'Social entrepreneur' links sales to ocean cleanup

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Brian Linton likes to talk trash. In fact, the more trash, the better.

Trash is central to the marketing plan for his Center City Philadelphia apparel company, United by Blue. For every T-shirt, bag, or hoodie sold, the company vows to remove one pound of trash from the world's waterways.

Making a donation wasn't good enough, said Mr. Linton, 26.

"The brand I created was based on ocean conservation," he said. "It had to have a tangible impact."

Mr. Linton's mentor, Jaine Lucas, director of the Temple University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, describes him as a social entrepreneur.

"Social entrepreneurs are people who run businesses that do good for people or the environment," Ms. Lucas said. "A traditional business focuses on generating financial returns." In social entrepreneurship, a business generates financial returns in order to do good, she said: "I tell my students, 'Greed is bad, but profit is good, because profit allows you to do more good.'"

United by Blue primarily sells wholesale to stores, but it also sells direct to consumers through its website (www.unitedbyblue.com ). Mr. Linton is considering opening a brick-and-mortar store in Philadelphia.

Mr. Linton, who grew up in Singapore and Japan, saw his environment shape his entrepreneurial bent in more ways than one.

It gave him the confidence to go global in sourcing his products, and it gave him a love of the ocean and water that now forms the philosophical basis underlying United by Blue.

"The oceans were central to my upbringing," Mr. Linton said. "I had an innate fascination with the vastness of the ocean.

"Singapore is an island, and it was surrounded by the water. I always found myself fascinated with coral reefs and the life of the ocean -- and how much life there was," he said. "I was always interested in what made the blue parts of the world work."

These days, Mr. Linton spends a lot of time cleaning beaches.

The company organizes cleanups, with one member of the nine-member staff devoted full time to doing that and making sure all the logistics are in place, including bags, gloves and other equipment.

Last month, United by Blue ran a bus from Philadelphia to Staten Island for Hurricane Sandy beach cleanup. In November, 150 United by Blue volunteers worked on Ocean City's beaches. In October, volunteers picked up 230 pounds of trash from the banks of the Schuylkill River.

Mr. Linton used his savings, plus credit cards, to finance his business. He also received a $20,000 loan, which he paid back. United by Blue's designers create the merchandise, which is mainly manufactured in Asia.

For Mr. Linton, his business' mission and marketing are the same.

Recruiting cleanup volunteers around the country raises awareness for the cause of cleaner water, while building a community of loyal customers.

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