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  • 12 minutes
  • 31/08/2022

SV People: Dan Sadler of GreenZone

Dan Sadler is a Director of GreenZone Cleaning and Support Services.

He joined forces with Steve Trew 12 years ago and together they started a cleaning company with a difference. Dan sat down to chat about the work the company does, and why investing in employees and communities comes hand in hand with successful business.

Hi Dan, tell us a bit about the work you do with GreenZone.

GreenZone was created 12 years ago at a time when environmental sustainability was coming to the fore. Six months of extensive research and engagement with many forward-thinking organisations identified a gap in the market for a cleaning company that was socially and environmentally focused.

From the beginning, we worked hard to build a truly people-focused business. We reached out to local communities, sponsoring a local football league and working with a number of women’s charities, and also worked closely with local community hubs, the local council, and networking groups in the area.

This meant people trusted us. We want to be a ‘family’ that they can rely on to have their best interests at heart.

From a commercial perspective, being a positive disrupter and having sustainability and social value at the core of what we do helps drive sustainable business growth. It cements loyalty from customers and improves the quality of work from our employees.

I think it would be fair to say that 12 years ago there was a perception, which was unfortunately often true, of workers in our industry being poorly treated, exploited even. This created a workforce who lacked trust in their employers.

At GreenZone, we wanted to change that. We want our team to feel valued for what they do. They deserve fair pay and to be listened to and empowered, whatever their role within the business.

Customers and service partners often comment that they hear employees refer to the GreenZone family. That, for me, is a hugely successful measure of what we’ve created.

As owners, Steve and I are immensely proud that we have a business that genuinely changes people’s lives. We take people on career journeys. They could gain professional qualifications or British Citizenship, as well as get onto the housing ladder. We also provide English lessons and give books to every employee’s child under the age of five.

We are proud of the many, many examples of how we’ve given support. And they all create social value. We’ve lived and breathed social value from day one.

We are also a community hub working hard to ensure we provide our local areas with long-term employment opportunities. We participate in student mentoring, donate IT equipment to Power To Connect, a local charitable organisation, and we work with the local boroughs to engage in workplace opportunities for young vulnerable people leaving education.

12 years on, all these approaches now have a name, ‘social value’, and a means of independent measurement, audit, and verification. For GreenZone, this is hugely exciting.

It’s all too easy for companies to talk the talk, but GreenZone has always been based on independent verification. As such, social value, much like environmental sustainability, is now a shared, published, and publicly accessible target, which we measure achievements and improvements against.

Why did you start a business like this?

Why does any business start? We had the opportunity to create something that didn’t already exist, and create value for society and a range of stakeholders.

We were passionate about fundamentally developing a business that pioneered change in the industry and wanted to be a positive disrupter in our sector.

The aim was to provide a unique offering that delivered high-quality service whilst providing an innovative offering that was kind to our people, and the planet and engaged with leading innovation.

From a commercial perspective, being a positive disrupter and having sustainability and social value at the core of what we do helps drive sustainable business growth. It cements loyalty from customers and improves the quality of work from our employees.

Contract retention is so rare in this industry, and for clients to buy into the work we do is the ultimate recognition.

From day one Steve and I have instilled a culture of togetherness and family. We work hard and we play hard.

As an example, in summer we take our employees, along with their families, to the Isle of Wight for a fun-filled weekend of socialising together. There are barbeques, live music, and a real family feel. It’s an opportunity for the team to enjoy each other’s company away from work, and our thank you to employees and their families.

Staff need to feel a sense of belonging and ownership. If you believe in the company you work for, then you will deliver to the best of your ability

And how did your career progress to the point where you started a business with a purpose?

I’ve always been a grafter when I feel passionate about what I’m doing. Unfortunately, I had been a part of many organisations where I played frustrated witness to “how not to do it”. I witnessed so many businesses exploit the many for the few, without considering what they might have achieved with a different approach.

Trained as an accountant, although I’ve never been a ’typical’ accountant, I went into a role at Tesco in the late 90s reporting directly to the board. There, I applied my financial knowledge in the ‘real’ world, working directly with people on sites as they were built and then set up to operate. This role taught me about the need to win hearts and minds, implement a vision and purpose, and ultimately learn the power of collaboration.  I saw how much can be achieved by giving people ownership of their destiny. It was also my first real exposure to environmental sustainability.

I always wanted to run my own business. I wanted to influence and change how and why a business operates for the benefit of more than one person. I love problem-solving and have always had a passion for people being engaged and rewarded, along with helping to create a lasting environment for my children to grow up in. I knew I could create solutions, and I wanted to find a way to apply this to my own company.

Creating GreenZone with Steve gave me that chance. Cleaning may not be glamorous, but it has given us the chance to shape an industry, fill an identified gap in the market, and innovate in a way that provided the industry with something completely new.

What are some of the challenges you face today?

Like many positive disrupting businesses in other sectors, it’s now about how we maintain the journey and momentum. We’re transitioning from an SME to a larger, more corporate, business. This brings growing pains.

We still want people to refer to ‘my GreenZone family’. So we’ll need to constantly challenge ourselves and innovate to maintain our uniqueness as a leader in the sector. We need to continue to push environmental and social boundaries of what’s possible, and we need to continue to do this through externally verified audits with selected partners.

And all of this needs to be achieved in the face of a pending, and significant, recession and one of the biggest cost of living crises we have seen.

Part of the solution is to continue to retain and bring the right people into the business. Those who align with the GreenZone Values and share our purpose, ambition, and drive to make a difference. It’s also very important to continue to use tools like Social Value Portal and Investors in People to help us measure and monitor our social value and ensure we’re staying on track.

We face the coming challenges bravely and with confidence. There’s nothing like difficult challenges to bring out the best problem solving and hence the best solutions. Indeed, GreenZone started during the last recession, so we have a proven pedigree!

And conversely, do you have any personal highlights at GreenZone?

There have been so many wonderful highlights over the last 12 years. Too many to list.

As you might expect, all the pats on the back are incredibly rewarding. Winning a Social Value Award this year was hugely important to us, personally unbelievably rewarding. To be identified as the top Private Sector Leadership business simply blew us away. We couldn’t believe we had won, considering the standard and reputation of our fellow nominees.

We’ve been lucky enough to win several awards, for both our social value and our environmental innovation, and it validates the work we do.

But for me, the biggest highlight is still proactively working with so many clients who have been with us for over 12 years, since we started. I also love the fact that through us, many of our clients now work directly with organisations such as Social Value Portal, to measure and assist them with their environmental and social journeys. Contract retention is so rare in this industry, and for clients to buy into the work we do is the ultimate recognition.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to do good with their organisation?

You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you speak. Anyone who knows me might think this is a tad ironic!

I tell this to my kids. Try and anticipate people’s needs, or better still, put yourself in their position. Listen and learn.

Part of our induction process requires everyone who works in head office to spend time onsite being a cleaner, because you’ve got to understand the barriers and difficulties these employees face.

We also have a minimum of two anonymous surveys a year to ensure we keep up to date with the needs of the staff. We invite constant feedback, through various channels, and anyone can join groups such as the ‘Green Team’ or the Charity Committee.

Showing your employees that you care about them, that you employ local people, and that you give back to them, their families, and their community, means they become your advocates.

And once you listen, you must act. And act swiftly. You must be agile.

I don’t believe anyone ever comes to work to do a lousy job. Think about how you can help people do their best and empower them to do it.

Do you have any predictions for the future of social value? What will businesses be doing in five years?

Wow, now that’s a question. You want me to share my crystal ball and all its secrets?

I’d say that more than ever before, the employee has sway. They can choose where they want to work, how they want to work, and for who. They can pick an organisation that best reflects their values.

So, whether by promoting flexible working, creating support for working mothers, cycle to work schemes, car hire/lease schemes, gym memberships, personal learning, encouraging people to travel outside of typical working hours to help with commute timing and expense, adapting and evolving with the Menopause movement – companies must prioritise the needs of employees. Over the last couple of years, we’ve created a social hub in our office, with spaces to socialise, a huge projector for movie nights, and even a bar!

The cost of living crisis will, or at least, in my opinion, should also play a significant part in what businesses should be focused on. To this end, GreenZone has already created an Emergency Hardship Fund, which is advertised to all employees, and requests for grants and interest-free loans are reviewed and assessed by a dedicated panel.

And are there people you look at who inspire you?

There are plenty of organisations, and individuals, that do great work in so many fields that it is difficult for me to single any out in particular. Inspiration can come from a myriad of places, so you just need to be open to it. As Bob Dylan said ’Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.’

As a business we look to our employees for inspiration, encouraging a culture of continuous learning to enhance our business. Where we can apply those learnings, we always do. We also look to numerous supply partners to ensure that we are continually evolving with the latest innovation or social value offerings.

Many industry-connected steering groups can also be a source of inspiration and we take an active part in as many of these as we are invited to, such as the Living Wage Steering Group, or Social Enterprise UK.

And why should people focus on social value? What benefits does it bring to your business?

If this isn’t common sense to a people-based business, then they should give up!

Often when we start on a journey with a potential new customer, we’ll sit down together and discuss the problems they’ve previously encountered, what they’re looking to achieve, and why they might choose to work with GreenZone. Often, we hear that their existing company, and the employees engaged to deliver the service, just don’t care.

After our implementation process, we’ll sit down with the customer again to review where we’re at and the progress we’ve made. 99% of the time, they’ll be full of praise for the work we’ve done and the employees we’ve engaged to do so. I get such reward out of telling them that it’s the exact same team of employees, they now just feel engaged, valued, and connected with an employer who cares.

Showing your employees that you care about them, that you employ local people, and that you give back to them, their families, and their community, means they become your advocates.

Winning hearts and minds. It’s how to do business.