Lucy Findlay of Social Enterprise Mark introduces us to the social enterprise, an alternative sustainable business model, and how companies such as KPMG have already signed up to buy from "Mark" companies.

What is the main driver for business? Is it about wealth creation for shareholders? The accepted ethos within the corporate world would seem to confirm this. However, things are changing. In the wake of the various big business scandals, there is a growing demand for transparency. The general public are beginning to wake up to the fact that ‘business ethics’ should play a much stronger role in guiding commercial behaviour.

Social enterprises turn conventional business models on their head – in a nutshell, it’s about generating profits, but using some of those profits to deliver social and environmental goals, as determined by that business (rather than making private profits solely for shareholders).

Social enterprises can be set up in many different ways. It is what they do that unites them (i.e. - trading for people and planet). Famous examples include Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, The Eden Project and Big Issue. The social enterprise model can be found in all walks of life – for instance, you probably regularly buy from one if you shop or bank at the Co-operative.

More and more people want to know about the social enterprise way of doing things. The Social Enterprise Mark worked with the social enterprise sector to develop the Mark as an identifier to increase understanding. The Mark independently certifies social enterprises against criteria to make sure they are really driven to improve society above everything else. There has even been a growing number of businesses that are interested in converting to this model (see Change Your Constitution).

Businesses can start to develop an ethical supply chain by buying from social enterprises. The 50in250 campaign is designed to provide easy and meaningful corporate responsibility – simply by pledging to buy from at least 5 certified social enterprises over the next year. These innovative businesses are already signed up: KPMG, Wates Group, Telereal Trillium, and City of London Corporation.

In the end, buying from a social enterprise does not have to be about big steps; it’s as simple as booking a hotel room, buying office supplies or event management, design and print, catering or ICT services – see 50in250 for more ideas. It might even be about thinking about who you commission to deliver your smoking shelter!

If you are interested in finding out more, contact media@socialenterprisemark.org.uk.

Read the rest of our series on sustainable business models in The Benefit Corporation and CICs: Companies adding value to society. Or see what the future holds for sustainability in A Vision for Sustainable Consumption.

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