The increasing interest in ‘social value’ has led to an expansion of the social economy, big corporates rushing to show their ethical credentials and public sector organisations publishing their policies and new procurement strategies for social impact…
But a swift review of these actions shows a worrying trend – we are starting to overlook the environment.
In England and Wales, the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires public bodies to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area.
What is not widely known is that social value originated in response to environmental sustainability policy and practice. Indeed, in construction, the concept of sustainability has been ‘business as usual’ for many years.
I believe that in 2017 there is now a pressing need to focus on the places where people live, the environment around us and the resources that we use. Increasing population causes waste, uses natural resources and creates global warming…. Whilst politicians pull away from arguably ineffectual climate change agreements, the impacts of human activity on our planet and people expand in scale and depth.
We have already seen global warming rising by over 1 degree, and climate change is now leading to increasingly severe impacts – from rapidly melting sea ice at the poles and 50-degree heatwaves in India, to floods in Bangladesh and drought in California. The UK is seeing dramatic impacts too – with severe flooding in almost every region and country in the UK in recent years.
In Manchester air pollution causes over 1,000 premature deaths each year. Local authorities spend billions of pounds each year dealing with waste. Fly tipping is on the increase. Energy costs are spiralling. Green belt land is being sacrificed to build homes…
I originally trained as a landscape architect and learned about how to create a ‘genius loci’. Gardeners such as Capability Brown created spaces where people wanted to be and felt happy; a sense of place that makes people feel good. It’s not really surprising that the happiest place to live in the UK is the Outer Hebrides. Away from all that pollution so common on the mainland, in a beautiful landscape, with renewable energy schemes and pride in the local environment. But even this idyllic life is under threat from sea level rise.
So, if our planet is suffering, and our people’s health and wellbeing is at risk; how can we reverse the trend of ‘social value’ being only about jobs, training and doing local business? (Surely these are really economic factors anyway?)
Instead of ‘socio-economic’, should we be thinking about ‘socio-environmental’? We may be helping people to access employment, but are they physically and mentally healthy enough to stay in these jobs?
Perhaps it’s time for a renewed look at ‘think global, act local’ – many little things done near to home can make a difference. But we now need more of the difference to be made closer to home as well as for our planet.
If ‘social value’ must include environmental benefits – as the legislation states – then using the Social Audit Network’s www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk social accounting methodology is one way to prove the positive benefit that you can have on the environment; to manage and improve your performance; and be accountable for this to your stakeholders – and the planet.
SAN resources include a simple ‘green office checklist’ and tips on how to calculate your carbon footprint. There are many simple online tools available for tracking environmental measures.
Being accountable for environmental measures is a compulsory element of the SAN methodology. We have been challenged for this. Why should an organisation which is set up for a purpose such as providing training opportunities for young people have to report on its environmental impact?
The answer is because the organisation might use natural resources and energy, create waste or pollutants, employ staff who travel; and because those young people might be living shorter lives affected by air pollution, in an unpleasant and dirty neighbourhood, unable to afford to heat their homes. AND because we are heading for a climatic emergency – over 3 degrees warming – and we all will need to do everything that we can to protect humanity from catastrophic levels of climate change.
Anne Lythgoe, Social Audit Network – firstname.lastname@example.org
 Friends of the Earth 2017
 Public Health England 2015
 Office for National Statistics 2016