ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIAL INNOVATION
Social innovation can tackle environmental challenges and is proving popular in this domain. There are a number of environmental drivers that are already instigating social innovations, such as waste issues, transport and pollution problems, as well as declines in biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services, for example, pollination and flood protection by wetlands. Although these drivers are environmental they have social repercussions, such as health problems caused by air pollution, resource depletion due to inefficient waste disposal, exacerbation of flooding from damage to natural defenses and food insecurity and agricultural issues exacerbated by poor soil quality or lack of pollination. In other words, societal and environmental issues are often interlinked and mutual solutions are possible.
The Institute for Environmental Innovation (INEIN) works on stimulating young people and their communities to develop wood recycling social enterprises, organic gardening cooperatives, low-impact housing developments, farmers’ markets, car-sharing schemes, renewable energy co-operatives and community composting schemes.
Environmental issues tend to be constantly changing and evolving, requiring adaptive and dynamic approaches that are provided by social innovation. Relatively small social groups have the ability to act as a test-bed for innovative experiments in environmental and sustainable living. If successful in this seedbed stage, they can then be adapted and adopted by other communities.
In the INEIN we believe that the application of local knowledge via community and social action can create adaptive and flexible solutions that are appropriate to solving environmental problems. A good example is the success of the SPREAD Sustainable Lifestyles 2050 project, which a European social platform that invited a range of stakeholders to participate in the development of a vision for sustainable lifestyles by 2050. In its research it identified social innovators as one of the gatekeepers that can enable the shift towards more sustainable lifestyles. It proposed that the intentional and voluntary effort of social innovations to change lifestyles is an indispensable bottom-up driver for change, as they often champion new and promising behaviour. As such, it suggested that social innovations should be given the opportunity to test small scale initiatives, which could be scaled up into large scale sustainable solutions and participate in planning and decision-making.
The INEIN Vision is:
- Social innovation and eco-innovation are and need to be strongly linked.
Eco-innovation is the creation of products and processes that contribute to sustainable development, and includes innovations in renewable energy, recycling, wastewater treatment, environmental food processing and eco-friendly packaging. In order to be effective, eco-innovations often require a social component to ensure cultural and social acceptance of the environmental technology or innovation.
- No matter how proficient the technology or the policy idea to tackle pollution, biodiversity decline or resource shortages, it still requires the action of people and communities to ensure success. Without social shifts to accompany technology, rebound effects can occur, for example, in some places the improved energy-efficiency of vehicles has led to increased use of these cars.
Social innovation can complement technological innovation and policymaking to achieve systemic, long-lasting changes in lifestyles and society to tackle environmental issues. When citizens and communities instigate change themselves and develop the innovation, it is more likely to be successful and endure.
Strategies to support social innovation for the environment
Foster environmental awareness and attachment to local ecosystems
At a local level, one of the best means to achieve awareness and attachment is through informal experiential activities, such as field trips and social activities. At a national level, policy can increase awareness through campaigns, programs, educational initiatives, leading by example and procurement.
Build capacity for social entrepreneurship
This could be achieved through programmes to develop leadership and entrepreneurial capacity, specifically for problem solving around environmental issues. These programmes could be targeted at established social entrepreneurs with existing networks and links. Financial and institutional support could be provided to hubs and incubators, which bring social innovations together in the same physical and mental space to promote co-working and co-ordination of activities.
Foster dialogue between key stakeholders
This is essential for effective social innovation. In addition to supporting and promoting hubs and incubators, experts suggest the use of two tools to facilitate this process:
a) Social network analysis maps and measures the individuals and groups within a network and the relationships between them.
b) Scenario planning is a useful tool to manage dialogue. This requires the consideration of several alternative futures for a region, stimulating the generation of a diverse set of management options. Scenario planning has the additional benefit of moving the focus from potential current conflicts to a collective desired future.
Provide institutional support
Once groups are formed, their sustainability can be hindered by institutional and financial constraints. Local government can provide a durable base for the social innovation group and financial support. Policy can provide support in terms of incentives to stimulate social innovation and the formation of groups. Government can also provide support by creating markets for ecosystem services.
Foster effective citizen engagement
These include providing new perspectives and better understanding on challenges in environmental sector alongside access to a greater range of ideas. It also creates stronger networks for those participating and provides them with greater confidence to take action. Lastly, it provides more suitable and targeted programs and responses as well as a sense of ownership over the initiatives and decisions. In summary, Davies & Simon proposed there were three general roles of citizen engagement in social innovation:
• Providing information and resources e.g. crowd sourcing
• Problem solving e.g. co-design
• Taking and influencing decisions e.g. participatory budgeting acuratelly and in a way that participants will understand.Strategies to support social innovation for the environment
“If at first the idea
is not absurd,
then there will be
no hope for it.”