Climate action 'not on the radar' of Scotland's social ventures – report

Social sector organisations in Scotland, the host country of the COP 26 climate summit this year, are failing to prioritise the environment, new research suggests.

A survey conducted by SENScot and SCVO, which represent Scottish social enterprise networks and the voluntary sector respectively, revealed that almost 50% of responding social ventures think the environment is either “not important” or “moderately important” to their organisation.

Furthermore, only 549 organisations – just 13% of the two networks' total membership – responded to the survey. “[This] did say a lot about how engaged the sector [is] in this agenda,” Pauline Hinchion, director at Scottish Communities Finance Ltd, and a member of the Third Sector Net Zero Strategy Group, said at the report launch on Thursday. 

The Third Sector Net Zero Strategy Group was created last year by SENScot, SCVO, Social Enterprise Scotland and others. Their Third Sector Net Zero Strategy, applicable to both charities and social enterprises, was first published in November 2020.

Following this, SENScot and SCVO surveyed their respective members to assess their progress on achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

There are really organisations that aren't making the connection between social and environmental issues

The survey showed that 80% of organisations have not set a carbon neutral target and only 28% have an environmental policy. 

The striking figures come just months after speakers at the Social Enterprise World Forum's policy meeting described social enterprises as “one of the tools in the toolkit” to tackle climate change, as they prepared a joint statement to be delivered to COP 26.

This week's report showed that some organisations were not making the connection between social and environmental issues, Hinchion said. Non-environmental organisations were “trailing behind in their approach to climate change,” she added, and for many of those focusing on social issues, “there was a real sense that the climate change agenda wasn't really on their radar.”  



Willing to do more

Only 11% of organisations report their carbon footprint, and most say carbon measurement is time-consuming and difficult. However, 68% do not measure their carbon footprint but would like to do so.

While two-thirds of respondents put social outcomes as their first priority, 51% still rank the environment as their second priority. 

SENScot and SCVO say that this is a base to build upon, and that “it will be vital that all communications highlight that climate change is a social justice issue, and to address one will increasingly be about addressing the other.”

The report also recommends that funders include criteria relating to carbon emissions in grant awards, that public sector bodies require carbon outcomes in procurement, and that trustees and other stakeholders apply internal pressure. 

It’s not about doing it from scratch ourselves, there are others out there, we have to work with them

Hinchion said organisations such as Zero Waste Scotland and the Crichton Carbon Centre could help the sector in its journey to net zero. “It’s not about doing [it] from scratch ourselves,” she said. “There are others out there, we have to work with them to ensure that actually, the third sector has the appropriate resources and tools that are suitable for them.”

The Net Zero Survey was presented at this week’s Social Enterprise Policy and Practice Conference, hosted by CEIS, which focused on social enterprise and climate action ahead of November’s COP 26 summit in Glasgow.

The Scottish Government has set a target to achieve net zero by 2045, and the governing Scottish National Party has recently entered a deal with the Green Party, which has been given junior minister roles in government. 

However Scotland's record on environmental action has also been questioned, among others by climate activist Greta Thunberg who said last week that while some countries "do a bit more than others", Scotland was not a world leader on climate change.


Header image credit: Visit Scotland, Paul Tomkins

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