We’re a Social Enterprise

By Jo Dobson

Featured image of Post: We’re a Social Enterprise

Useful Projects is a Certified Social Enterprise, but what does this mean in practice? 

What is Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises are one of the most exciting and fastest growing parts of the economy. They are business, but not as you know it.

A Social Enterprise is a business that trades to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.  They come in all sizes, from small community cafés to really big international organisations. Well-known brands that are social enterprises include Innocent, Method, Patagonia and Abel & Cole.

The social enterprise movement is a growing, worldwide network of businesses that exist to change the world for the better.  This might sound like charity work, but social enterprises are businesses. They make and do things that earn money and make profits like any business.  It is how they work and what they do with their profits that is different: working to make a bigger difference, reinvesting the profits they make to do more good in communities and across industries.  Social enterprises are the innovators and the value generators in a sector that genuinely puts people and planet before profit.  They are the future of good business.

There are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK employing more than 2million people, and social enterprises contribute £60bn to the economy each year.

For more information, see the Social Enterprise Explained Guide. 

What qualifies us to be a Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises must be primarily dedicated to social and/or environmental objectives. 

Useful Projects is part of a group of companies called the Useful Simple Trust which comprises the brands Expedition Engineering (civil, structural and environmental engineers), Useful Studio (architects), Thomas Matthews (communications designers) and Think Up (engineering education specialists).  We are an Employee Benefit Trust (a type of Employee Owned Company – read more about that here).

One of the criteria for being a Social Enterprise is to have a clear social and/or environmental mission set out in our governing documents.  Our purpose is set out our governing documentation is: “to blaze a trail in the integrated, intelligent and ethical provision of the human environment”.  Collectively, our mission is to improve the human environment by delivering useful, simple outcomes that are beautiful and good.  We are independent with no shareholders, and employee well-being is at the heart of our ethos.

What a social enterprise does with its profits is a critical way in which social enterprise is distinct from standard businesses. The majority of our profits are reinvested into setting up projects and initiatives to improve our industry as a whole; meeting the Trust purpose and our social mission.  For example we played a key role in the birth and development of:

  • The Great Recovery – a programme that looked at the opportunities of a circular economy.
  • The Get It Right Initiative – a programme to eliminate error and waste in the construction industry.
  • Constructionarium – a “hands-on” construction experience for Built Environment students and professionals; where participants construct scaled down versions of bridges, buildings, dams and civil engineering projects from all around the world.

Our staff are also active in education and research – we teach at Universities, supervise Engineering Doctorates and PHDs, and are STEM Ambassadors. Expedition are currently involved in a pioneering research project called MEICON (Materials Efficiency in Construction), which has the objective to identify and address sources of wasted embodied energy, value-less cost, and performance over-design in the construction industry. We also donate our time and skills to social projects, including the Skip Garden at Kings Cross and the Snowden Aviary at London Zoo.

As a sustainability consultancy, Useful Projects’ primary purpose is to improve the sustainability in the built environment, and help our clients do more with less. We support organisations to develop challenging environmental and social strategies, and deliver them in practice.

Benefits

Procuring social enterprises enables clients to do more good.

Being a Social Enterprise means that we can help organisations comply with their own social purpose as well as comply with the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 which places an obligation on public bodies to consider how the services they commission can improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.

Many clients have social value objectives, and working with SMEs and Social Enterprises is often part of this – and we are both of these things!

We can also help companies who have signed up to the Buy Social Corporate Challenge meet their target to spend £1bn with social enterprises.

We’re always interested in working with like-minded companies, so if you’d like to find out more about how we can work together, we’d love to hear from you.

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