Social enterprise or Sustainable enterprise?

LSE Lecture: Sustainability in Practice, Sara Parkin, Forum for the Future, 11 October 2010

Parkin gave a very articulate and engaging lecture which questioned whether social enterprises provide sustainable solutions.

Because I’ve been working on projects with a couple of social enterprises I found this a very thought provoking question.  The projects I’ve been involved with have been very much focused on sustainability.  The community are involved to create a better place for residents, efficiency has been key so that costs are kept low and manageable but more importantly, the environment has been put at the forefront to make sure it does not suffer.  Parkin prompted debate on the importance of human and economic factors and the effect on the planet when setting up an enterprise.  A true definition of a social enterprise is a business with socially driven objectives which invests its profits back into the enterprise.

During the lecture, we discussed the definitions of a social enterprise, a conventional enterprise, of an entrepreneur and sustainability which resulted in us questioning whether we should be focusing on ‘sustainable enterprises’ instead.

This then raises two questions.  What is the difference between a social enterprise and a not-for-profit enterprise and what is the detrimental effect of such things as wasting paper and increasing your carbon footprint by travelling to make the project happen!?

The lecture would not have been complete without mentioning the Big Society! Parkin talked about her concerns if communities fail to come together once the government have created a business out of decentralising services. Will the communities that currently work together, help each other out and look to make a difference, be squashed? Let’s hope not!

My conclusion is that social enterprises are becoming more accepted, better understood and, fingers crossed, better funded.  Yes, we need to consider all pillars of sustainability for a sustainable outcome but educating communities to be more socially aware is fundamental to achieving this.