The strategies through which social enterprises foster a socially just circular economy: a comparative case study
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A paradigm shift towards the circular economy (CE) is proposed by academics to foster a sustainable future. However, in the current CE concept, the social dimension of sustainability is marginally considered. Here, circular social enterprises (SEs) can play a role in integrating the social dimension in the CE concept to foster a socially just CE, as they prioritise their social objectives. Therefore, this research examined the strategies through which circular SEs can foster a socially just CE. In particular, this research used an environmental justice perspective (including procedural, recognitional and distributive justice) to identify the social issues and injustices in the CE. Moreover, the research looked into the differences in the employed strategies between three SE types, the entrepreneurial non profit, social cooperative and the social business, as the features that address the social issues manifest differently in these SEs. A comparative case study was therefore employed, analysing twelve SEs based on 24 interviews and 56 archival data sources. The results emphasise that the circular SEs can address all three dimensions of environmental justice holistically through five of their main features. First, the circular SEs utilise their economic surplus for environmental and social impact, reconceptualising surplus (distributive justice). Moreover, the economic surplus can be reinvested by the circular SEs in potential environmental injustices in the CE, fostering a socially just CE. Moreover, the circular SEs embody behavioural, financial, educational and technological accessibility through four different strategies (addressing distributive justice), namely: explicitly integrating accessibility in their social mission, providing (circular) capabilities to socially excluded groups, adopting technological accessibility in their business model and including access to CE information. Especially the entrepreneurial non-profits were found to include access to CE information through their adaptive and accessible approach to CE education. Furthermore, the democratisation of decision-making processes and the actualisation of good working conditions are strategies identified concerning the participatory governance of the circular SEs (procedural justice). The social cooperative adopts the democratization of decision-making processes most effectively due to their decision-making structures. Furthermore, the circular SEs aim to empower socially excluded groups and realise an inclusive environment to increase social inclusion in the CE, addressing recognitional justice. Lastly, the circular SEs socially embed their SE in the local community through increasing community engagement to address recognitional justice. The strategies identified by the results provide relevant insights for CE literature and practitioners aiming for a socially just CE.
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