew your business?From the beginning, we were underfunded low-income people who had been traditionally locked- out of creating new businesses. We are still working to overcome a significant lack of funding, although we have made great strides. Another challenge we overcame was a truck accident. Although on one was hurt, it forced us to completely rethink our operational safety.
What are your goals for CERO over the next five years?CERO plans to increase our client base, welcome more worker-owners into our team, increase our truck fleet, move to a location where we can co-locate our operations warehouse and administration office, and locate a community-scale anaerobic digester within the Boston metro area.
How do you plan on making a difference in the region?We plan on making a difference in Boston and eastern Massachusetts by continuing to divert food waste from landfills, providing green jobs, and ensuring food waste is returned to the soil to grow local food. Additionally, we seek to make a difference by being a landmark example of a minority business enterprise and cooperative business that was made successful by previously-low- income people who rose against the odds.
Why are you interested in the Pacesetters program?CERO is interested in the Pacesetters program to work with large companies to create a culture shift towards global sustainability through our employee compost training and to sustainably and responsibly diver food waste away from the landfill and back to the soil. We also want to help these companies support and procure with local business to support Boston and its citizens.Have you done work with any of the Pacesetters?Yes, currently we have small contracts with Northeastern University and Partners HealthCare. We hope that we can expand those contracts with the help of the Pacesetters program.