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The Ethics And Heart Of Social Enterprise

Photo by Robin Clayfield

Economics has always been driven by supply and demand: you make something, and if people buy it in enough quantities it gets made again, usually in greater quantities. Supporting businesses with good ethics not only supports them to offer their products and services, it has the potential to empower all involved in the transaction.

Many of us choose to shop locally, shop organically, shop in accordance with our ethics and really live the catchcry ‘put your money where your mouth is’. By shopping at big chain stores, and with non-local businesses that have money making as their prime motivation, our money supports their ethics rather than what’s close to our heart.

By supporting businesses with environmental, social and heart-based ethics we enable them to continue, grow and thrive. This creates a continuing cycle of love, support, passion, creativity and good service, as well as supporting a healthy mind, body and spirit, for the patron as well as the business. It’s so important to remember that every cent we spend is making a statement and contributing to the world we want.

The term ‘social enterprise’ is becoming more commonly used by those of us who run small businesses as a basis for offering our gifts to the world, and who uphold environmental and/ or social ethics: win-win-win is how I understand the concept. More and more we will see ethical enterprises supported as our awakening culture helps individuals to understand the power they have with their spending choices. We could expand this as a conscious movement towards winwin- win-win-win: the business wins, the customer wins, society wins, the planet wins, and people’s soul and spirit is cared for and empowered in the process – ‘high-five’ enterprises!

More businesses, banks, government departments and community organisations practise ‘triple bottom line’ accounting these days, which uses values and criteria to measure an organisation’s economic, environmental and social success.

When I published my first book eighteen years ago, I chose to self-publish as it allowed me to honour my ethics which were (and still are) strongly based on permaculture ethics – earth care, people care, fair share. I paid thousands of extra dollars to use 100 per cent recycled paper (earth care); chose to pay for a ‘sewn and drawn’ cover so that it wouldn’t fall apart (people care); and printed on-shore, in my home state in Australia, and used local artists even though this too cost more (fair share).

Photo by Robin Clayfield


What criteria would we use for a ‘high-five’ enterprise? Here are a few suggestions. If you run a business, consider which of these you already incorporate well, and which you could improve on. Also let’s all put on our consumer hat and consider which of these we consider important to keep in our hearts and minds when spending our money.

The key question: is it a heart, soul and ‘healthy’ ethicsbased business? Does it:

  • practise permaculture and/ or earthcare ethics?
  • look after the planet, support healthy people and support you and others to grow and prosper?
  • make a positive difference in the world, your community and in your personal life?
  • contribute to the solution not the problem?
  • demonstrate soulful and heartful values, ethics and principles?

More specifically consider the following questions:

  • Does it feel good to you?
  • Do you love what you do?
  • Do you work at what you are passionate about, not what specifically makes money?
  • How do you feel after buying or offering the product or service days later? Does it still feel good?
  • Is it nurturing and supporting you on all levels?

Does it follow environmental principles? Does it:

  • use low impact and/or recycled packaging or minimal packaging?
  • have recycling systems in place?
  • choose natural products and ones that care for the earth?
  • use sustainable power sources and products?
  • use, design or retrofit buildings for passive solar and/or good health (for shop based businesses)?
  • use or produce organic and/or biodynamic products?

Does it support others in the process? Does it:

  • seek opportunities to trade, barter or exchange goods or services?
  • seek win-win-win-win win outcomes?
  • provide mentoring and/ or apprenticeships?
  • share the good stuff – free advice, samples, downloads?

Does it support local economies and fair trade? Does it:

  • shop locally?
  • buy ethical and environmentally sound products?
  • support environmental, heart and soul businesses?
  • choose not to shop at globalised chain stores?
  • use or produce handmade, home-grown or ‘slow foods’?

Is it based on people care ethics? Does it:

  • look after its people?
  • offer fair wages and healthy conditions?
  • consider healthy conditions?
  • young and old people?
  • provide health and fitness support?
  • provide for childcare, have a playground?

Does it open your heart?

  • Are you smiling when you think about the service and the purchase?

Does it support you and/or your business to live and prosper with ease and grace?

  • Are you able to charge what you feel you deserve?

Add in other questions that you think of, and enjoy the process of exploring and honouring a holistic, ethical, heart-and-soul approach to business. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate where you’re already at, and make notes for improvement.

If you are beginning or considering starting a business as a vehicle for your permaculture, environmental and/ or social change work, go through the checklist above and ask yourself things like: how does it…?, how can it…?, how do I …..?, how could I be…? Write a statement for your business that addresses each relevant point, and how that would look in action. Enjoy the process and include it in your business plan. Remember to check back periodically on how you’re going with your ‘high-five’ enterprise, and whether you feel the need to buddy up with a friend or complementary business to support and encourage each other. Enjoy the journey.


Clockwise: Robin Clayfield’s Earthcare Ethics workshop. Donations for the Sea Shepherd from Kombu. Robin Clayfield at her stall. Photos by Robin Clayfield


Green Harvest

Green Harvest is a family-operated Australian mail-order business supplying products that enable food growing to be easier, safer and more productive in home, school and community gardens, and commercially. This very successful green business was started by Jeff and Frances Michaels in 1992. It was born out of their combined skills, ethics and deep environmental commitment, along with their common passion for a sustainable lifestyle, and the desire to help others learn the skills of organic food growing and permaculture.

Their ethical approach includes the following.

Seeds and seed mixes that are certified organic, including their own Good Bug Mix, Clucker Tucker and Broccoli and Friends.

Recycled paper and boxes are used for packaging, and their catalogue uses unbleached newsprint with all other stationery being printed on 100% recycled paper; they also have an online catalogue. All waste paper, cardboard and water is recycled on site.

Their new building is made from rammed earth and the nineteen people they employ enjoy an abundance of food grown on site.

Education and fair share is a big part of what they offer, with extensive information and articles on their website, garden newsletters with every order, and many of their pest products supplied with detailed information sheets.

For further information see

Kombu Wholefoods

Kombu Wholefoods is a thriving healthy-living and organic grocery online and on-street store based in forward thinking Bellingen, NSW. Partners Kevin and Lowanna Doye met while working on social and environmental documentaries at a UK charity. Avoiding environmentally damaging air travel, the pair then spent sixteen months cycling back to Australia to set up Kombu.

Their business is based on a belief that returns from taking positive social and environmental actions are as important as the financial returns that underpin their decision making. As a result, the store is run along informal not-for-profit lines, with prices kept as low as possible, while returns to growers and producers are maximised.

The partners take a wage along with other employees, with the majority of profits being reinvested into the store, the local community and given as donations to campaigning organisations that are working for positive change (e.g. food to Sea Shepherd, and the successful Coal Seam Gas campaign at Bentley). They also worked with a local youth-focused environmental organisation to develop a food garden outside the front of the store.

A coordinator is employed to support the many local growers who supply the store. Kombu is one of the first Australian members of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, see www.bealocalist. org). Next the partners plan to work with the local chamber of commerce and council to develop a practical, sustainable, locally focused economy.

For further information see

Earthcare Education

My small business has been running on a hobby basis for twenty-five years. It was created to support me and my partner at the time, Skye, to teach and offer Permaculture Design Courses. It now: runs many social permaculture related courses and teacher training; publishes books, a training manual and educational resources; and offers consultancies and workshops globally. The business has permaculture ethics and principles at its core, along with a deep commitment to contribute solutions for a positive world and to work from the heart.

Volunteers and WWOOFers find themselves immersed in social design, social permaculture and living in community on both a small and large scale. Trainees are supported to learn as much as they can about teaching, facilitation and social change through hands-on participation, as well as supporting and leading groups.

Courses use mostly local and organically grown products sourced from local and social enterprises, and are catered by community cooks.

Funds are banked with Maleny Credit Union, the local ethical bank. Payment plans are offered for courses and LETS trading is accepted in part for courses and entirely for books.

Recycled paper and ethical products are used where possible and ‘high-five’ criteria honoured.

For further information see


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