WISE Ways to Lead: How to embed environmental action in every social enterprise

Six ways ​​to embed environmental action in every social enterprise

The onus is on all of us to do our bit to save the planet. Social enterprises, even when their main mission isn’t environmental, strive to do as much as they can, but it can be challenging when already stretched to deliver their primary purpose. Expert tips from our final WISE Ways to Lead webinar of 2022, hosted in partnership with NatWest. 

As COP27 explored how global action could tackle the climate emergency, our latest WISE webinar on 22 November 2022 followed closely on its heels – but focused on what individuals and business leaders can do. 

Many social entrepreneurs are striving to do as much as they can for the environment, no matter what the core focus of their venture is. But, when you’re already overstretched to deliver your main mission, when the need for your services is growing every day in the face of a recession, when you’ve just about recovered from a global pandemic, where do you start in your journey to protect the planet?

“It’s the right thing to do for the people we support, for the charity itself and our ongoing sustainability, and also morally we have a responsibility to act on this,” said our guest speaker Alison Marjoram, head of development at P3 Charity

We can’t deliver our social mission without being aware of and responding to our environmental impact

Marjoram explained how P3, a social enterprise that supports vulnerable people and tackles social exclusion in England, has been increasing its focus on the planet while continuing to prioritise homelessness and housing. “We can’t deliver our social mission without being aware of and responding to our environmental impact,” she said.

We were also due to hear from Elaine Brown, CEO of The Edinburgh Remakery, a social enterprise that diverts waste from landfill and teaches sustainability skills, but internet difficulties got the better of us. Fear not though, she has recorded her advice especially for Pioneers Post: 

Elaine Brown is driving re-use and repair through her social enterprise, The Edinburgh Remakery. Her in-depth knowledge won her the Environmental Champion title in this year's WISE100 Awards.

Here are six tips to get you started, as shared by our speakers. 


1. Make a plan

“Before taking action, you need to ask yourself: who is going to be involved? Who is going to lead it? What do you want to achieve? What are your organisational priorities?” said Marjoram.

P3 spent time designing and developing a carbon reduction plan, then reviewing in detail the skills and resources that were needed. They also appointed an existing member of the team to become their environmental lead. Marjoram reminded the audience: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”.


2. Buy responsibly 

“Is there a way that you can buy that is more ethically and environmentally sustainable?” asked Brown. If you need new furniture or office supplies, she suggested, ask around for old products that people are looking to get rid of. You could also consider buying refurbished tech rather than buying brand new.

Avoiding new purchases is “also great for your bottom line”, Brown said. 


3. Make it a team effort

Going green doesn’t have to cost a bomb. “Get creative,” said Brown. Create company competitions around not using throw-away cups or or provide perks for travelling to work sustainably. Involve and listen to staff. Find out how they are getting to work, and how you could make it easier for them to make sustainable choices – like a cycle to work scheme. 

“There is passion and skills in frontline staff,” said Marjoram. Employees want to get involved and make a difference, so harness the support that’s already in your teams, she suggested.


4. Collaborate and look for support

“Don’t reinvent the wheel. Go to networking events, find out what people do and nick their ideas!” said Brown. You’re also not alone in your efforts to reduce your environmental footprint. Look around and see who you might be able to collaborate with – think about partners that could be part of your supply chain and who might help you to improve your environmental credentials.

There are also grants and funding that can support environmental action, so take a look at what’s available in your area. 

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find out what other people do and nick their ideas!


5. Be strategic – find out what your customers will require 

“Find out what the priorities of your local authority are and try to align your business to those themes,” said Brown. If you can highlight how your business can help reach others’ environmental targets, it could help you bid for tenders and bring in contracts. 

This is especially important for social enterprises that rely on public sector contracts, Marjoram said. Carbon reduction plans will increasingly become a requirement, so not bearing this in mind is “not only a risk to the planet, but also a risk to the sustainability of your organisation”.


6. Review your energy efficiency 

Ask yourself: how energy efficient is your workplace? “Are you able to make adaptations like solar panels, insulation or different heating systems that are kinder to the environment?” asked Brown. If you rent your property, could you speak to the landlord to see what might be possible? If you have vehicles linked to your business, could you switch them to electric? 

This will also help reduce your energy costs – good for business and good for the environment. 


Watch the videos above for more insider tips from P3 and Edinburgh Remakery. Find more expert insight from our WISE100 network in our Women in Social Enterprise collection.

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