Case studies

Find out more information about some of Fife’s greenest businesses.

Better World Books - Taking the Green Ethos Right Through the Business

Few discussions with companies about their green credentials include the phrase “triple bottom line” and as Better World Books admits on their website it does sound a bit like dull management speak. In fact, it sums up the ethos of this unusual company very succinctly – it’s all about people, planet and profit.

American owned Better World Books is based in Dunfermline.  The company collects and sells books online with a portion of each sale supporting literacy charities.  Books they cannot sell they donate.  Those that cannot be donated are recycled.  And they donate a book for every book purchased on in their Book for Book™ program. The charitable support for literacy is intrinsic in the business model rather than viewed as an optional extra.  In addition, the company is actively involved in helping young people get into the job market, working with the Job Centre in a partnership to provide young people with eight weeks’ work experience and, if suitable, a letter of recommendation for a future employer.  And yet, contrary to some expectations, profit is still a driving force for this socially minded company.

Although the American parent company has been operating since 2003, the UK operation in Dunfermline has been going for just three years and despite the difficult economic times, broke even within three years.  And in that time, it has donated over £367,946 to charities and libraries and given over 46,000 books to charities.

The company has collected and diverted from landfill over 3.5million books, recycling 1.4 million, selling 500,000, donating over 42,000 and retaining a veritable treasure trove of books at its warehouse.  The company trades online and since March of this year has included a carbon offset charge, against the transport of the books. The opt-in rate for UK clients is 81% and the charge is £0.02 per book.

On a day to day basis the company is conscious that its operations are energy efficient and as environmentally friendly as possible.  This summer the company took on a student through the Environmental Placement Programme, whose primary project was to assess the options for a more efficient heating and lighting system.  He was also tasked with planning how to introduce an Environmental Management System (EMS). 

During the summer, he developed a monitoring tool to improve the gathering and evaluation of energy consumption data. He then prepared an investment proposal which could reduce heating bills by a third and heating related emissions by two thirds and started the development of an EMS.  Recommendations were prepared for the management team using advice and information from The Energy Saving Trust and the Carbon Trust.  A successful pitch meant that work was implemented in the autumn and is now functional.

The student’s work meant that not only would the staff be cosier in the winter but the impact on the environment would be reduced, too.  In addition, the project helped the student go on to find full time employment on graduation.  This is the ideal illustration of the company’s triple bottom line in action - it’s all about people, planet and profit.

Better World Books is active in promoting its green credentials and has applied for a number of awards and certifications, such as Green Ticks, the Queen Award and the VIBES Award which will contribute to its marketing and communications programme, helping stakeholders to see that it puts its aspirations into practice. 

With the increasing commitment for schools to teach children about ways to look after the planet, schools are happy to work with partners on recycling or other environmental projects. Better World Books is preparing a scheme to place recycling bins at schools to collect unwanted books (of all kinds) which the company can then use as stock and offers teachers the opportunity to visit the warehouse to select books for their school, books which Better World Books is donating as a part of its support for literacy.  The circular flow of the company’s activities reflects its fundamental principles and illustrates how looking after the environment can be good for the bottom line and how building charitable support into the operation is still possible alongside driving for profit.  That “triple bottom line” doesn’t sound so much like dull management speak anymore!

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