Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Beyond Policy "Lock-In"? the Social Economy and Bottom-Up Sustainability

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Beyond Policy "Lock-In"? the Social Economy and Bottom-Up Sustainability

Article excerpt


Social economy innovation in sustainability is altering policy environments. The activities of green social organizations combine social and ecological missions in ways that pose new questions across sometimes discrete policy silos and levels, identify emergent policy problems and solutions, and generate new alliances of social actors who pressure for ecologically sound and socially "just" change. In this paper we analyze a series of green social economy organizations that integrate social concerns with climate and ecological concerns. In our analysis we discuss their efforts at "bottom-up" social innovation and policy development. We conclude with a critique of the ways in which the culture of policymaking acts as an obstacle to the transition towards a greater sustainable future.


L'innovation de l'économie sociale en matière de durabilité transforme les cadres politiques. En combinant une mission sociale et une mission écologique, les activités menées par les organismes d'économie sociale verte soulèvent de nouvelles questions au sein de structures et de niveaux politiques parfois cloisonnés. De plus, ces activités mettent en évidence des problèmes politiques imminents ainsi que des solutions, et engendrent de nouvelles alliances entre des acteurs sociaux qui font pression pour que se produise un changement écologiquement rationnel et socialement juste. Dans cet article, nous analysons plusieurs organismes d'économie sociale verte qui assimilent les problématiques d'ordre social, climatique et environnemental. Nous y discutons des efforts déployés en faveur d'une approche « ascendante » de l'innovation sociale et de l'élaboration de politiques. Nous terminons par une critique des différents obstacles que la culture d'élaboration des politiques oppose à la transition vers un avenir durable meilleur.


Over the last few decades, various "green" social economy organizations have established innovative approaches to a range of social policy problems by bringing together ecological and social justice concerns. We present a perspective that demonstrates how these social economy actors have been changing social policy environments in urban transport, energy, efficient housing, and jobs and training for youth and marginal groups based on integrating a sustainability ethos into practice.1 Sustainability here means creating low-carbon, low-growth eco-social economic systems, with the added challenge of moving forward in an ecologically sound and socially fair way (Jackson, 2009).

In this article we focus on the role that the social economy, with its ethos of social equality, can play in integrating the social and the environmental for the purpose of guiding public policy towards a "fair" transition to sustainability. Linked into regional, national, and even global networks, social economy organizations provide unique ways and means for advancing the theory and practice of eco-social innovation that blends ecological thinking into a more humanized, just, and people-centered economy. In particular, social economy innovations in ownership, social and co-operative enterprise development, social procurement, networking and federation building offer strong platforms for promoting and accelerating the social transformations required to address climate change, energy uncertainty, and associated social inequalities (AtKisson, 2010). That said, a number of barriers stand in the way of these changes. The social economy in Canada suffers from poor recognition by government and public policy makers, who especially undervalue the sector as a source of social policy innovation (Amyot, Downing & Tremblay, 2010). Whether green social economy innovations can shiftthe paradigm of policy thinking and become more widely appropriated by the Canadian public, depends upon whether policy communities overcome what Bergman, Markusson, Connor, Middlemiss & Ricci (2010) describe as a "lock-in" mindset that favours technological over social innovation, and assumes bottom-up social innovations as limited, localized, and context dependent. …

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