The State of Green Social Enterprises in Australia
22 October 2014 at 11:45 am
Australia’s green social enterprise sector is flourishing with the development of local-based and community-driven initiatives to address environmental issues rather than relying on government, according to David Brookes, Managing Director of Social Traders, in this analysis presented to an international audience at the Social Enterprise World Forum in South Korea.
The Forum focussed on ‘Social Change through Social Enterprise’ and was an arena for social entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and innovations for social enterprise development.
The principal drivers of Australia’s environment and its future conditions are climate change, population growth and economic growth.
As the driest inhabitable continent, Australia is particularly vulnerable to the potential global effects of climate change – reduced rainfall, higher temperatures and increases in sea level. Australia’s built environment also faces some pressures – there is an expanding urban footprint around our major cities, increased traffic congestion, increased consumption of natural resources and higher waste generation.
The environmental policy landscape is shifting. The current Federal Government is pursuing a direct action approach to climate change, favouring adoption of energy efficiency measures by industry and consumers in favour of mandated greenhouse gas emission targets. The Carbon Tax introduced by the previous Government was repealed in July 2014. The renewable solar energy policy environment is also under review and subject to change. Many states & territories are pushing for greater product stewardship; landfill levies are being raised.
Greater education and awareness of issues is seeing local communities and individuals taking greater responsibility for the environment particularly in relation to their energy and water use. Reuse and recycling rates are increasing. And so we are seeing environmental sustainability as being a significant motivation for social and community enterprise initiatives in both metropolitan and regional/rural settings.
The Australian social enterprise sector is significant in terms of its economic contribution and impact. Social enterprise is growing strongly at a rate of 37% over the last 5 years.
We are witnessing an increasing in the number of green social enterprises as part of the broader growth of social enterprise activity in Australia, particularly in the areas of waste and recycling, energy efficiency and land management, particularly by indigenous land corporations.
Many local based and community driven initiatives are being developed to address environmental issues rather than relying on government, where policy is changing and funding is constrained.
In 2011 Social Traders conducted a research study in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria.
The research found over 110 green social enterprises in Victoria alone (which holds 25% of Australia's population). A further 460 charitable organisations were running over 2,500 opportunity (thrift) shops which delivered significant environmental benefits.
More than a third of green social enterprises identified are involved in the waste industry, including recycling, e-waste, and waste collection. The food industry is another dominant group, comprising 15 per cent of green social enterprise identified. The third dominant group comprises 23 per cent of green social enterprises identified and work in the areas of landcare, tree planting, gardening and landscaping.
Interestingly, many green social enterprises identified have blended missions that include social and environmental outcomes. A large proportion of green social enterprises have a primary social mission, typically relating to training and employment, with environmental sustainability be a secondary objective. Scaling of their environmental activities typically aligns well with meeting their social purpose, for example, increasing recovery/recycling rates means more jobs.
Waste and Community Recycling
Waste management and recycling is the industry sector with the greatest concentration of social enterprise in Australia. Interest in community recycling is growing particularly with local councils who value the community and environmental benefits including higher waste diversion rates, reinvestment of profits back to local community and local employment opportunities.
One of the pioneers of community recycling in Australia is Eaglehawk Recycling Shop. First set up in the early 1990s, Eaglehawk has the twin goals of extending the lifespan of the local landfill, and creating jobs for long-term unemployed people. The enterprise diverts waste from entering landfill, and reclaims valuable materials for recycling or resale. Since then, the organisation has opened 5 new locations, and it also helps other organisations set up community recycling.
The role of opportunity or thrift shops in achieving environmental outcomes in Australia is also significant. There are over 10,000 outlets nationally recycling hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing and furniture each year.
Energy efficiency is the second major focal area for green social enterprises in Australia.
There is a strong and growing local, grassroots drive to develop innovative and environmentally sustainable energy options to supplement industry and government initiatives:
Hepburn Wind is a community wind farm near Daylesford Victoria. It is set up as a cooperative, and it comprises two individual 2.05 MW wind turbines which produce enough energy for 2,300 households. The project is the first community-owned wind farm in Australia. The initiative emerged because the community felt that the state and federal governments were not doing enough to address climate change.
Land management in Australia presents significant opportunities for social enterprise. We have a lot of land that is scarcely populated outside of cities. Land management includes rehabilitation of land, removal of non native vegetation, fire management, cultural protection and sustainable harvesting.
The values of land management sit very comfortably with Social Enterprise and Indigenous land management enterprises are a significant and noteworthy component of this group.
These organisations have 2 principal goals:
i. Secure control of land to ensure cultural and environmental values are protected.
ii. Provide sustainable employment and training that leads to employment for indigenous Australians.
There are approximately 2500 Indigenous Land Corporations in Australia, many of them provide environmental and land management services, including conservation, revegetation, pest and plant control, grass slashing, using traditional and modern indigenous land management practises. These services may be incorporated into cultural tourism, cattle stations or mining operations etc or they may have contracts with government to undertake rehabilitation, river catchment management and fire control.
Many of these social enterprises allow access to their land for commercial purposes in return for rents and royalties. They receive little or no government funding for their operations, although the assets are often transferred at no cost to the group as part of the reconciliation process in Australia.
Community Recycling Network of Australia
Arising from the second Social Enterprise World Forum held in Melbourne in 2009, a group of like-minded organisations operating recycling initiatives decided to form a national network following similar networks established in New Zealand and Scotland
Social Traders provided a facilitation and secretariat role in the establishment phase to bring the group together and continues to play a support/sponsorship role for Community Recycling Network of Australia (CRNA).
Research undertaken in 2012 found that CREs employ over 1500 people in Australia, the majority facing significant barriers to employment. 30 CRE’s that participated in the study are diverting 2500 tonnes of waste from landfill per annum. There are now at least 100 Community Recycling Enterprises, operating at over 150 sites throughout Australia.
CRNA is providing a valuable role as a voice for community recyclers, a platform for sharing experience, access to resources and influencing government policy.
About the author:
David Brookes was appointed Managing Director of Social Traders in 2009.
Previously, David held senior executive roles with Amcor, Toyota and Rio Tinto across government, media and community relations portfolios. His leadership experience in strategic business-community partnerships and strong advocacy for social and environmental responsibility spans two decades, with the development and successful implementation of new programs at Rio Tinto, Toyota and Amcor and policy and economic development experience at the grassroots level for an industry association and local government in New South Wales.
He has held numerous Board positions including former Chair of the Buy Recycled Business Alliance.