In the modern world, consumers expect a lot more from businesses than simply providing a product or service. They want to know where the product is sourced, its environmental impact, the conditions for workers and the recyclability of its parts. Research shows that consumers are happy to dig a little deeper for these reasons, with a study by Accenture finding that more than half of consumers would pay more for sustainable products.[1] Cambridgeshire is leading the way for socially conscious and community-led businesses, attracting talent, supporting locals, and improving wellbeing in the county. Cambridgeshire Prestige spoke to local businesses Three By One Europe and Art & Soul to find out more.

Three By One Europe

Supporting small-scale businesses abroad

Cambridge brand Three By One Europe supplies small batch coconut-based products from Sri Lankan small-scale farmers to a European market. With a zero-waste production process and a socially conscious approach, the brand is leading the way for responsibly sourced products. Three By One was formed on a work trip to Sri Lanka, where founder Laura Dixon came across a family-owned company with a reputation as one of the country’s pioneer coconut oil manufacturers. They had lost everything during the 1983 riots, and were in the early stages of reinstating the business. “Before I knew it, jars of coconut oil were on their way to Europe,” Laura says.

“The producers in Sri Lanka benefit in many ways from the European market,” she continues. “Income from sales and funds from NGOs are channelled through to fund new buildings and infrastructure, provides books for the plantation schools, and finance healthcare and community services for locals.” When asked why she works with small-scale businesses and social enterprises, Laura tells us: “It directly helps the producers and their workers – many of whom have several generations of experience – to provide for their families, and helps disabled and disadvantaged members of society to find employment, subsequently contributing to their local economies.”

Sustainability also lies at the heart of Three By One. “It was a no-brainer to become zero waste in production,” Laura says. “Most of the coconut is usable in some way, though many of the uses are not yet commercialised. We are constantly working on new products to utilise all elements of the coconut.” So how can consumers support these small businesses? “By not automatically turning to Amazon and other global retail giants without really thinking about your purchases,” Laura recommends. “Seek out short and transparent supply chains, and if you buy something from a small business that you love, leave feedback and spread the word!”

Art & Soul

Creating a space for the local community

St. Neots based Art & Soul is a café, art space and community hub bringing the people of Cambridgeshire together. Nurturing the town’s identity and daring to re-imagine what it could look like, Art & Soul boasts a gallery for both up-and-coming and established artists, regular creative workshops, and a vegan-friendly menu that rotates on a weekly basis. Owner Caroline Richardson tells us: “creativity can provide a welcome alternative to stressful lives, and we encourage people to contribute to our blackboard, display or view local artwork, and grow their awareness of sustainability within St. Neots.”

At any one time, Caroline says, there are “business meetings, craft sessions, social gatherings and even mental health drop-in sessions going on. This helps to grow Art & Soul’s sense of family; of being part of something much bigger than yourself.” And the café upholds the community in more than one sense, with the promotion and support of local businesses from coffee bean providers and butchers to wool shops. “We want to demonstrate that interdependence is crucial for us to reinvent how we use town centres,” Caroline emphasises. “We are building meaningful relationships at every opportunity.”

Looking to the future, Art & Soul plan to host more art and craft workshops, and “main exhibitions that are slightly shorter and therefore allow more artists to benefit,” Caroline says. “We would also like to work with local schools, and host displays of the art produced by their pupils.” Creating a hub for the art of local people has helped to build self-esteem and confidence, the café says, but there is still work to be done. “We believe passionately that community needs to be at the heart of our towns, and businesses need to provide something – a reason for people to go there.”

The importance of an ethical, community-centred approach

Businesses such as Three By One and Art & Soul are essential as we move forward into an era where sustainable practices are prioritised. Big corporations often use ethical initiatives as PR stunts – seen in the ‘rainbow-washing’ of many leading brands – but consumers are no longer satisfied by a mere switch in marketing. Authenticity is a key element of responsible trading, whether this concerns a developing community café or a corporation that has long dominated billboards and highstreets. Genuine ethical businesses benefit workers, communities, and manufacturers in every stage of production, as a result of the ongoing consideration of their needs.

As consumers, we can support socially conscious and community-led businesses by choosing to purchase from them wherever possible, and amplifying the role that they play within our towns and cities over social media and through word-of-mouth. We can also ask more questions about the goods and services that we buy, so that we can truly understand the process involved in getting the product from its manufacturing stages to our homes. Commendably, Cambridgeshire is leading the way when it comes to sustainable business; a market that has the potential to grow across the county and reshape its communities.