In social procurement, we often talk about the difference that can be made when organisations purchase everyday products and services from social enterprises. Making such a simple switch seems like a no-brainer. Given the choice, why wouldn’t you help give back to society with money you’re already spending to buy things you’re already buying? When it comes to these goods and services, you can’t get much more ‘everyday’ than office supplies. One business that’s delivering these essentials is Ethical Stationery CIC (or Ethstat), a facilities management social enterprise and cooperative. They provide top-quality stationery, cleaning products and other office supplies and reinvest 100% of their profits into supporting people experiencing homelessness and those living with dementia. So while their products might be everyday in terms of their function, their impact is anything but.
Supporting Ethstat to deliver their impact are the charities and other social enterprises they partner with, as well as the businesses who buy from them. Orbit Housing is one of these organisations that is choosing to make an impact with their spend, now working closely with Ethstat since being introduced by Supply Change in March 2020.
Ethstat and Orbit began working together just as the Coronavirus pandemic began, when everyday, normal life was turned on its head. People retreated from offices to work from home as lockdown began across the country. At the same time, products like hand sanitiser quickly became high in demand but in low supply. Unlike some of Orbit’s larger suppliers who ran out of sanitiser early on, Ethstat were able to step up to the challenge to make sure they were stocked up with essentials when they were needed most. They’ve since become a key supplier of PPE and hygiene products to Orbit and, in this relatively short amount of time, have been able to make a huge difference through the partnership. This impact has been threefold:
The profit made from Orbit orders is being put towards funding to support homeless people back into work through the social enterprise Beam. £1,000 has been donated to Beam so far, directly impacting the lives of four people facing homelessness. A further £1,000 has been donated to Nightwatch, a homelessness charity based in Sutton, south London. A year’s worth of stickers (over 15,000) have been supplied to Nightwatch for all the food packs and sandwiches given out each night, and donations have been made to those in need of gloves, sanitiser and masks through the charity. The partnership with Orbit has also allowed Ethstat to donate PPE supplies to the Homeless hostel at Alexandra House.
Environmental sustainability is a core concern for Ethstat as a business. The social enterprise is carbon neutral, becoming the first supply company to do this back in 2004. As part of this ethos, Ethstat works hard to ensure they offer ecological but commercially viable options for buyers. The products sourced for Orbit are therefore environmentally friendly and sustainable. The two organisations have also worked together to fulfil orders of PPE packs for several of Orbit’s sites, resulting in a significant reduction in Orbit’s carbon footprint through fewer deliveries and less packaging. Using this process meant that, on average, every order saved four further delivery runs. This created 400% of savings in packaging, carbon emissions and procurement time as well as increasing cost savings for Orbit.
Using the proceeds of their work with Orbit, Ethstat have also helped Nightwatch make the switch from single-use plastic cups to biodegradable alternatives. The move will stop 200 unrecyclable single-use plastic cups from entering the waste stream every night when Nightwatch delivers emergency food services to rough sleepers.
“Thanks to Orbit we’ve saved over 4,000 pieces of single-use plastic from entering the environment. This equates to approximately 2.4kg of CO2 saved every night!” — Yasmin Halai-Carter, Co-Founder, Ethstat
Ethstat also helped Orbit to create significant environmental and cost savings throughout their IT department by helping them switch to higher capacity printers. This came at no extra cost and increased efficiency, resulting in a cost-saving of over £200 per printer toner, 13 litres of oil in production and a 905 reduction in single-use plastic.
Deliveries made to Orbit over this period have allowed Ethstat to employ two people during Covid, including a new delivery driver who was previously unemployed. Both have been given employment because of the certainty a five year contract can bring. This is an example of how this partnership is creating job opportunities for those in need.
During what has been a very difficult time for many social enterprises, Orbit has done more than just provide Ethstat with financial support through delivering contracts. With their hands-on, supportive approach toward the partnership, and their enthusiasm to contribute to the social impact Ethstat are making, they gave the team a huge morale boost in a difficult time.
“We won’t forget the way Orbit made us feel; their kindness and support was there right from the start” said Bruce Carter, Co-founder of Ethstat. “They were right there at the beginning of the hand sanitiser journey when we queued outside factories to pick up the maximum allocated amount for our customers to share. They saw how hard we worked to fulfil supplies that no-one else could get hold of. At what was one of the busiest and most stressful times, Orbit gave us hope and stood by us.”
Ethstat have now signed a 5-year contract with Orbit and future plans for the relationship include looking into sustainable waste solutions and providing reusable face masks. Both these initiatives will contribute directly to Orbit Earth’s agenda. The two organisations are proactively working together to ensure that, as the market settles, they don’t lose momentum on the work they’ve achieved. They are committed to continue building orders, to reduce waste, save time, and save resources.
Are you a buyer looking to make an impact with your everyday business spend? Supply Change offers a range of solutions to get you ready for working with social suppliers. Book in a time to speak with a member of the team — we’re currently offering free consultations and social procurement assessments for interested organisations.