Social Enterprise Solutions to the Climate Emergency

Posted: 22 July 2019, in News

Featuring: Community Resources Network Scotland (CRNS), Changeworks Recycling, Transition Stirling, Glasgow Repair Cafe, Edinburgh Tool Library, Cumbernauld Tool Library, The Edinburgh Remakery, Point and Sandwick Trust, Furniture Plus and Castle Furniture Project.

A version of this article appeared in Third Force News (TFN) on 02/08/19:

Social enterprise solutions to the climate emergency

Large numbers of people around Scotland and the world are beginning to understand the stark reality of climate change. Established campaigners have now been joined by radical direct action groups like Extinction Rebellion.

The Scottish Government is the latest to recognise the climate emergency. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon stated in April: “As First Minister of Scotland, I am declaring that there is a climate emergency and Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.”

Many social enterprises across Scotland already understand their responsibilities in confronting this challenge and strive to fulfil their own vital environmental mission. It’s clear that lots of local, neighbourhood activities can result in a huge positive impact.

Their particular focus might be recycling, land management, regeneration or some other green mission – but they’re all united in improving the natural environment in some way. In turn they’re helping build a new type of circular, sustainable and inclusive economy.

According to the 2017 Social Enterprise Census 30% of social enterprises have an explicit remit to protect or improve the environment, 21% to reducing waste and 18% improving built or natural heritage.

In terms of work activities 153 social enterprises (3% of the total) carry out work in Environment and Recycling, with Property, Energy, Utilities and Land accounting for 307 (6%).

It’s also fair to say that most social enterprises take positive action in terms of their environmental responsibilities, whatever their social mission.

Community Resources Network Scotland (CRNS) is the national membership body for social enterprises in reuse, repair and recycling. Together their members diverted over 37,000 tonnes of material from landfill, an estimated net saving of 75,000 tonnes of CO2. A good example of a social enterprise partnership to combat climate change and also create jobs.

The award winning CRNS Reuse Consortium seeks to make furniture reuse more mainstream by allowing local authorities to buy goods on a national procurement contract from CRNS members. For example, Fife Council is now purchasing from Furniture Plus and Castle Furniture Project.

Michael Cook, Chief Executive of CRNS says:

“There’s a real opportunity for social enterprises across Scotland to respond to the climate change crisis. This global environmental problem urgently needs a local community response. There are many simple and easy to implement ideas such as starting a repair cafe, tool library or community fridge, both tackling climate change and providing wider community benefits. Care for planet and care for people often goes hand in hand.”

Places to rent out tools like Edinburgh Tool Library and Cumbernauld Tool Library are a growing movement. The average home power drill is used just 13 minutes in its lifetime, so borrowing instead of owning is better for the environment, according to Edinburgh Tool Library.

Similarly Repair Cafes are now springing up across Scotland, like Transition Stirling and Glasgow Repair Cafe, that enable people to get broken items fixed but also learn how to fix items themselves.

The Edinburgh Remakery is a social enterprise committed to diverting waste from landfill, building a stronger community and promoting a culture of repair and reuse. They pass repair skills onto others within the Edinburgh community through education.

Stephanie Bowring of The Edinburgh Remakery:

“We believe that social enterprises are vital in the fight against climate change. They’re working on the ground to improve lives, share experiences, knowledge and skills and change and inform behaviours. The trust they build and the connections they make within their communities are powerful and tangible enough to promote real positive change on a large scale.

“Repairing and reusing items not only increases the lifespan of a product and prevents it going to landfill, it also holds the potential to prevent new items being manufactured. This in turn reduces carbon emissions which are released during manufacturing, reduces the need for destructive practices that extract raw materials from the earth and in many cases saves water. It also saves consumers money and there’s growing evidence that learning a new skill increases confidence and improves mental well-being.”

Changeworks Recycling is a major Scottish social enterprise dedicated to recycling and waste management for businesses. Ken McLean, Operations Director, says that their approach is different from that of a traditional business:

“There’s an opportunity for social enterprise to take action where the traditional waste management approach to mixing waste has failed. Changeworks Recycling is the only high quality recycling company in Scotland, enabling businesses to reduce waste carbon and costs.

“We welcome the recognition that we’re facing a climate emergency. The Scottish Government is strong on climate change rhetoric but unfortunately their capability to deliver on waste and consumption does not match.

“Scotland’s ambition to become a ‘high quality recycling nation’ has not been met as a result of accepting mixed recycling as an adopted practice for businesses and households. Unless significant and urgent progress is made now, we’ll not be able to meet our targets set in the zero waste plan of 70% minimum recycled, 25% maximum to EfW and 5% maximum to landfill.”

Point and Sandwick Trust is a community organisation that built and operates its own three turbine wind farm on the Isle of Lewis. Profits from this, the largest community owned wind farm in the UK, are used to provide support to the local charity ecosystem through grant funding and advisory services. The organisation won the Environmental Social Enterprise Scotland award 2018.

The Trust’s Western Isles Croft Woodlands project was initially a 5 year pledge of £300,000, with the aim to plant native trees on crofts across the Outer Hebrides. The project was made possible with Trust funding, working with the Woodland Trust, Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Crofting Federation. Recent scientific research suggests that worldwide tree planting could have the potential to radically reduce CO2 levels, a huge necessity in the face of the climate emergency.

Calum Macdonald of Point and Sandwick Trust says:

“The Woodland Croft project has had huge buy-in from crofters across the Western Isles, with over 100,000 trees planted over the last 4 years. There’s great demand and that was key in us deciding to renew funding for another five years. The project is already having a positive impact and is set to have a transformative effect on the biodiversity and the landscape of the Western Isles and local communities. Such a project, with wide reaching environmental impact, is one of the reasons that Point and Sandwick Trust was set up.”

It’s clear that the old way of doing business no longer works as we deal with this new climate reality. Businesses of all types and sizes, alongside the public sector, must step up and do things differently in order to confront the climate emergency.

Some big businesses, as well as traditional SMEs, are facing up to their responsibilities in tackling climate change. But there’s a lot they can learn in terms of the innovation that’s taking place in the social enterprise community.

The role of social enterprise is to lead on this agenda, inspire others and demonstrate the radical alternatives.

Duncan Thorp, Policy and Communications Manager, Social Enterprise Scotland