Observatory of Green Businesses
We aim to provide our services mainly to customers who operate within the green economy for example, organisations working in environmental protection & management, renewables and eco-tourism.
The kind of services we deliver fall broadly into three categories;
- A range of skill training and development for those working in outdoor/environmental organisations or renewable energy.
- Consultancy and support to organisations in the rural areas in topics such as rural development or severe weather resilience.
- Provision or specialist support to those operating tourism businesses in rural areas.
One key difference perhaps is that our business is a social enterprise and constituted in a way that means we donate 100% of our surplus to organisations working in our areas of interest. As a Social Enterprise Award holder we also have to demonstrate that we continue to meet our own environmental and social aims. For example, we regularly donate to two organisations working on environmental and social projects in Nepal, more locally to groups delivering environmental activities and working with people in the outdoors.
Size of business
There are currently two people in the business with around 6 people on an ad hoc basis depending on demand and needs. Often we are acting as subcontractors to other businesses.
We received support from a social enterprise business start-up agency in the early stages.
Opportunities and plans for the future
I think there are opportunities, from our experience mainly in tourism – eco/wildlife tourism for example and renewables.
One piece of work we did recently highlighted new businesses started specifically to exploit opportunities in the sector by promoting themselves with ‘green’ services. What’s clear is that some of these are not necessarily ‘green’ businesses themselves but just see this as a commercial opportunity.
I don’t have plans to expand the business further. Operating at the level we do and in a way we are comfortable with also allows time to do other things – for example involvement in voluntary work or personal interests. I’ve been to the Arctic twice this year and part of that was seeing first hand the affects of climate change.
Pitfalls and challenges
I don’t necessarily think that setting up a ‘green’ business is any different to ‘other’ businesses. They all need something customers will buy and you need to make money. You could argue that ‘green’ business are trying to achieve other aims but at the end of the day it’s still a business. We are not precious so some of our customers don’t fall easily into being a ‘green business’. These often are able to buy our services at a higher price so we can use this to offset services at a reduced cost to other more ‘green’ groups – such as community organisations.
As a business we made the same mistakes that I’m sure others have made particularly in the early stages around financing and starting-up. Retrospectively I would have chosen a different social enterprise form so spend time and consider what legal form you want carefully.
Take advice from a number of different sources and then make your own mind up.
Talk to people who are running a business - any business - about their experience and what works or not.
Start to network but be focussed. People usually buy from people so take time to develop relationships.
Grow through generating income not through subsidy. Beware of grant support that may be available to your business or to support services/activities you want to deliver. These will come with conditions and can detract from what it is you want to do and the administration around these can be onerous.