By Katherine Naylor, small-business owner and MBA Candidate at Marlboro College Grad School

John Abrams, co-founder of Martha’s Vineyard-based design/build firm, South Mountain Company, spoke at the Slow Living Summit about building sustainable communities.

He spoke about the history of South Mountain Company, founded in 1975, which has always closely considered the interests and development of its employee-owners. SMC is an employee-owned cooperative, with employees eligible to buy shares after 5 years.

The future of social enterprises will require absolute collaboration, which Abrams believes will lead to better decision-making; when employees will pay the price or gain the benefit from those decisions in the long-term, it will root them in the community and engender loyalty. Power, when shared, is not a zero-sum game, but rather it increases infinitely. Instead of hiring the next generation of employees, businesses can hire the next generation of owners. From Abrams’ perspective, business is not about doing as much as we can as fast as we can, but rather about doing enough, and doing it eloquently.

South Mountain Company is aiming for a major goal – creating affordable, net-zero energy consumption houses. He is tackling that goal on several fronts: moving houses to avoid tear-downs, when land is targeted by investors; completing deep-energy retrofits of existing homes; and working with the public-housing authority to educate homeowners and help them improve their energy efficiency.

Abrams’ story is a fascinating one, with long-term positive community impacts; the evolution of his business, his community, and the island and ecosystem of Martha’s Vineyard itself, are tightly-woven narratives. By creating a demand for mixed-income communities, and embracing diversity across both political and class boundaries, Abrams is at the forefront of the development of sustainable communities.