There was a time when heavy industry’s idea of being eco-friendly was burying something nasty in a pit, instead of dumping it in the river.
All that has changed – thanks to a combination of regulation, enlightened self interest and, let’s be fair, an altruistic community spirit that nowadays goes far beyond seeing industry’s role as solely to create profits and jobs.
Pollution in some of the most industrialised parts of the region has fallen dramatically – so much so that air quality can decline at weekends, when factories aren’t working and their employees start driving to shopping complexes in their cars.
Environmental improvements haven’t stopped there, with some businesses actively seeking to eradicate the scars of the past and encourage wildlife by creating the right sort of habitat.
Most need help to do that, if they want to go beyond what was once the industrial estate standard way of improving the environment - laying some turf and planting some trees – and one of the organisations helping them to do that is Wildscapes.
The Sheffield-based Community Interest Company was founded five years ago by the Sheffield Wildlife Trust to help it deal with the increasing number of calls for help and advice that it was getting from local authorities, architects, developers and businesses at large.
The Trust’s main role is to help people get closer to nature and to achieve that it looks after a dozen nature reserves, carries out wildlife-friendly conservation and land management and runs a series of events to involve young people and engage with the community.
“The Trust didn’t have the capacity to support business, but there seemed to be a large need for it, so the Trust set up a trading arm to utilise the skills it had” says Wildscapes’ Joe Glentworth.
Wildscapes was launched as a social enterprise almost five years ago and has three main arms – ecology, land management and landscape architecture.
“We work closely with the Wildlife Trust,” says chief executive Vicky Smith, who joined Wildscapes to give it a commercial edge after giving up a job working on operational solutions for airport giant BAA to do a Masters degree in sustainability and management.
“Our Unique Selling Point is the fact we are owned by a conservation charity. What we are doing, we are doing for money, but also for a really good cause. It’s always in the context of the bigger picture, a more holistic approach.
“Being owned by the trust gives us credibility, but it’s important we don’t mess with their brand. We generate money for the Trust but we also take the influence of the Trust to a commercial audience.”
In its early days, much of Wildscapes’ work was for local authorities and social enterprises, but the recognised that was not enough if it was to become a sustainable business and started to seek clients in the private sector.
Nowadays, about a third of Wildscapes’ work comes from the public sector, down from half two years ago, and clients include major local businesses such as Sheffield Forgemasters.