The Editor’s Post: Why social enterprises should NOT think like businesses

The founder of a social enterprise repairing outdoor sports kit says thinking like businesses will only perpetuate a system that is destroying the planet. This week’s view from the Pioneers Post newsroom, written by reporter David Lyons.

“Social enterprises need to start thinking more like businesses” is a sentiment I've heard a number of times while reporting for Pioneers Post. But Gavin Fernie-Jones, founder of One Tree at a Time, a social enterprise repairing and reusing outdoor sports kit, disagrees. 

Gavin says thinking like businesses will only perpetuate a system that is destroying the planet. He wants us all to start thinking like citizens.

As I reported in my article following Gavin’s career from ski boot salesperson to repair and reuse pioneer, he argues the only way out of the climate crisis is collaboration. To break our exploitative relationship with nature, he wants all organisations, including social enterprises, to treat people as citizens, not consumers.

For example, an increasing number of outdoor sports clothing companies now make coats created from recycled plastic bottles, or similar. But Gavin believes these products are just perpetuating the band-consumer relationship and isn’t convinced the recycling process is as effective as advertised.

“If you’re buying a jacket that says ‘made from recycled plastic’ on it, the vision in your mind is ‘I’m part of the fix, what I’m doing is important,’” he says. “But a plastic bottle can get made into a plastic bottle, I think, 10 times. When it gets made into a coat, that’s the end of its life, because we can’t recycle that again.”

So ‘thinking like a business’ has led brands to make coats from recycled plastic bottles, because it will enable them to continue to generate profit while making their customers feel like they’re fighting the climate crisis. But really those customers are still just buying a new coat, which uses the world’s finite resources, instead of using the most eco-friendly coat available — the one they already own. 

Through Re-Action, an international collective of repair and reuse organisations, Gavin is trying to create a movement to reshape our clothes-buying habits. To emphasise the urgency of the situation, Gavin points to data from climate action NGO Wrap’s 2024 Textiles Market Situation Report on the UK textiles market. 

The report found that in the UK in 2021, around 711,000 tonnes of used textiles were disposed of in general waste, or 35 items per person. That was almost half of all the used textiles disposed of in the UK that year and of those, 84% were incinerated and 11% were sent to landfill. (Globally, 92m tonnes of textile waste are produced each year, and 87% of the materials used to make this clothing will end up being burned or in landfill.)

To spread the movement, Re-Action is encouraging people to get involved in Citizen Fridays. What began as an anti-Black Friday movement has evolved into a campaign inviting people to share (their time, knowledge, expertise or outdoor gear), repair or get out in the fresh air. 

So, today is Friday. I’m lucky enough to be outdoors on the Isle of Skye reporting for Pioneers Post (watch this space). What are you doing today to limit your impact on the environment or commit to your community? Let us, and Gavin, know with #CitizenFriday.


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Image: Gavin Fernie-Jones (right) in kit repaired by Re-Action (courtesy of Gavin Fernie-Jones)