How to grow a sustainable social enterprise

In the second of our Bitesize Business Lessons, Marie Cudennec Carlisle, CEO of social enterprise Goldfinger, advises to take inspiration from trees: establish strong roots, cultivate your ecosystem and create an attractive sense of place.
Marie Cudennec Carlisle

I founded Goldfingera design-led social enterprise that crafts sustainable furniture for homes and businesses, eight years ago.

A lot of our work revolves around wood and I’ve reflected a lot about the journey that wood takes from tree to table. Increasingly over time, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom inherent in nature and what trees can teach us about starting a sustainable organisation. There are three main lessons. 


First, it’s all about establishing a strong root system. If you look at any tree, it’s the ones that have strong root systems, rooted deep in the earth that survive the droughts and the storms. The last 18 months dealing with Covid is a prime example of this. The main thing that helped us get through was rooting down into our values. You need to create strong roots to help you through hard times.

We created a manifesto to help us clarify what we stand for and this guides us in all business decisions, from the type of wood to use in our furniture to the programmes to teach in our Academy, and it’s a big reason why our suppliers and customers want to work with us. We put our manifesto up on the wall in our shop, it’s on our website, it’s printed on the back of all delivery cards. It’s those shared values that sustain us.


Lesson number two: cultivate your network. If you look at trees, their existence relies upon their ability to tap into what’s around them and draw in the animals and plants that support their growth and their ability to propagate.

Your organisation is a living organism and you are part of a wider ecosystem. It’s easy to think of yourself as an isolated entity succeeding in the world by sheer willpower but the reality is,  just like a tree, you depend upon a complex network of stakeholders, suppliers, customers, donors, investors, journalists and it’s these that support your growth. Cultivate your network and approach each interaction considering what can you do for them as much as what they can do for you.


Try to create an organisation where people feel good. If you think about the great trees in your life (we all have memories of reading a book under a tree or taking shelter from the rain) they provide a great sense of peace and safety, a sense of coming home and feeling connected with the world. You feel it in how your breathing softens and you’re happy to be there.

If you’ve established your values as your root system, recognised how interconnected your success is with the success of those in your network, you’re well set up to create an organisation where people feel good sitting around the same table as you. What I’m talking about is the importance of building community around your cause and creating a culture that is welcoming and feeds the soul. You know you’ve got there when your customers and your team enjoy sitting at the same table.

I wish you the best of luck on your important journey of starting your sustainable social enterprise. Each of our businesses has a valuable contribution to make and it’s going to take all of us working together to create a sustainable world. 

Marie is one of more than 70 mentors available to social entrepreneurs for advice, insight and support. Find out more here