Sustainable practice – social goals
By Accounting for Energy – (4 min read)
Sustainability is a big word. We all know the dictionary definition, yet in daily usage, it has taken on a wider meaning. In fact, it can refer to almost any activity or goal likely to benefit the environment. In terms of doing business, sustainability can mean recycling your waste, or reducing vehicle journeys. One aspect that is often overlooked, however, is how business goals can be used to promote social outcomes.
In 2015, the UN introduced its Sustainable Development Goals – 17 aims for countries, both rich and poor, to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. The ethos was that economic success need not come at a cost to the environment. However, it also went a step further, calling for sustainable business to end poverty. The UN goals include a commitment to work towards a world with no poverty; decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities.
While it may be easy to assume that in the UK, a developed nation and the fifth highest performing economy in the world, we are all well-heeled, in fact, poverty is on the rise. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s most recent report, UK Poverty 2018, 4.1 million children and four million workers are living in poverty, a rise of 500,000 in the last five years. The UK is clearly not a land of milk and honey for all.
Recycling enterprises have always been well-placed to drive socially conscious business. At the dawn of recycling in the UK, Friends of the Earth and others spearheaded paper recycling and, for many years, a thriving community sector drove multi-material recycling schemes.
Today, social businesses such as Greenstream Flooring in Wales continue to challenge preconceptions. Since 2011, Greenstream has saved 500,000 tonnes of used office carpet tiles from landfill or incineration, selling them for business reuse or donating them to low-income families and organisations that would not otherwise be able to afford them. It also provides training and volunteering opportunities to help people back into work.
The breadth of socially-centred enterprise extends from the Reuse Network’s members, which collect, refurbish, sell and donate goods to low income families and the public, to used wood from the construction centre – sourced through the National Community Wood Recycling Project. Social enterprise businesses such as Manchester’s Emerge provide recycling services, confidential data shredding, and food redistribution through the FareShare programme.
With a stronger focus on corporate social responsibility, wider business is also reflecting the need for greater social obligations. Reconomy, for example, recently launched its social value programme to build community relationships. In practice, this means ‘breaking barriers’ for ex-offenders and the homeless, and ‘supporting change’ in wider industry.
In today’s uncertain climate, it is encouraging to see that social goals still have value in business. In the words of Ellen Petts of Greenstream Flooring, “Basically, we like helping people. We have to earn money to do it, but it all goes into helping people.”
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