With Bristol’s year as green capital now at an end, Paul Mullins looks at how ethical businesses helped the city secure its prestigious status, what it takes to be a socially aware business and why it makes financial sense.
Bristol is home to an impressive range of ethical businesses, from firms championing green energy and ethical finance to traders selling local produce and recycling what others throw away.
Areas such as Gloucester Road with its colourful army of independent retailers and restaurants have come to epitomise ethical trading and sustainable living. There you can buy handmade toys and clothing or enjoy a meal cooked with food that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Bristol is also home to pioneering larger businesses including Tridios Bank, which only lends to organisations that benefit people and the planet. Last year the city hosted the third annual Fairtrade Business Awards which celebrated some of the region’s most ethical companies.
It’s this pioneering approach to ethical trading that helped Bristol secure its European Green Capital status. But what does it take to be an ethical business and what are the commercial advantages?
Planet over profit
The not-for-profit business support organisation BRAVE Enterprise in Bristol has helped many principled start-ups over the years and believes an ethical approach to business can yield real benefits.
‘As well as reducing the adverse impacts on people, animals and the environment, being a ‘good’ business can also help to boost your bottom line,’ says BRAVE director Liz Sands.
‘Consumers have become much more ethically aware when shopping for goods and services and they’re voting with their wallets.’
Indeed, the value of ethical spending has grown by 9 per cent to £32.2bn in this country, according to the 2014 Ethical Consumer Markets Report which reveals that nearly 20 per cent of the UK population boycott products or outlets because of ethical concerns.
‘There are many ways that you can demonstrate your ethical credentials as a business and reap the rewards,’ adds Liz. ‘For example, you may decide to use only local producers or reclaimed materials. There are also simpler steps that you can take to reduce your environmental impact, such as ensuring all lights and equipment are turned off when you leave work.
‘Alternatively, you may choose to sell only fair trade goods or products that are organic or cruelty free. But it’s crucial that you ensure that other businesses in your supply chain share your social and environmental practices.
‘Your credibility as an ethical trader could be at stake if, for example, you outsource production to a factory overseas where working and environmental practices are less stringent than in the UK.
‘That’s why it’s a good idea to draw up an ethical constitution setting out your values for suppliers and a code of conduct for your staff to follow. This is another way to demonstrate your ethical credentials to customers.’
But ethical trading brings its own unique challenges, particularly if you outsource your production.
‘Bear in mind that ensuring workers have a fair wage and a safe and sustainable working environment may mean that you have to pay extra to your suppliers,’ says Liz. ‘But being a good business can help to differentiate you from your competitors and many consumers are willing to pay a bit extra for ethical goods.’
According to Mintel’s 2015 UK consumer report, a whopping 76 per cent of UK adults consider the ethical and green credentials of products and services – and the reputation of companies or brands – when deciding what and where to buy.
‘Everyone can benefit from ethical trading,’ continues Liz. ‘You can feel good about what you do and hopefully make a respectable profit at the same time. Consumers also feel better about the products and services they buy while workers receive better wages and working conditions.
‘Running an ethical business is not an easy option. As well as having plenty of determination, you will also need to a have a good business idea, passionately-held beliefs and be prepared to stick to your ethical principles no matter what.’
Do you have an idea for an ethical business but need help getting it off the ground? If so, there are a number of local organisations that offer advice to would-be ethical entrepreneurs.
SWIG Finance Ltd
SWIG Finance is a not-for-profit organisation delivering loan finance across the South West region to small and medium-sized enterprises which cannot access sufficient funding from the banks. www.swigfinance.co.uk
BRAVE is a not-for-profit business support organisation that has helped thousands of entrepreneurs launch and run successful ventures. BRAVE offers a wide range of expert advice and training to both start-ups and businesses looking to grow. www.brave.org.uk
The Good Shopping Guide
The website www.thegoodshoppingguide.com offers helpful information on which companies and brands are the most ethical across a range of sectors.
Co-operative Development Agency
An organisation dedicated to setting up co-operatives. www.cda.coop
Knowle West Media Centre
An arts organisation and charity based in Bristol that supports individuals and communities to get the most out of digital technologies and the arts. kwmc.org.uk
Social Enterprise Works
Social Enterprise Works provides free guidance and practical business development assistance to prospective, newly-formed and established social enterprises. www.socialenterpriseworks.org
SETsquared is a joint venture between the Universities of Bristol, Bath and Southampton to help knowledge-based entrepreneurs in Southern England. www.setsquared.co.uk
Voscur are an infrastructure organisation and a development agency for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Bristol. www.voscur.org