Social enterprises hold key to UK sustainability

A new report co-published by The Women’s Organisation in Liverpool says social enterprise can be at the forefront of the UK’s push to net zero emissions

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Social enterprises are ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability, the report says


Social enterprises could be critical to achieving a more environmentally sustainable business landscape, according to a new report.

Published by The Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) and Liverpool -based The Women’s Organisation, State Of The Art (SOTA) Review 53: Social Enterprises and Environmental Sustainability, was researched and written by Dr Emma Folmer and Dr Anna Rebmann.

During the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a pledge that the UK would become a world-first net zero finance hub. As part of this commitment UK firms will be required to produce detailed public plans to show how they intend to hit climate change targets.

The SOTA Review proposes that businesses operating in the social enterprise sector are ahead of the curve when it comes to integrating environmental policies given their commitment to delivering social outcomes across the board.

Chief executive at The Women’s Organisation, Maggie O’Carroll says: “It goes without saying that there are lessons to be learnt from the social enterprise sector, after all those businesses are built on a philosophy of demonstrating social and environmental value.

And there are some relatively obvious ways that businesses can innovate – take, for example, the fashion industry. For a long time, the fashion industry, and in particular fast fashion, has been regarded as one of the most pollutive and exploitative.

“However, in recent months we’ve seen designers promoting more progressive policies and practises in response to growing consumer demand for sustainable fashion – as we are, I think, as a society, becoming far more environmentally aware.

“Only in the last couple of months we’ve seen fast-fashion retailers such as ASOS and Primark commit to reducing their environmental footprint and become more ethically responsible.

“It is heartening to see but, as our report suggests, research and insight into sustainable development for businesses is desperately thin on the ground, so more work is needed. I would also be keen to explore the ways in which businesses can develop to include sustainability at it’s very core to deliver greater good, rather than as a vehicle for profit.”

The SOTA Review recommends that further research is required to determine how sustainable development for businesses might be moved off the agenda and into practise if any tangible outcomes are to be achieved.

Maggie adds: “Social enterprises have always had social and environmental sustainability practice at the heart of their business models and have, in effect, led the way in this area.

“This research shines a light on this good practice and offers an opportunity for policy makers as well as public and private organisations to invest in and procure from expertise and services from the social economy to help deliver their net zero ambitions.

Click here to read the full report

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