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Social enterprise as an engine for sustainability transition

Hillman, J and Axon, S and Morrissey, J (2016) Social enterprise as an engine for sustainability transition. In: 22nd International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference, School of Science and Technology, Universidade Nova de Lisboa . (22nd International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference, 13-15 July 2016, School of Science and Technology, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal).

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Abstract

Embedded socio-ecological problems urgently require novel approaches with a long-term orientation, including reflexive and adaptive policy design and conceptualisations which move far beyond business as usual approaches and which meaningfully address underlying complexes of technologies and institutions. The transitions literature has stimulated debate to increasingly recognise the multi-dimensional shifts required for delivery of sustainable modes of production and consumption. However, transition studies have to date focused heavily on technological and on historical analyses. Within this emerging body of investigation, there is a need for research which more exclusively and explicitly addresses organisational and community level responses to sustainability in a strategic and forward looking manner. While there is growing consensus that human behaviours need to change to a more sustainable paradigm, community driven approaches, such as social enterprise, have yet to be explored as serious instruments of sustainability transition. Social enterprises sit within the third sector of the economy, typically where market or governmental failures exist in the provision of social welfare, and have increasingly become a key driver of social progress. The autonomous nature of the social-economic model applied by such organisations can represent a viable means to reduce state social welfare dependence, and as a proven model for social change. The capability of social enterprises to create both social and economic value is considered a ‘win-win’. However, there are clear potentials for social enterprise models to be more extensively applied to address contemporary ecological challenges of neo-liberal market economies, moving towards ‘win-win-win’ outcomes across social, economic and ecological domains; particularly as these organisations are not motivated by a relentless profit imperative. This paper investigates the value of utilising social enterprises as a driver of sustainability at the community level, with an emphasis on application in the energy sector. Evidence from four social enterprises in the UK is presented and a socio-technical transitions conceptual framework is applied to analyse these social enterprise operations as a form of social innovation. The paper critically evaluates the characteristics of social enterprises which suggest potential for wider socio-technical systemic transformation and appraises the potential for such organisational models to act as ‘engines of socio-technical transformation’. Barriers to the widespread diffusion of social enterprise models are identified, as well as operational and strategic challenges in actively delivering on the ‘win-win-win’ potential of these organisations for sustainability.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Divisions: Natural Sciences and Psychology
Publisher: International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRS)
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2017 16:41
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2017 16:41
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/6601

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