So, what is a Social Enterprise, and why is it important?
The role of social purpose in business is growing as businesses seek to combine profits with meaning. Businesses are identifying social causes and making them a core part of their business, achieving social outcomes from the way they conduct business with the profits they generate. This new movement is the subject of a recent book “WEconomy: You can find a meaning, make a living, and change the world” (Kielburger, Branson, and Kielburger, 2018). In Australia, a new class of business known as social enterprises have been established to combine purpose and profit. But, what does a social enterprise actually do?
Social Enterprise Definition
Social enterprises are businesses that are changing the world for the better. The Victorian Government defines a social enterprise as “businesses that trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment” (Business Victoria, 2019). By selling goods and/or services in an open market, social enterprises reinvest the money they make back into the community, tackling complex social issues that affect us all.
In Victoria alone, there are over 3,500 social enterprises trading across the State, employing around 60,000 people and contributing more than $5 billion to the Victorian economy (Business Victoria, 2019). These businesses are driven by a public or community cause, derive the majority of their income from trade, and have made a commitment to contribute at least 50% of their profits towards their nominated social mission.
Ecodynamics’ vision is creating Greener futures, and through our work we are building landscapes, providing products and growing plants that improve our environments. The company understands the need to address the impacts of climate change, and over the past 10 years we have invested in biofuel plants to manufacture alternatives to mineral diesel. The plant now produces in excess of 400,000 litres of biofuel per annum.
In 2018 as we created our group of companies, we gave careful consideration as to how we could incorporate an environmental purpose into our business. Our head office is in the north west of Melbourne, an area of the city that is hot and dry in summer and getting hotter as a result of climate change. The extreme heat waves we now experience result in increased deaths, causing more fatalities since 1890 than bushfires, cyclones, earthquakes, floods and severe storms combined (Climate Council, 2009).
It is well documented that Vegetation within urban areas and public open space has a vital role in improving landscape amenity and community health outcomes. Environments with established vegetation suffer less from climate extremes and provide an environment that invites the public into them, encouraging exercise and wellbeing. Ecodynamics made the decision in 2018 to address climate change by supporting projects that targeted urban heat island effects. We have done this by converting our Victorian Nursery to a social enterprise.
As specialists in growing indigenous plants for aquatic and terrestrial landscapes, the Ecodynamics Nursery regularly grows over two million plants per annum. Partnering with organisations that share our passion for the environment is a natural fit for the Ecodynamics business, as we see an opportunity to create lasting good via contributing to the greening of the urban environment. We are committed to contributing at least 50% of the profits from our Victorian Nursery to further this environmental mission.
Our social enterprise has the goals of:
- Financially supporting existing environmental programs which re-establish native vegetation in our urban communities.
- Support local environmental groups in their efforts to offset climate change by providing plants, materials and expertise
- Use the skills, experience and resources of the Ecodynamics Group to promote the physical, mental and emotional benefits of green areas within our local communities and within the broader landscaping industry
- Support our local communities by employing disadvantaged people in our nursery and wider business
The first project supported by the Ecodynamics Nursery was the Living Pavilion, a collaboration between the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, Thrive Research Hub, The Living Stage, AILA Victoria and The University of Melbourne’s New Student Precinct. The Living Pavilion was a temporary event space for CLIMARTE’s ‘ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019’ festival (23rd April – 19th May 2019).
The project was envisioned as a recyclable, biodegradable, edible and biodiverse event space that celebrates Indigenous knowledge systems, ecological science and sustainable design through participatory arts practice. It is also a key research and knowledge translation project. The Living Pavilion was used as a “Living Lab” – to test, monitor and engage students, stakeholders and the general community in a range of urban greening, biodiversity, place making, social science, art and design research.
The Ecodynamics Nursery was involved through the donation of plants and labour to the project to build the landscape, with 40,000 plants relocated from our nursery to build aquatic and terrestrial landscapes on the site. Upon completion of The Living Pavilion, the 40,000 plants at The Living Pavilion will be installed on the Thompsons Road upgrade, a Major Roads Projects Victoria initiative to improve and maintain the flora, fauna and ecosystems that can be impacted by road construction works, thereby preserving and enhancing roadside diversity.