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Green social cooperatives in Italy: a practical way to cover the three pillars of sustainability?

Author(s): Giorgio Osti

Journal: Sustainability : Science, Practice and Policy
ISSN 1548-7733

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 82;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: nonprofit associations | employment | community involvement | social services | rights of future generations | resource management | human-environment relationship

This article provides an introductory description of Italian green social cooperatives which are democratic nonprofit organizations specializing in the provision of environmental services. The background to this topic is the literature on the “third sector,” usually called social entrepreneurship, and the “sociology of environment,” mainly that part concerned with consumption and lifestyles. Green social cooperatives are a concrete attempt to unify the three pillars of sustainability. The analysis is divided into two parts. The first part highlights the challenges that the environmental crisis raises for social enterprises and considers three dimensions in particular: work integration, generalized or linear exchange, and the theory of the commons. The discussion reveals mismatches between the urgency of moving toward a sustainable world and the competences of social enterprises. The second part examines this asymmetry and uses the social cooperative, the main empirical expression of social enterprise in Italy, as its point of departure. The article proposes a typology with which to frame green social cooperatives and employs a qualitative approach to outline a concrete case for each type. The result is the emergence of a social area, at present decidedly underdeveloped and undersized, but with considerable potential for job creation and environmental services. The analysis demonstrates that social enterprises are interesting hybrids of economic and social sustainability, but to promote the environmental pillar of sustainability they must combine work and habitation (or production and consumption) according to a logic of sufficiency.

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