MT Expert - Innovation: Engage with social enterprise

Green-Works' Colin Crooks explains how SMEs already active in their communities can do even more.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

By their very nature, SMEs are close to the communities in which they operate. Many owners not only live where they work but also employ people from the local area, as well as contributing to the community through things like charity work or school fetes. At a time when CSR seems to be on everybody’s minds, SMEs should be praised for their contribution to their local area. But with the recession hurting businesses and communities nationwide, small business owners are being asked to do more than ever before.

One way in which business owners can help to meet both their own needs and those of their community is to engage with social enterprises to deliver essential business services. Social enterprises are set up to deliberately perform a vital social function through business methods.  Their priority might be to employ disabled people or long term unemployed, but they seek to provide a commercially competitive service that gives such people renewed confidence and skills. By buying essential goods and services from social enterprises or trading charities, a company can increase its contribution to the community while getting the goods and services that it needs at the same time.

For instance, Green-Works seeks to protect the environment and create work for marginalised people in the process. It specialises in removing redundant office furniture and putting it to good use in the community. Old furniture is bulky, heavy and time-consuming to get rid for companies; it also has a wider environmental impact. Redundant furniture is typically destined for landfill, contributing to the environmental issues faced by the world. Green-Works can make the job simple and cost-effective, whilst at the same time ensuring the absolute minimum goes to landfill by reusing items wherever possible, and remanufacturing other items to create completely new products.

Green-Works’ range of reused and remanufactured office furniture is a low-cost and low-impact solution for small businesses. Last year SMEs across the UK spent £1/3m with us, making a saving of more than £1/3m against typical budget catalogue prices, and getting better furniture in the process. Perhaps more important than the saving is the wider impact of their spend. Buying reused will save 375kgs of CO2 per workstation. It’ll also help us to employ considerable numbers of marginalised people, who have struggled to get work due to illness, homelessness or imprisonment.

Whether it’s office furniture or IT support, catering or mail factoring, there are social enterprises near you that offer small businesses an ideal opportunity to get the services they need whilst also contributing to the social and environmental well being of the community. It gives SMEs the opportunity to have their cake and eat it, something that’s all too rare in these challenging times.  

Colin Crooks is CEO of Green-works, a Queen’s Award-winning environmental social enterprise that diverts waste office furniture from landfill through re-sale, remanufacturing and recycling.

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