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Shifting to Social Enterprise

3p Contributor | Friday June 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment

Green Empire StateBy Ariel Hauptman, Business Development Manager, Greyston Bakery

How often do you stop to think about what social purpose your business, or the companies you do business with, serve?

Social enterprises seem to have a ripple effect when it comes to doing good. This is because doing good is not just an aspiration, it’s a formula for how businesses address social challenges, just like any other business challenge.

Companies are carefully changing their business models, not just their mission statements, to benefit society and shareholders, and becoming true social enterprises. Meanwhile, consumers are doing more than taking note, they are choosing to buy from and work for these companies.

Consider some of the ways businesses can shift to the social enterprise mindset.

Get the powers that be on board

Executive leadership plays a crucial role in implementing any operational shift. Often, sustainability initiatives get segmented by business unit – the supply chain, purchasing or procurement – but when they are viewed cohesively among all operations and business functions, they are more likely to succeed – and leaders are more likely to take responsibility for their success.

First, provide company leaders with clear goals and define how the company’s sustainability initiatives fit into their day-to-day priorities. Additionally, find ways to integrate sustainability decision making into your organizational reporting model, whether it’s by making it a part of the business’ risk assessment processes or by hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer to oversee all moving parts.

Embrace transparency

At the end of the day, customers, employees and investors will all measure a business by what it delivers. As you relentlessly pursue sustainability results that meet company goals and objectives, share your milestones, setbacks and successes with all stakeholders. Set a goal to make company information on these practices available and easy to consume. It’s important for the public to see how social aims are as important as profits.

The government is also doing its part to encourage businesses to become more transparent and operate with a focus beyond sole financial gain. For example, just last year the New York State legislature took a bold stance in enabling Benefit Corporation legislation to urge businesses to look past profits and consider the welfare of its employees, community and environment. These companies must also publicly report on their social and environmental performances using established third-party standards as a means to ensure accountability.

My company, Greyston Bakery, was the first to register as a benefit corporation in New York and it has helped us to ensure transparency in every aspect of our company. We published our first annual Benefit Corporation Report that presents Greyston’s current benchmarks and goals for the future. A tool we use as part of the report is the B Impact Assessment published by B Lab, a highly regarded non-profit organization with a leading role in evaluating and measuring the social and environmental impact of benefit corporations. The report assesses business practices against measures of social, environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Collaborate with other social enterprises

Consider creating a non-profit arm of the business to address the needs of the local community while opening the door for further business opportunities. At Greyston Bakery, we established the Greyston Foundation to help individuals forge a path to self-sufficiency. The Foundation provides jobs, workforce development, affordable housing, youth services and healthcare to low-income individuals and their families. Investments in these types of programs can also bring returns to a business’s bottom line. For example, the affordable housing projects we invest in also creates an additional revenue stream while supporting our community commitment.

Additionally, look to collaborate with other businesses to expand the reach of the social enterprise. For instance, Greyston recently received a donation of solar panels from the Green Mountain Energy™ Sun Club™, a unique program enabling Green Mountain Energy Company customers to donate a portion of their monthly bill to fund solar energy projects for socially conscious non-profits. Our partnership helps educate employees and customers about renewable energy, and allows us to provide more support to the community through our energy cost savings.

A portion of our these solar-powered brownie sales go to the Whole Planet Foundation, Whole Food Market’s non-profit arm which seeks to alleviate poverty through distributing micro loans to communities worldwide. This added partnership allows our customers to aid poverty stricken individuals on a global scale.

Social enterprise is not just a trend; it’s a powerful way to address business, environmental and societal issues. So first, ask yourself why you want to make a difference. Next, let that purpose and passion guide what your business can do to become a part of the solution. Look for opportunities to collaborate with other sustainable businesses and keep your customers and community informed. Forging the path toward becoming a social enterprise can be challenging, but when all parties feel vested in the outcome, the results can be truly impactful.

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Ariel Hauptman is the Business Development Manager at Greyston Bakery responsible for building relationships with business partners and community leaders to fulfill Greyston’s mission.

[Image credit: Green Mountain Energy, Flickr]


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  • Naomi Diamond

    I agree. Social enterprise is not just a trend but a truly viable way to build healthier businesses with the added benefit of improving the lives of people that are touched by the practices that are put into place. I see it as a win win situation.