When people get in the big shop tomorrow, it’s a fair bet that most will not be thinking about how much they are changing the world.
But a new event aims to alter that perception a little by encouraging people to think about how the money they spend can be a force for good.
Social Saturday will raise awareness of social enterprises and encourage consumers to unleash their spending power by buying from companies that use their profits not simply to enrich shareholders but to invest in their communities.
Firms like The Big Issue, Divine Chocolate and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant chains are among the best-known social enterprises but there are thousands of less high profile firms that provide high quality, ethically sourced products and services, and re-invest some or all of their profits in a socially responsible manner.
Ethical consumerism is on the rise, from the fair trade movement and ethical investing to the recent highlighting of tax avoidance by companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Google.
Last year’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh - in which more than 1,000 people died in a factory making clothes for many western chains - highlighted the human cost of cheap fashion, while many are becoming increasingly aware of how the choices they make in the food they buy can affect farmers here and abroad.
Social Saturday has been planned to harness that growing sense of consumer power to boost groups in the UK that are in business for more than just profit.
Ahead of the event, a survey commissioned from pollsters YouGov revealed that a third of people feel ashamed when buying from socially irresponsible businesses but more than a third feel there aren’t enough socially responsible businesses to buy from.
The survey also felt that 65% of people of people in the North East would be more likely to buy from a business reinvesting its profits into the community in which it operates - greater than the 58% of people nationally who would do so - and the same proportion of people in the region disagree that businesses have enough to worry about without having to focus on being socially responsible (again ahead of the national figure of 49%).
One of the social enterprises highlighted in the Social Saturday campaign is Durham-based Co-Wheels, a car club which provides members with access to cars when they need them without the hassle - and the environmental impact - of owning a car.
Director Richard Falconer said: “Co-wheels was set up from the outset as a social enterprise by a small group of like-minded individuals that felt (and still feel) very passionately about what we do – providing an environmentally friendly, socially just, community-based alternative to car ownership.
“Co-wheels provides thousands of people with a viable alternative to traditional car ownership, saving them money, time and headaches.
“Across the UK people are making the decision to live car free and enjoying the convenience and environmental benefits of having ‘wheels when you want them’.
“Our vision is to change the way that vehicles are used, by providing a fully sustainable transport service for local communities and thereby affecting positively the future development of society as a whole.”
The North East Social Enterprise Partnership, an umbrella group that supports and campaigns for social enterprises in the region, now has more than 1,400 members in sectors as diverse as telecoms, food, transport and charities.
It estimates there are hundreds more groups in the region that operate as social enterprises and says that Social Saturday is a way of hopefully making them better known.
Business development manager Steve Camm said: “What we’re seeing is a growth in the number of social enterprises for a whole host of reasons, including the recent financial situation where people have changed their outlook a little bit.
“People still want to run a business that’s producing an income for them but it’s not about getting rich necessarily, it’s about putting something back into the community and being about people.
“Also, in the charity sector there’s a shift away from the grant-giving culture which means that organisations are having to find a way of operating that allows them to stand on their own two feet by generating an income.
“We run a business support programme for new start-ups when people want to go into social enterprise and certainly there’s no shortage of people coming forward to participate in that.
“The Social Saturday campaign aims to show that there are these businesses out there and you can get services from social enterprises just as you can from the conventional private sector.
“People can buy from businesses that are putting back into the region and that is important to some consumers. You know that the money you’re spending is being re-invested back into the business and not going to shareholders.”
The North East has been at the forefront of ethical consumerism, with fair trade pioneers Traidcraft having been based on Tyneside since the 1970s and Newcastle-based Shared Interest providing a lead in getting people to invest more ethically.
Traidcraft chief executive Mags Vaughan said: “People are increasingly conscious about the impact their spending and consumption can have.
“That’s not just in the area of fair trade. They can also use their finances more ethically and it’s an immensely positive thing because the more we can connect consumers with the impact they’re having the better.
“The North East has been pioneering in the area of social enterprises. Traidcraft has been here since 1977 and you have Shared Interest, also Fulwell Mill in Sunderland, which is a smaller company operating in the fair trade area.
“Why that is, I’m not sure, but it may be that people in the North East have a deeper understanding of these issues, perhaps because this is a region that has known periods of hardship.
“What’s really heartening with this campaign is to see Government departments are seeing the value that social enterprises can add to society in general.
“Raising people’s awareness of social enterprises is great, and if it encourages on person to buy fair trade or put their money into an ethical bank, that is a real result.”