4 ways to fast track your transition into an ethical business

Written by Adam

June 13, 2020

ethical business

Take any business and, with a little imagination, you can turn it into a social enterprise. Whether it’s a few tweaks here, a new way of thinking there, or a whole new enlightened approach, all it takes is a fresh perspective and the will.  

Start your transition with three letters.

Mention CSR to your team and see what happens. It could be just the nudge you need. And yet, many entrepreneurs don’t take the time. Their answer to Corporate Social Responsibility is that it’s not for them. It doesn’t fit their business model. It’s too expensive, too resource-hungry, too much of a risk. They say: why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Truth is: if your business does more harm than good, it is broken. If not functionally, then ethically. Fortunately, it pays to be a brand with purpose.

Why the ethical business model makes sense

We’re not idealists. Social enterprise isn’t just about doing the right thing. It’s about fulfilling your business potential. It’s not just good for the world, it’s good for your bottom-line and your business’ long-term health.

Here are five reasons why you should make the switch:

  1.   Customers are increasingly turning to ethical brands. Old markets are in decay and primed for innovative and ethical disruptors.
  2.   Doing something good gives your employees an incentive to work harder, be more productive and stay loyal.
  3.   Having an ethical brand story is good for PR. It raises awareness, engagement and perceptions for long-term dominance.
  4.   Having a social purpose brings greater meaning to your 9-5 (and all the other hours of your life).
  5.   Standing up for social causes encourages others to do the same. This accelerates the transition to an ethical economy and just might save the planet too.

(Psst! Want to find out how you can collaborate with other social entrepreneurs to accelerate the change to ethical consumerism. Check out our 11 top tips here.)

Ready to take your turn? It’s easier than you might think.

“I think one of the most exciting trends right now is the birth of the global citizen who is interested in not only improving his or her immediate neighbourhood, but also helping his or her neighbours across the globe.”

Kathy Calvin, President and CEO, United Nations Foundation

Develop an ethical supply chain

Shake things up by committing to an ethical supply chain. This simple act demands change at all levels of production. It can create a wave of positive repercussions that cascades all the way back to your product’s source.

First, make a list of all your suppliers and partners. This should include resource suppliers, utility and technology providers and business partners. Look at each in turn and ask three simple questions:

  • Is there a more ethical alternative or solution?
  • Can I help/persuade my suppliers to adopt more ethical practices?
  • How will the switch affect my business model?

Switching to a third-world supplier that pays well and provides comfortable working conditions could dramatically improve communities that are in need of help. Having your resources delivered from local suppliers will reduce the carbon footprint of delivery impacts. Working with accredited ethical brands, like Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and Fair Wear Foundation, will ensure your supply chain is squeaky clean. (Check out this list of ethical accreditations in the UK).

By taking the time to review your supply chain you could find new efficiencies and streamline business costs.

Better yet, take a leaf from Unwrapped’s book and help the supply chain find innovative new solutions to your problem…

unwrapped: ethical food shop

Ethical supply chain case study: Unwrapped

Bex and Kirsty met at the start of their PhDs in ecology. But it was another ten years until they found their love of science-y things had a commercial value. Unwrapped, an organic/vegan/eco shop in Sheffield was inspired by their love of nature. It’s renowned for delicious products and DIY to-die-for peanut butter. It’s the shop they wished existed, environmentally-friendly without the added expense. What’s not to love?

But what really sets Unwrapped apart is that it’s zero waste.

When shoppers purchase food, they take their own containers. You’ll see them armed with jam-jars, Tupperware, old bottles or takeaway containers. And of course—everyone brings their own bag-for-life. Whether it’s muesli, nuts, chocolate, hand wash, olive oil, pasta, flour, nuts or any other weekly essential, simply crank the dispensers and fill your containers. It’s the way shopping should be.

To make this dream a reality, Unwrapped collaborated with suppliers to create reusable packaging systems that provide the highest standards of quality and safety. It’s a circular economy in action.

The take-home message: by working with their supply chain Bex and Kirsty innovated a new business model and captured a valuable and growing niche market. All whilst doing what they love.

Create ethical production methods

Step two. Look at the way your product/service is produced and consider how to make this more ethical. Here are a few questions to consider:

Are there more resource-efficient methods of production that you could use? 

When reviewing production methods, many companies are surprised by what they can cut back.  Perhaps you have machines and lighting that are left on unnecessarily. Maybe your delivery drivers are using inefficient routes and vehicles. There could be a more efficient manufacturing method or machine that you can adopt. Perhaps you can install solar panels or wind turbines to power your workplace. Streamlining production could dramatically cut costs. That means you could save money and the planet at the same time.

Is there a more environmentally-friendly way to manage your waste?

It’s a given, almost all companies produce waste. If you can’t reduce it, try to reuse or recycle. Restaurants, groceries and supermarkets can reduce food waste by donating it to those in need before it passes its use-by date. Whereas manufacturers can often repackage their by-products and resell them to other manufacturers. And retailers can send unwanted products to homeless charities or ship them out to developing countries.

Are your workers being treated well?

They say that charity starts at home. It’s important to ensure that employees are not just being paid well, but that they feel comfortable and supported at work. Make sure to develop ethical HR policies and try to provide extra perks and flexible working systems. Looking after your employees has been shown to increase productivity, reduce sick days and enhance your prospects as an employer.

Better yet, hire those in need. Could you take on homeless people, refugees, past offenders and/or those with disabilities?

Ethical production case study: Lucy and Yak

Lucy and Yak began life on a New Zealand beach. Two people (Lucy and Chris) sewing pouches from old clothes to sell to like-minded travellers. When it came to making their awesome dungarees, boilersuits and organic Tees, they realised they had an eye for design. But financial success wasn’t enough. They wanted to do things ethically.

They found what they were looking for in Rajasthan, India. The tailors they use are paid four times the state minimum wage. To ensure they’re comfortable, Lucy and Yak built a comfortable, clean and light factory. Air conditioning is soon to be fitted, meaning workers can keep cool in the hot climes. To further their green ethos, solar panels are being installed to power production too.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Lucy and Yak is now working on fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. The bags they use are 100% recycled and reusable and they’ve even switched to biodegradable mailing bags too.

Just goes to show what you can do with a little will and a lot of heart.

Develop a product or service that does good

Innovative entrepreneurs start by identifying problems, then design solutions. We call this a product-market-fit. What if social entrepreneurs took the same approach? Could you develop a product that inherently does good?

Stumped? There are many wrongs to right. Ask yourself if you could design a product that…

  • Boosts health and vitality
  • Cures illness and injury
  • Alleviates deprivation and addiction
  • Provides food and shelter
  • Enhances biodiversity and reduces pollution
  • Aids education and empowerment
  • Prevents isolation and connects people
  • Encourages equality and boosts entrepreneurialism

Think about what your company already offers and ask, ‘is an ethical alternative you could develop?’

Sometimes the best approach is to disrupt the unethical. Think of radical and highly profitable new markets like vegan meat, e-cigarettes, renewable energy, electric cars, healthy fast food. Could you throw a spanner in the works and create an innovative new market of your own?

sustainable tourism

Ethical product case study: Earth Changers

No one knew the negative impacts of tourism better than Vicky Smith. She’d worked in the sector for more than a decade before she decided to try something new and tackle the challenges head-on.

Her solution was Earth Changers, a sustainable tourism company that supports local communities and enhances local environments. All while providing inspiring adventures for tourists.

Their destinations are eco-friendly, powered by green energy. They employ and empower local staff with fair wages and they minimise waste and pollution at every level. Through their manifesto and promises, they are committed to developing communities, conserving ecosystems and innovating sustainable methods of tourism.

A holiday with them doesn’t just provide life-changing experiences for customers, but it leaves behind world-changing positive impacts too.

Support an ethical cause

It’s not always possible to design an ethical product or service, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t support an ethical cause. The key here is to make sure that the cause you support aligns with your brand values. There are many ways you can get started, such as:

  1.   Donate to a charity that has similar values to your business and commit to making an ongoing donation.
  2.   Create your very own foundation and fund, coordinate and deliver a social project of your own.
  3.   Bring the team and community together with a company fundraiser.
  4.   Take a more hands-on approach and donate your time and resources to a charitable cause.

Ethical cause case study: Dark Peak Gear

It started with a few gear geeks wanting to design the best outerwear on the planet. They had the talent but they also realised that as a business they had a responsibility too.

So Dark Peak made a promise that gives back. One Sold, One Given. For every item of clothing they sell, they donate another to a person affected by homelessness.

They took a collaborative, data-led approach and asked 91 charities a simple question:

“What items of clothing do you see the most demand for?”

The results pointed to insulated winter jackets, so that’s what they donate. To make this a reality they reached out to shelters, charities, non-profits and other philanthropic organisations. Together they can get their jackets into the hands of homeless and displaced people who need help the most.

Today Dark Peak doesn’t just sell awesome gear, they make a real difference to people’s lives. As they say: ‘business should stand for more than just profit.’

The final word

For those looking to inject ethics into their business, there are a plethora of options available. But that doesn’t mean you have to go all out straight away. Commit small steps and large long-term changes. Measure the outcomes and fine-tune your approach as you go.

Welcome to the world of the social entrepreneur. It’s an exciting and rewarding place to be.

For free promotion, resources and support, visit Your Turn. We help ethical businesses, social enterprises and organisations with heart. If you’re a brand with purpose in Yorkshire, tell us your story and we’ll help you spread the word (all for free).

Say hello.


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