Making a profit and making an impact

In this Vibrant Voices podcast, Karen Campbell-Williams spoke to Will Fletcher, Managing Director of Recycling Lives, and Sarah Dunning, Chairman of The Westmorland Family about how they are connecting profit with purpose and using their successful businesses to make a real difference to local communities.

Recycling Lives is a social enterprise that uses its recycling and waste management business to support an offender rehabilitation programme in nine UK prisons, a food redistribution programme and a homeless charity. The Westmorland Family is a family farming business that runs the Tebay and Gloucester motorway service stations and has gained a reputation for good quality locally sourced products.

In these excerpts Will and Sarah explain, in very practical terms, how business success can be connected to social purpose.

It starts by embedding CSR in the business

Karen: “Can I ask you for your thoughts on how people these days perceive social impact and how the terminology traditionally used around the topic translates in what you do day to day?”

Will: “The reason it [CSR] works well for us in terms of the offender rehabilitation programme and the homeless programme is because it's directly related to the recycling activity that we do. It means the recycling business gets fantastic employees and the charity gets fantastic outcomes so there's a win/win situation. And the more opportunities like this, that companies can find the more sticky CSR becomes because it's not just a tick box exercise.”

Sarah: “There is no single blueprint for the right way for a business to achieve social impact…. for us it's always been about understanding what makes us unique as a business and then using that to drive success whatever success means in the business, it's a slightly more modern approach on what social impact is all about in business it's not a separate thing it's an integrated thing.”

Profit underpins everything

Karen: “Do the three p's people talk about: people, planet, profit, impact on how you run your business?”

Will: “Being a recycling business all three are very, very pertinent to Recycling Lives…..” but he underlined that “ If we didn't have a thriving commercial business that was profitable we wouldn't be able to achieve the outcomes for the community and the people on our programmes.  So profit is a core part of what we do but it's ethical profit.”

Sarah added: “I think you have to take a long term view of profit, we're all in business and profit's important isn't it because the more you can create sustainable profit and grow your profit the more you have power to do all those other things and so it's a hugely important part of the equation that we can never ignore.”

There are always challenges

Karen: “We’ve talked about some of the great stuff that's going on but what challenges have you experienced to date?”

Sarah: “Overall the biggest challenge and opportunity is connecting the things that we're talking about to be mutually supportive of each other. So if you can get your people to support your proposition and to support your work into communities, to support your profit and get all those things to actually turn in a virtuous circle.”

Will: “ [our business faced] a lot more challenges in terms of producing a product that you need to still compete with everybody else on price and service and we're able to achieve that but it was harder to set up in the first place and it can sometimes be harder to manage.” But he was sure that it is “absolutely crucial that a company operating our sphere can deliver on the price and the service and then the social impact is on top of that because otherwise you're not going to get a look in.”

Hear the full story of how Will and Sarah connect profit with purpose and the other inspirational stories in the vibrant voices series.

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