Author: Nicholas Clark
Why is Social Economy a natural vector for the ecological transition?
What a question!
There is no doubt that our world is changing fast, and thanks to the impressive campaigns of climate & environment advocacy associations, we are now more aware than ever of the damage Humans have caused our environment. With awareness comes responsibility, yet responsibility alone is not enough to foster change. What we need is a shift in public opinion, a movement that empowers individuals to make better choices, with more options, and a more equitable world, where resources (and money) are shared (not wasted) among the people that produce goods and services.
An ecological transition is one (to borrow from sustainability lexicon) in which society progresses toward a structure that enables us to live in a way that does not impact the ability of our future generations to meet their own needs. The question is, what is the EU doing about this? Why are we in this current situation? And how can we move toward this ecological transition?
What is the EU doing about it?
Well, the European Union is working hard to implement the European Green Deal with ambitious energy and climate targets. It has emphasised that these transitions should be “fair and just”, meaning that no-one should be left behind. This means, that in order for the enormous changes to occur fairly, an economic model that has people´s social wellbeing at its core is extremely important. This is certainly not the case at the moment. Additionally, The European Commission adopted its new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change on 24 February 2021. Importantly, the Strategy mentions that:
“The impacts of climate change are not neutral. Men and women, older people, persons with disabilities, displaced persons, or socially marginalised have different adaptive capabilities. Adaptation measures need to consider their situation. Support is increasingly needed for education, training and reskilling initiatives that lead to green jobs.”
In the words of Dr. Ulla Engelmann, Head of Unit Advanced Technologies, Clusters and Social Economy at European Commission, speaking at the EUSES Online exchange event on the 25th February 2021, “the social economy is the sector that can bring answers to these challenges”.
In the same EU strategy, it explains that the Commission will:
- – step up support to planning and implementation of local adaptation and launch an adaptation support facility under the EU Covenant of Mayors;
- – support the reskilling and requalification of workers for a just and fair resilience with education and training through ESF+, Erasmus+ and European Solidarity
Action Plan for the Social Economy
In fact, Social Economy Europe have just held an important Public Hearing with the European Parliament´s Social Economy Intergroup on Skills and Digitalisation on February 18th 2021 (see our Facebook page), which explained in detail exactly how the Social Economy works towards upskilling for the digital transition. Additionally, the same intergroup held an event on the November 10th 2020 on the role of the social economy for the green and fair transition.
Luckily, the social economy is being recognised within EU policy and has been mentioned in over 20 Commission communications. Moreover, the Commission will release the Action Plan for the Social Economy in the Autumn of 2021. In the coming few days, Social Economy Europe will release its own detailed proposals for the Action Plan, among which will include important ways that the EU can aid the social economy to better work for the ecological transition. Importantly the Action Plan should be linked with the EU green deal, the Sustainable Development goals and the EU pillar for social rights.
Why are we in this current situation? And how can we move toward this ecological transition?
All areas of life impact our environment and use of resources to some extent. Production and consumption of food, retail, housing construction and heating, transport, technological and electronic products, generation of electricity, even the shift towards renewable energy has its own skeletons in the closet when it comes to resource management (think about where we currently get those materials needed to build infrastructure!). No matter what happens, people need to eat, dress, have access to energy and be mobile. Yet, the massive negative impacts of these activities, which degrade the Earth´s ecosystems come from the economic, business and societal models we currently use. Traditional companies need to make profit, quickly, or their shareholders will “jump ship”; politicians need to be re-elected on short term agendas; consumers lack trust in large companies which can disregard the rights of workers; train transport is too expensive and less convenient than cars; and intensive farming and the distant exports of food lead to environmental pollution, unstable landscapes prone to flooding and sometimes vulnerable food security. In this current scenario, people suffer, but importantly, also resist much needed change due to the precariousness of their current situations.
A recent event held for the digital road to Mannheim, the EU Social Economy Summit, which was on the ecological transition and the Social Economy, Fanélie Carrey-Conte, General Secretary at ENERCOOP, explained that we need long term decision making with a focus on the future, where a democratic movement empowers people. We need a business model, in which investors do not purely want economic returns. She correctly points out that this already fits many definitions of the social economy! Her words were supported by Federico Camporesi, General manager of ARFIE Network explaining that the social economy affects the whole of society and the environment, with values that are stronger in solidarity and responsibility, which includes the whole of society. Alexandra Debaisieux, Deputy General Manager, of RailCoop stated that the social economy is a model in which social value is the profit and that the acceptance of more ecological/ sustainable technologies or ways of life will only be accepted by people if they are participating in the decisions. Incidentally, this very important sentiment was echoed by Dirk Vantsinjan of REScoop.eu in a previous SEE Blog and Podcast! Damien Thiery, General Manager of Ateliere Fara Frontiere (workshops without borders) gave his insight on the innovative and adaptive nature of the social economy, purely because it is not anchored by the need for profit making, enabling sustainable solutions to be explored while integrating vulnerable people in society into employment through WISE – Work Integration Social Enterprise. Moreover, the fact that big business now copies these working models means that it is a model worthy of the “development” label when considered “sustainable development”.
Why is Social Economy a natural vector for the ecological transition?
So the fact is, that the very nature of the social economy, and the fact that its business practice and purpose are based upon its values of primacy of people over profit, democratic governance and reinvestment of profits make it a natural vector for the ecological transition. For this reason, in the words of Jeanne Barseghian, Mayor of Strasbourg:
“The role and success of the #SocialEconomy should be better known and promoted…EU public policies must better represent the social economy”