Pioneers Post
the business

How big can social enterprise be?

26 March 2012
Karen Lynch, CEO Belu

If we have faith in UK consumers, they will increasingly make more ethical choices – and then what is stopping Belu becoming the biggest water brand in the UK?

Karen Lynch, Belu CEO, will be speaking in the 'How can social enterprise grow?' plenary at the Social Enterprise Exchange

Ask not how you can work with big business, but how big your business can be, argues Karen Lynch, CEO of ethical bottled water company Belu.

At this week’s Social Enterprise Exchange, I’m sure many social enterprises will be seeking the answer to the question, 'How can we work better with big businesses?'.

For some, the answer to that question may be critical to their model, but for others, I’m pretty sure there’s a bigger and better question worthy of focus: 'How big a business can a social enterprise be?'.

How could the world not be a better place if the triple bottom line truly became the norm? If social enterprise became the ‘big business’?

I endlessly quote the fact that the vast majority of consumers would prefer to make an ethical choice in their purchase of product or service if – and it’s a big if – the quality and price are broadly equal. So that, I think, is our challenge. There’s absolutely nothing to restrict social enterprise from competing in most circumstances where a traditional business exists. We shouldn’t be limited by what we do, because it’s how we choose to do it that defines who we are.  
 
Belu today bears little resemblance to the business model of its launch. Why? Because we had to get Belu as a business sustainable in itself – without the need for on-going funding – if we were going to show our industry and our customers that it was possible to run a business differently and be successful.
 
In 2011 Belu was able to give £199,100 to WaterAid. That’s a lot of lives we’re transforming. And we were able to do so by holding sound every one of our principles. We didn’t export, we only used recycled materials, our company and product are completely carbon neutral, and every day, every one of our decisions is driven by doing the right thing for people and planet.
 
And we’ve just had one heck of a week. We are frantically preparing to see four new product lines in our recycled plastic go live in Sainsbury’s as their ‘charity water’. We won a PEA Award (People and Environment Achievement) and on World Water Day, we had over a dozen radio stations interviewing us to hear how business is helping solve the global crisis of lack of access to clean water and sanitation.
 
So now I’m obsessed by the question of ‘How big a business can Belu be?’. We won’t have the enormous marketing budget of the big UK and international water brands that Britons consume right now, but we will sit alongside them on the shelf.  
 
If we have faith in UK consumers, they will increasingly make more ethical choices – and then what is stopping Belu becoming the biggest water brand in the UK?
 
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