Minimising harm and maximising positive effects
Social enterprises have environmental impacts in a variety of ways. In their work, social enterprises can seek to change the way that people or organisations affect the environment – either in what they produce or in what they consume. The following are some examples that we will deal with in greater depth on the following pages.
- Social enterprises have a responsibility to understand, and minimise, their own organisation’s negative impact on the natural environment. This area is often the focus of ‘environmental accounting’ or ‘sustainability reporting’. Some resources available for reporting in this way are included at the end of this section. This area is the primary focus of the sample indicators provided.
- Other organisations produce goods or services that enable people to use fewer or more sustainable resources than they would if purchasing from another organisation. This could include anything from organic produce to renewable energy.
- Some social enterprises may teach or support ‘pro-environmental’ behaviour. Some provide the facilities for people to use in order to act responsibly, for example through providing recycling or re-use facilities.
- Social enterprises can also provide services or resources that improve a person’s or a group’s experience of their immediate surroundings, or the environment in which they live – which we will call environmental ‘quality of life’ impacts.
While the primary emphasis in this indicators bank is on the first set of indicators, it is possible to measure progress for the latter three ways of creating environmental change by using these to assess, for example the changes in behaviour of people that are involved in an environmental education campaign.
Every organisation, individual or household has an effect on the environment in a multitude of ways. We are all consumers of goods and energy, and we all create waste.. This section focuses on the environmental effects that a social enterprise or other organisation may have and on how to understand and measure these effects in order to minimise negative effects and maximise the positive effects.
Who might use these indicators?
All social enterprises may wish to understand the environmental implications of how they run their offices or other operations. This may be particularly important for those that are involved in manufacturing, printing, or food services as there are several environmental standards that speak directly to these types of businesses.
Measuring environmental impacts
As you will see below, environmental impacts are usually expressed quantitatively, using already established units of measurement. There are very few qualitative indicators in this area. As the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affair’s (Defra’s) core sustainability reporting indicators include waste, water, and energy this is where our sample indicators start. 1 There are also a number of tools available, of which some were designed for larger corporations, and are not always feasible for use by social enterprises. You will find a list of some of these tools at the end of this section.
Organisations and individuals use different types of energy, each of which has an effect on the natural environment. Generally speaking, ‘non-renewable energy’ is energy derived from fossil fuels that creates pollution that can lead to the global warming effect and longer-term climate change. Each organisation has a responsibility to minimise its use of harmful and non-sustainable types of energy. 2
Basic information on energy use can be obtained from suppliers’ bills, fuel bills, and receipts, as seen below.
Environmental indicators: use of non-sustainable energy
|Minimise non-sustainable energy use|
|Electricity used from non-renewable sources (fossil fuel sources):
Electrical Energy used from renewable-sources (e.g. wind, landfill gas, biomass, etc.)
Non- renewable energy used compared to total energy used
Renewable energy used compared to total energy used
Non-renewable energy use compared to turnover
Due to the pollution and emissions created, it is advisable to track an organisation’s transportation usage. In order to obtain this information, an organisation may want to record mileage used in commuting or business where driving is necessary and to track related expenditures. See the table below
Environmental indicators: pollution caused by transport and commuting
|Goal Indicator||Minimise or decrease pollution caused by driving|
|Aggregate for a given period:
Average over a period (e.g. one month, one quarter):
|Goal Indicator||Employee commuting|
|Number of people
Average return journey daily commute over a week/month/ year
(total each person’s mileage and dividing by the total number of people)
Average mileage for each type of transport
(For these three, how many people shared the transportation?)
Airplane fuel emissions are key contributors to climate change, and organisations that make substantial use of air travel may wish to monitor their use of flights as part of environmental management and performance improvement. See the table
Environmental indicators: pollution caused by air travel
|Minimise or decrease pollution caused by air travel|
The types of waste that we produce, and the way that we manage and transport it, have impacts on the environment. Waste can also be a potential resource, and increased levels of re-use, recycling and energy recovery will therefore contribute to sustainable development. It is useful to estimate the total amounts of waste being generated either in tonnes for larger organisations or based on the size of the rubbish bags/bins used. See the table below
Environmental indicators: landfill use
|Minimise use of landfills|
|Waste by type per quarter or per year
Money spent on waste removal/ recycling by type
Water is a renewable resource, but low rainfall and overuse can place pressure on existing supplies. This not only reduces availability, but it also affects wildlife and habitats. Purification of drinking water is also energy intensive, and it is therefore suggested that organisations measure their use and potential pollution of water. See Table 5.
Table 5: Environmental indicators: water use and pollution
|Minimise use of water and pollution to water|
2 For organisations that want to report on this in terms of ‘greenhouse gases’ that lead to climate change Defra makes available ‘conversion coefficients’ to calculate how much of each ‘greenhouse gas’ is released into the atmosphere by each energy source.
defra Guidelines to companies reporting on gas emissions:
SIGMA Guidelines:SIGMA Environmental Accounting guide http://www.proveandimprove.org/tools/sigma.php
GRI Guidelines http://www.proveandimprove.org/tools/griguidelines.php