By now we’re all well versed in the art of handwashing — lathering up with soap and scrubbing away to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ under clean, running water — knowing that it’s one of the simplest things we can do to prevent ourselves and others from getting ill.
It’s clear that accessible supplies of clean water are needed, now more than ever, to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Yet still, at this critical time, two in five people around the world lack handwashing facilities at home and one in four health centres still can’t access this necessity. One social enterprise that’s doing its bit to change this for the better is Belu, a water company with a difference.
Belu began with the simple idea that there was a better way to do business. The team decided that they could, and should, do more than just make money for shareholders. Their social enterprise model means that Belu donates 100% of its net profits to WaterAid, helping to transform the lives of people across the world by providing access to clean water. To date, it has donated £5,006,691 to the charity, which has supported Belu to impact 339,771 people across the globe. The organisation is known as an environment-first business (they’re even previous winners of SEUK’s Environmental Social Enterprise Award). Belu’s work with WaterAid is central to its model, but this could be seen as one giant bonus on top of the work it does already: protecting the planet by using sustainable practices. Through water, Belu’s mission is to show that a business can deliver an environmentally improved and sustainable product.
A large part of Belu’s work is focused on hospitality, with the industry representing its biggest client base. This ranges from high-end eateries to cinemas, hotels, and on-the-go chains (look out for their lovely branded bottles next time you visit a Pizza Hut or a Pure). Like so many social enterprises, Belu took a huge hit as a result of the pandemic.
The closure of restaurants, bars and cafes during lockdown meant that the water business in hospitality virtually dried up overnight. While this was happening, Belu also was also transitioning to new leadership. Their former CEO, Karen Lynch, spoke of this period as one of the biggest challenges she’d ever faced in her professional life. But Karen and the team acted fast to form a contingency plan for the business. Belu had to pivot quickly and focus on other routes to market.
You might have seen Jamie Oliver’s impassioned speech recently, asking people to save cheese producers by buying direct and eating the ‘cheese mountain’ (cheese that would have been sold directly to restaurants). Like the many businesses, Belu started selling bottled water direct to consumers. Now that restaurants are reopening, Belu is seeing demand returning, with their clients keen as ever to support their work to help those with little access to clean water.
The COVID crisis has also encouraged Belu to diversify market sectors. Although hospitality is and will continue to be a major focus, the organisation also works with corporate and public sector clients in various workplaces and sectors, including construction and education. By focussing on this, Belu now provides both mineral and filtered water to a number of large businesses, including Zurich Insurance and Goldman Sachs.
“Zurich chose Belu Water for our filtered water requirements as it was a straightforward, fully inclusive lease arrangement, so we knew we had complete peace of mind. The cost was really competitive and it’s good to know that we’re supporting Belu Water who fund the excellent work that WaterAid carry out by providing clean water and facilities to the people who need it the most”- Tesh Patel, Senior Sourcing Manager at Zurich Insurance.”
Belu is also expanding into the public sector, with a range of products from their existing mineral water in glass or recycled plastic to filter. Belu’s filter gives its large public and private sector customers the opportunity to make a huge difference with their procurement spend. Their offering of filtered hot and cold water also allows clients to tread more lightly on the planet, reducing waste and cutting out single-use products.
Looking to the future, Belu is optimistic. They’ve proved that with their small but agile team they are able to be flexible and make crucial decisions that have helped to see them through the pandemic. Now more than ever there is a demand for their product as businesses are increasingly thinking about how they can have a positive impact using their procurement spend. Through their innovative offering, coupled with the strong support from their client base, Belu has been able to continue to support the vital work of WaterAid, enabling lives to be transformed.
Belu is a Trusted Supplier on the Supply Change platform. To find out more about how you can use your everyday business spend to support social enterprises like Belu and others, get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or book in a free procurement assessment.