Social enterprises can collaborate for a green recovery

Posted: 14 August 2020, in News

A version of this article appeared in Third Force News (TFN) on 14 August.

As Scotland and the rest of the world begin to emerge from lockdown we’re faced with challenges on a number of fronts.

A post-lockdown economic crisis and unemployment add to the pre-existing issues of soaring social inequality and the climate emergency.

You might be forgiven for thinking that these challenges are not only overwhelming but entirely separate issues. But of course they’re inextricably linked. Climate crises cause poverty, unemployment causes inequality and so on. The question is how do we solve these seemingly impossible problems?

Firstly there can be no economic recovery without a green recovery. Without the planet and the finite resources we have there simply is no economy. It’s this green strand that needs to inform all economic thinking going forward. 

There are lots of social enterprises working with a green mission, businesses like the Edinburgh Remakery, Instinctively Wild, ReTweed, Furniture Plus and many others. They’re contributing in big ways in local communities, providing jobs as well as social and environmental benefits. 

We recently did some work on what a green recovery might look like, reaching out to organisations like SCDI, CRNS and Scottish Environment Link to find common ground. While we approached a green recovery from different perspectives it was great to experience positive partnership working and discover shared values.

In terms of solutions we need a green investment strategy for Scotland, to create skilled jobs in renewables, green technology and conservation. This must include significant supply chain opportunities for social and green enterprises in major projects. 

Underpinning this should be a circular economy approach. Many social enterprises work in recycling, reuse and related sectors. Investing in and supporting these companies makes environmental common sense. 

Opening up public procurement to social enterprises and locally owned SMEs is a key point too. What can local authorities and public bodies now do differently? We’ve had procurement reform but how can they now prioritise green, sustainable procurement for economic recovery? Consumers should also be urged to buy local and ethical.

In light of increasing unemployment a green jobs initiative is essential, with a fund to help unemployed workers transfer their skills to new, green jobs and apprenticeships. In particular there should be an employment programme that places young people and employment in social enterprises at the centre.

Lockdown has seen social enterprises and community groups take charge of local food distribution for those in need. Community groups involved in food banks, emergency food and community food growing should receive support in order to develop their work. 

Social housing should be another key green objective. Social housing providers need more investment to retrofit properties for energy efficiency and also construct new eco-friendly housing.

When it comes to the use of public money then investments and bailouts should primarily be for locally owned companies that commit to key environmental policies, often social and ethical enterprises.

A green recovery and a genuine wellbeing economy has never been more important. But partnerships that break down barriers across sectors is essential to success. Social enterprises must work with public and private sector allies to deliver a genuine green recovery. 

It’s true that we’re currently living in a post-lockdown economy, with the climate emergency and rising economic inequality as our context. But with bold policy action and cross-sector partnerships we can certainly achieve a win-win for people and planet.

Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland