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

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

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

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

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