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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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Social enterprise solutions to the climate emergency

This opinion piece is over 4 years old

Duncan Thorp examines how social enterprises can provide answers 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.

Many social enterprises across Scotland already understand their responsibilities in confronting this challenge and strive to fulfil their own vital environmental mission.

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%).

Duncan Thorp
Duncan Thorp

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. Their members diverted over 37,000 tonnes of material from landfill, an estimated net saving of 75,000 tonnes of CO2, combating climate change and creating jobs.

Michael Cook, chief executive of CRNS, said: “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.

Similarly Repair Cafes are springing up across Scotland enabling people to get broken items fixed but also learn how to fix items themselves. The Edinburgh Remakery diverts waste from landfill, building a stronger community and promoting a culture of repair and reuse.

Changeworks Recycling is a major Scottish social enterprise dedicated to recycling and waste management for businesses. While Point and Sandwick Trust built and operates its own 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.

It’s clear that the old way of doing business no longer works as we deal with this new 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. Small changes can result in a big impact.

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 is policy and communications manager of Social Enterprise Scotland



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Jeff Mowatt
over 4 years ago
Our work at Sumy State University in 2009/10 drew attention to the risk of human extinction and the need for a new economic system, because we must We were then a UK based social enterprise based in Ukraine trying to leverage investment for resolving a broad range of social problems:
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Lisa Thipthorp
over 4 years ago
I am interested in finding out if any of the social sector organisations who are involved in this scheme have their own environmental policies? I am working on a project to investigate how we can encourage the social sector to take the lead on a response to the climate emergency and develop leaders within the sector to champion this cause. I look forward to hearing from you!
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