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27 April 2007updated 24 Sep 2015 11:16am

Vince the ecowarrior

We talk to Dale Vince, the man who founded Ecotricity, and who has topped this year's Edge Upstarts

By Hana Bieliauskas

Dale Vince, voted most inspirational business leader in this year’s Edge Upstarts Awards poll, believes establishing renewable, eco-friendly forms of electricity is key to slowing climate change and preserving the planet.

In 1996, Vince established Ecotricity, which uses wind turbines to provide electrical power to now over 30,000 subscribers throughout the UK.

Vince’s says his inspiration for launching Ecotricity came when he was a boy, and it grew when he lived a self-sustainable lifestyle while travelling throughout the UK.

During his travels, he began to make small wind turbines to power appliances like light bulbs. Years later, he incorporated his experiences into a business plan for Ecotricity, which now has five wind parks around the UK and competes with the “big six” electric providers in the UK. The company has become a leading example of social enterprise.

But, what is social enterprise?

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Vince said he didn’t have an exact definition for the term but considered it to encompass any enterprise that was dedicated to improving the welfare of both the environment and people who exist within it. Interest in social enterprise, which basically refers to any business that is working for lasting environmental and social change, has been growing in the past few years, especially as the world seems to drift further into environmental crisis.

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Social enterprises are not established as short-time fixes for long-term problems. Instead, they try to change the outcome of environmental issues, like climate change, that are inevitable unless immediate steps are taken to stop them.

Unlike some social enterprises, which stay alive only through monetary grants, Ecotricity is an endeavour that generates profit by selling its services. “Relying on grants,” says Vince, “is difficult because, once the money runs out, it’s hard to stay alive.”

For every £1 customers pay to Ecotricity, £1 is invested back into achieving the company’s main goal: to provide sustainable, renewable energy through means that don’t harm the environment. “We spend the most on each customer every year,” says Vince, “More than £400.”

Also, he explains, “each unit of green power produced stops a unit of brown electricity from being produced.” With billions of units electricity being consumed everyday in the UK, every green one counts.

“There is no other company I’ve heard of like Ecotricity,” says Vince. Indeed, it is unique and has been very successful in establishing itself as an attractive option for purchasing electricity. “Anyone in the UK can subscribe,” Vince explains, “We try to build turbines nearby, but they don’t need to be.”

If it’s so easy to choose a green electric option, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Some people are still wary about how reliable the turbine-generated electricity is and whether they are going to be paying more than with current non-renewable energy providers.

“Some ask, ‘what if the wind stops or the turbines break?’” says Vince. It’s questions like these that are answered by Ecotricity’s impressive ‘human component.’

Vince explains, “When you call Ecotricity, you get a live person, not just a recording.” He wants the company to seem approachable rather than removed from its customers. That also sets Ecotricity apart from other (fossil-fuel burning) electricity providers.

“I would like to create a park around each turbine. We plant a tree for each new customer,” says Vince. “So far, trees have been planted for our first 20,000 customers.” People can wander the fields and enjoy the growing Ecotricity Forest around the turbine at Lynch Knoll in Gloucestershire.

As for being the overwhelming winner in this year’s Edge Upstarts poll for ‘most inspirational business leader,’ Vince says, “All I can say is I’m flattered.”

Turning UK energy from brown to green is no mean task. But he’s already inspired 30,000 people to do so, and says he’s not going to stop until its wind, not fossil fuels, that are electrifying the UK.