28 October 2020, 08:45 AM
  • Ian Hills, founder of Purple Pilchard, celebrates the SMEs maximising their social responsibility for good
The power of social responsibility

During my time at Ben & Jerry’s, three things struck me about their enduring success: a) two, larger-than-life founders taking every opportunity to rally against painfully predictable corporate norms, b) a stunning huddle of magnificent tubs, each with their own whimsical personalities: Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey, Chip Happens, Cone Together ……. and c) sincere, unshakeable commitment to corporate social responsibility in a number of different yet equally deserving guises: Championing Racial Justice, Supporting the Fairtrade Movement, Resisting the Advance of GMO whilst lending its voice to tackling climate change, far from inconsiderable goals that corporate goliath Unilever has to its immense credit, not simply maintained but enhanced.

At the summit of sincere corporate social responsibility lies B Corp status, a standing that many companies aspire to yet few achieve. B-Corp is no light-hearted tick box exercise, it’s a wholehearted pledge to a whole new business model where purpose and profit are given equal weighting and producers are actively encouraged to consider the full impact their daily decisions have on workers, customers, suppliers, the local community and the wider environment. 

The uneasy truth, especially in a battered, COVID 19 economic landscape, where even larger-than-life celebrities like Marcus Rashford are struggling to change the mindset of short-sighted intransigent government (extend free school meals over the holidays) is that many companies don’t feel they don’t have the time, resources or know-how to instigate sincere, sustainable strategies.

In reality, ‘sincere’ social responsibility means setting a new agenda regarding what ‘doing the right thing’ means.

Some smaller companies like Boundless Activated Nuts support established charity Frank Water, a kindred, Bristol-based business that’s worked since 2005 to improve access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash), creating community-owned clean water projects that improve everyday access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) in India and Nepal.

In a similar vein, the amazing Coconut Collaborative works with the Pur project to plant thousands of coconut trees to support Southeast Asian farmers in Bali, which helps re-generate overworked soil, whilst providing a stunning wildlife habitat that generates funds for low income, countryside communities.

Maverick olive impresarios, Olly’s Olives opted to partner up with the NEST foundation two years ago, donating a portion of their profits to help women in underprivileged areas of the world set up their own fledgling businesses.  Olly Hiscock knows only too well how hard it is to set up any business, so throw in the extra discomfort of underlying poverty and a vast gender inequality chasm and you quickly appreciate this initiative’s merits.

Also, in the world of fine snacking is Plant Pops, a young London-run business that was founded of the principle of health-conscious snacks that were good for you, the wider environment and those communities that participate in the range’s creation, in this instance supporting Action Village India, a charity that backs North Indian lotus seed farmers and their families.

Hunter & Gather established a socially responsible agenda from Day.1, tackling needless food waste by working alongside a pioneering farmer’s collective in Kenya which resulted in the liberating of vast numbers of ‘wonky’ avocados earmarked for landfill on account of their less-than-perfect shape, size or colouration, even though the underlying nutrient-rich inner oils were perfectly fine.

Closer to home, Toast Ale uses surplus loaves from sandwich makers/bakeries to upcycle into top-notch beer that donates all its profits to charity whilst Fitch Cold Brew Coffee send their coffee waste to both local farmers and the incredible Bio Bean operation that turns waste ground coffee into log burner fuel. Not to be outdone, Island Bakery Biscuits from the Isle of Mull are made using wood-fired ovens and other locally generated renewable energy because Joe wants his delectable dunkers to be sustainable not because it’s trendy but the right thing to do. 

Last but certainly no least artisanal snack supremos Made for Drink have meticulously knitted together a fully integrated Doing The Right Thing programme, including state-of-the-art, compostable pouches, securing the business’s long-term carbon neutral status (via their own UK-based carbon fund) by sequestering a sizeable Devon plot managed by the Forestry Commission AND collaborating with English Heritage to create a range of head-turning savoury treats that will give 5% of their bottom line profits to this more deserving of English charity institutions.

It’s heartening to see just how many ambitious GB SMEs are committing to a more planet-responsible existence. Trees, just like people, come in all shapes and sizes. But each one is just as important than the next. Planting trees in these areas helps regenerate soil and provides a beautiful habitat for wildlife and a sustainable income for communities.

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