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Start up with purpose

Putting social purpose at the heart of your new venture

How social impact makes good business sense.

Why should you care about social responsibility?

The Ethical Consumer1 reports a growing trend in ethical spending as more consumers look to make more sustainable purchasing decisions. As awareness of social and environmental impact grows, so does the importance for businesses to make authentic choices that benefit their customers. 

Embedding a social purpose in your start-up

Businesses with a social purpose are conscious of societal and environmental issues but might not reinvest profits to make an impact. Having a social purpose could involve backing an existing cause or charity, partnering with another organisation or introducing workplace initiatives to create change or drive awareness of certain issues. It could also involve operating in a way that’s sustainable and benefits the local environment.

An example is Wyke Farms in Somerset, one of Britain’s largest independent cheese makers, selling award-winning dairy products to more than 160 countries worldwide. A family-run business for over 150 years, it has become 100% green through innovative techniques such as using farm and dairy waste to produce electricity and gas. As part of its environmental impact strategy, Wyke Farms shares knowledge with customers and suppliers so they can all work in sustainable ways to protect the environment and to make savings.

We’ve also partnered with Airlabs, a pioneer in clean air technology. This short film explains Airlabs’ purpose and its advice for fellow business owners aiming to have a societal impact.

Social enterprises

Social enterprises are set up to make positive financial, social and environmental changes in the world – this mission is at the core of their business model. They differ to charities because usually they have a product or service to sell, generating revenue instead of receiving funds through donations.

According to Social Enterprise Mark CIC, this type of business reinvests at least 51% of profits back into the business to continue making an impact. It’s a fast growing sector, which Social Enterprise UK estimate is worth £60 billion to the UK economy and employs two million people2.

How to put social purpose at the centre of your business

When you’re starting your new business and writing your plan, it’s a good time to see where you can align social purpose with your commercial ambitions.

You might not want to set up your business as a social enterprise, but there’s a range of ways to give back to the community and wider society.

1. Make it part of your overall strategy

To truly make an impact, a social purpose needs to be in your mission statement from the beginning. Most importantly, it needs to be relevant to your business’ core activities and linked to key objectives to keep employees focused. If it’s not relevant and genuine to your brand, it won’t be believable to customers and could do more reputational harm than good.

Another business we’ve partnered with is Recycling Technologies, with its model of recycling previously unrecyclable plastic. See how it puts sustainability at the heart of everything it does in our video.

2. Embed it into the day-to-day work

Once part of your overall strategy, your purpose needs to trickle down to the day-to-day running of the company. If it’s part of everything you and your colleagues do, it can have a positive impact – not only on wider society but on your success and profit margins too, as you build trust with customers.

Urban Trenches London, which upcycles vintage jackets, has done just that. “Our product is sustainable,” says co-founder Paul Woods, because it creates fashion and reduces waste at the same time.

Other ways to give back

There are many ways you can use your business’s resources to make a difference, whether or not you choose to embed social purpose into your strategy.

Finding out what’s important to your local community is a great way to work with your customers to give back. You might also have a cause already close to your heart that you could support through your business. Here are some ideas to get you thinking

  • Run your company as an ethical business – one that tries to limit its negative impact on people or the planet. The Ethical Company Organisation offers research information and accreditation for this
  • Make a donation to a charity from each sale – customers can then share in your business’s positive impact simply by purchasing your product.
  • Give employees time off for volunteering or hold community-focused team days
  • Offer work placements to local schools or colleges through Business Lifeskills to help build the workplace of the future

You can aim to solve big societal issues by utilising your business’s resources and expertise, or choose to focus on making a positive difference in small ways. Whatever your ambition, with ethics and sustainability increasingly on the minds of consumers, there’s potential for your social purpose to have a long-term commercial benefit as well as having a positive impact on the world around you. 

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