Golden thread links social enterprises

THERE’S shared purpose to diverse new force, says Duncan Thorp

Staff at Kidzeco. A social enterprise which also offers the consumer competitive prices. Picture: TSPL

Social enterprise, as a diverse business ­community, is gaining in profile, with the public and private sectors and high street consumers buying from and contracting with social enterprises.

Just like the broader social enterprise business community, “green” social enterprises are innovative and diverse. From recycling, to gifts and garden furniture, community energy and home insulation and to regeneration and connecting with the natural environment, there are lots of great examples throughout Scotland.

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Some of the best examples of consumer-facing retail social enterprises can be found in environmentally focused businesses like Kidzeco in West Lothian, selling pre-loved children’s clothes, and the quality product range of Spruce Carpets in Glasgow. They can sell great consumer products at competitive and affordable prices – while offering positive social and environmental impacts.

Founding director of Kidzeco, Tracy Murdoch, says: “Reuse is the golden thread that runs through Kidzeco, from our shops, to children’s activities, to our Fun With Fabric upcycling project. We believe being part of a ‘green’ social enterprise is important because we create lasting social change [and] educate children and families on recycling and reuse, creating positive attitudes for the future.”

Eadha Enterprises is a social enterprise based in Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, working in regeneration by restoring the natural environment. Chief executive Peter Livingstone says: “The key focus for us is maximising social and environmental benefits with any commercial contracts we deliver. We recently commenced a project for a major wind farm company to undertake a compensatory planting scheme. We managed to persuade the company to support a community woodland and we’ve been recruiting volunteers to be involved in the planting to develop a local management team.”

Social enterprises sometimes don’t like to be pigeon-holed into a single category, sector or social purpose. ACE Recycling in Alloa, as a waste management business, is easy to identify as a “green” enterprise. ACE is also at the vanguard of the recycling movement in Scotland and the UK. Malcolm McArdle, managing director of Alloa Community Enterprises and the ACE Recycling Group says: “ACE now has a diverse business covering local authority, third sector and private sector contracts and employs over 50 full-time staff. Despite significantly adverse trading circumstances between 2011 and 2014 ACE still managed to create 22 new training and supported employment placements, with 25 per cent of this intake being able to progress into full-time employment with the company.

“We’re committed to working with partners to ensure Scotland moves towards a zero waste society and a viable circular economy.”

There are many other resourceful and exciting social enterprises within the broad “green” social enterprise umbrella. There’s Instinctively Wild for outdoor learning, health and team-building, Borders Green Team Enterprises for employment and training for adults with learning disabilities, Furniture Plus for furniture, household and electrical items and Yooz, an innovative reuse and recycling project for building materials, to name just a few.

In terms of the wider policy environment, there’s support from the Scottish Government with the 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy, the Climate Challenge Fund and many other initiatives plus bodies like the UK Green Investment Bank.

Environmental social enterprises learn from each other and network through Social Enterprise Scotland, Community Resources Network Scotland and Community Energy Scotland. Bright Green Business helps Scottish businesses improve environmental practices and develop business networks and there’s ecoConnect CIC, that joins up green industry businesses working in low carbon and cleantech.

Consumers are increasingly discovering how to shop with a charitable and ethical heart. From Fairtrade to social enterprise and supporting local community retailers and charity shops, there are so many options to make a positive impact. Whether you’re a high street shopper, a local council or running your own business, choose the green social enterprise option wherever you can and help make a real difference.

• Duncan Thorp is parliamentary, policy and communications officer at Social Enterprise Scotland,