The Social Business

Making choices that hurt

Students at Leeds University have recently voted in a referendum to stop their shops and bars selling bottled water.  

As a result, the Student Union, one of the biggest social businesses I know and one that looms large in my life as my wife works for them, will lose around £32,000 of profit a year.  This in a business which tends to make around £30,000 profit a year.

It's a pretty extreme example of what, in my head at least, is the difference between a social business which takes what it does seriously, and your average business with a corporate social responsibility strategy.   This decision hurts.   It has clear environmental benefits, but represents a big financial hit for the Union as it loses income and has to invest in new water fountains.  One Water – a social business which supplies the Union shops – will take a big hit too – particularly if other students follow Leeds's example.  

Perhaps I'm a bit cynical, but I think there are few businesses which would take such a big decision off their own back.  Let me know if I'm out of touch, but CSR tends to be a bit of an add-on – and will often focus on initiatives which also have a positive financial impact (eg saving paper).  

And, for all I've questioned whether ownership matters in social business, this is clearly one example where ownership matters a lot.  The Union – strapline Not For Profit, Just For Students – is technically owned by the University's students – and it's students who ultimately make the big decisions.  

Categories: Business, Green issues, Marketing, Social change, Social enterprise, Social entrepreneurs, Social Justice

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1 Comment

  1. Great decision I would say.
    Now how should LUU react?
    Entrepreneurially.
    It is not £30k lost to the bottom line.
    It is £30k still out there – in the customers pocket looking to be spent on something that creates more value – for them as customers and for the planet.

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