With a certain sadness, I will be leaving this blog for the time being. It's been fun, and I'm sure I'll return. But other duties call, namely my new travel venture - Magnetic North which has been bubbling away in the background for a while now and is finally ready for the big wide world. Magnetic North Travel embodies all the sustainable values that I've created within Ecoescape, but packages it all up into unique, memorable holiday experiences to Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Iceland and other rugged Northern places. I really hope you'll join me on this new adventure - come to fjords, forests and islands. View the Northern Lights or learn about how people have lived in nature. Or if you can't join us in the North just yet, please continue to support Ecoescape over at http://www.ecoescape.org/ - we've just re-launched the website with a fresh look and feel. Thanks for reading, and see you in the Magnetic North! http://www.magneticnorth.travel/
Today is Social Enterprise day as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. One thing’s for sure is that the social enterprise sector is growing. As people reject behaviour demonstrated by the banks, and look for more meaningful ways to make a living and to live, social enterprise has been the obvious answer. This is demonstrated in part by the increased awareness around social investment.
It would appear that investors from many private and public backgrounds are looking to invest their cash in social enterprises. I’ve recently been to two conferences (here and here) that have talked about just that. In fact, there’s talk of huge sums of money that can potentially be re-directed to social enterprise. So are we sat at the edge of a big opportunity? I think that this remains to be seen. But what I have picked up are a few key points that can indicate success for social entrepreneurs. Here’s my list.
1. Look to the long term in everything you do. Exit strategies are not common speak in social enterprise strategies. I think there are a number of reasons for this. First off, to run a successful social enterprise, you need to have commitment and not to be afraid of being in it for the long-term. A three year plan with exit strategy just ain’t going to cut the mustard at the moment. Why? Well, running a social enterprise is tough. Let’s face it. We’re taking into account lots of complex ideas and factors that make running our businesses difficult, but potentially hugely rewarding too. So looking to the long-term is important – whether it’s for investment, projects, suppliers, or contracts.
2. Measure, measure and measure again SROI – social return on investment is the weapon in your armoury that can bring good things – from finance and contracts to funding and PR opportunities. Set up a key list of impacts and ensure you can measure them – i.e. how many people have you helped, how much money has gone into supporting local communities etc. And keep the data current, and don’t be afraid to publicise your achievements too.
3. Keep politics at arm’s length One of the questions at a recent conference was, what difference would a Conservative government make to the social enterprise agenda? And I say, who cares? If we’re going to prove ourselves as business owners, we need to generate income and be independent of political agendas. In other words, know when politics can help you, but don’t rely on it, for goodness sake. Some would disagree – especially those who rely on public sector contracts, but that’s quite scary in itself. We need to compete on a level playing field with other businesses and develop skills which will help us to do so.
4. Scale vs localism Grassroots is a common term used among social entrepreneurs. It gives the impression of people running projects within a tightly-knit community in one geographical location with limited budget and scope to replicate. I think, while community projects such as these are interesting and important, the grassroots movement is more than this. It’s about working within a context and developing an understanding of a group of people or the issues of a place. Take Ecoescape for example, we’re based in Nottingham but our work covers the whole of the UK and Ireland. Despite this, we’re seen as quite a grassroots organisation having been started on a shoestring based on a need and opportunity. However, our challenge is to remain relevant to our communities and beneficiaries whilst having a broad reach. This way, we can continue to operate in a way that has impact and longevity. If an idea can be scaled, then why not?
5. Have a track record Don’t just start a social enterprise because you think it would be a cool thing to do, or you just want ‘to do good’. You must, above all, have an interest and developed experience in one area – whether this is in a private, public or third sector organisation. Having a track record and commitment to one field will help enormously as you develop your business. Once you do set up the social enterprise, keep a portfolio of your achievements including press coverage, awards, funding, and milestones. And create a management team that has a broad range of expertise and skills. It helped us to draw a matrix of all the areas that we needed to run the business (e.g. finance, marketing, operations etc) and work out where the gaps were.
Ecoescape is a Community Interest Company. This is a relatively new legal structure allowing companies to trade but with a not-for-profit status. All Ecoescape’s profits, in fact, go back to the community and projects that we support. We believed that the CIC model best represented the way we wanted to run our business – the first of its kind in the travel industry! Obviously you don’t have to run a social enterprise as a Community Interest Company – there are other legal and equity structures which support companies that have strong social and environmental aims. We’re aiming to be self-sufficient which means that the support of our suppliers and readers is crucial. We’re lucky to have so many loyal people behind us.
Recently I took part in a sustainability tour of the 2012 Olympic Park as part of Greengaged Week. The tour was led by Dan Epstein who is the Head of Sustainability at the Olympic Delivery Authority. We all hopped on a special Olympic bus which carts various groups around the park to view it at various stages of development. We were interested in the sustainable features and materials that were used as part of this epic build. And epic it is when you see for yourself the stadiums and buildings slowly emerging on the landscape.
As the bus wound its way around the East London site, Dan not only gave us a fantastic update on the progress that was being made by the ODA but also pointed out some impressive eco-credentials that had been put in place. Everyone involved in the project has to commit to creating a sustainable games. It’s a pretty ambitious aim when you think about all the suppliers involved. But Dan is confident that the contractors he works with see the benefits of using sustainable materials and thinking about the lifecycle of buildings. In fact, many of the big contractors have used the opportunity to introduce sustainable practices within their businesses using the 18 KPIs that Dan has set for them.
The most impressive aspect of the tour was understanding how materials have been recycled or used in a way that takes a long view. The ODA scrutinises every material used in the Park through monitoring contractor invoices and carrying out site inspections. It’s tough love that’s for sure. But it’s something that the legacy of the Games can use in the future and be proud of. I liked the fact that buildings could be deconstructed after the games and used elsewhere - like the main stadium. The buildings and open spaces will be part of the community’s future too. Sounds good, no?
The ODA will finish their work in the Park in a year’s time. The buildings will have been built and the green spaces laid out. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games will take the reigns to organise an event to hopefully remember. But what will visitors remember? My guess is that it will be a plethora of things: travelling to London, travelling around London, seeing some world-class sport, medals, buildings, people etc. A general buzz will keep people interested and inspired, no matter how far they’ve travelled. When you watch any Olympic Games on the TV, I think viewers should really get a sense of the atmosphere and hum-drum – if they don’t, it has failed.
So how will London inspire people? I think green issues will play a big role in promoting this aspirational, future-thinking event. For the first time, if the Games can’t show the world how to live and work sustainably, they never will. So I’m keeping a close eye on how things unfold until 2012 asking difficult questions and hoping that the Games will deliver on all fronts: entertainment, opportunities to learn and, most importantly, hope for the future.
This is Thomas and he's just won £500 to go on an Ecoescape of his choosing! Thomas had to work for his prize though, as his challenge was to sell as many PURE Digital radios as he could for the month of June. And he did it! So he'll be off on his ecoescape adventure very soon. Thomas is the first of our year-long trade incentive winners in conjunction with PURE Digital. Their aim is to reward their independant retailers while promoting the energy efficiency of their radios. In fact, did you know that you can run four, yes four, PURE digital radios on less power than one low energy lightbulb? Amazing, and something PURE should be proud of as we work hard to reduce our environmental footprints. If you'd like to find out more about their radios, go to www.pure.com.
Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969 - 2009
The Barbican is currently host to a captivating exhibition that runs inside the art gallery as well as off-site in a corner of Dalston. The exhibition crosses decades of thought that explores the boundaries of Land Art, enviromentalism and architecture. Inside you'll find ways that nature has influenced design and how design has been imposed on nature. Sometimes it's difficult to see where the two differ. The theme feels like a work in progress and this exhibition is just a snapshot into the evolving world of living structures. It's well worth a visit and the Barbican is an excellent venue for it. And if you've got time, hop on a bus to Dalston to visit the Dalston Mill - a disused site turned into a wheatfield and functioning windmill that produces flour and bread (right).
According to Seed Magazine, 50 years ago there was a significant chasm between scientists and intellectuals or humanists. It was a case of 'them and us' when it came to agreeing the world's biggest problems or theories. 50 years on, we wonder if the chasm has closed and instead a third arena has appeared which bridges this once dangerous divide.
It's an interesting point at which to view how science and the humanities can work together to tackle today's challenges like climate change and poverty. Perhaps it is indeed the future and one which gives me a hope as I've struggled at times with pure scientific theory in attempting to put it into some kind of seemingly hopeless human or environmental struggle. Being open to science will be crucial and I'll make it my mission.
The youth of today do care. That's according to a new report called "The Rise of the Greenager" by Xtreme Insight Youth. Commissioned by The Big Lottery Fund among others, the report explores the issues occupying today's youngsters and how the future might look when they're in charge. I think it might be pretty good if the predictions are correct:
70% will refuse to work for companies that do not behave ethically
three quarters aim to run a low-carbon household
over half (54%) will spend and invest their money with companies that behave ethically, while a further 46 percent want to own eco-cars.
It will be interesting to see if these predictions weigh true if today's youth are confronted with the pressures of work, family and society at large. Interestingly, "13 percent supported a ban on travelling by air for leisure purposes".
Ed Gillespie, Co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications, also gives his thoughts on the debate saying that issues of self-esteem, fear of crime and unemployment also feature highly on the youth agenda and should be taken into account.
Laura is the founder of ecoescape. ecoescape is an online and offline directory of green places to stay and visit in the UK and beyond. Laura set up ecoescape in 2006 on a shoe-string and in 2008 co-wrote two eco-travel guides to the UK and Ireland. Her website is found at www.ecoescape.org.