There’s a great opportunity to boost the green economy – we can’t bottle it

Earlier this month, a digital marketing company launched an experiment to see if it could get Pepsi and Coca-Cola to follow each other on Twitter by tweeting a challenge to each company to do so and then documenting the results.

Coca-Cola was first to say a ‘gracious (but competitive) hello’ to Pepsi and follow its rival. Later, Pepsi responded with its own greeting, tweeting ‘Can rivals and tweeps coexist? We’re willing to find out’.

They now continue to follow each other, and while for some this may seem like an unusual step for two fierce rivals to take, both are, of course, well known for having lots of bottle.

While Pepsi and Coca-Cola were playing nice on Twitter, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) announced details of a bottle deposit scheme that has the potential to create thousands of green jobs.

The proposed scheme would introduce a small deposit in the cost of buying the drink – 15p for containers smaller than 500 millilitres and 30p for larger ones – which is refunded if consumers return it to a retailer or collection point.

Research for CPRE suggests the equivalent of 4,000 full-time jobs in the waste collection and processing sector could be created by the scheme, including 350-400 higher-skilled jobs and 100 office staff who could be based in an area with high unemployment.

Excellent ideas like these show there’s clearly no lack of innovation or appetite in the voluntary and community sector to create green jobs that help boost economic recovery. The public and private sectors could follow suit – by, for example, setting a quota on green skills and green jobs in existing procurement processes and supply chains.

For those sitting on the outside looking in, a green economy may appear volatile, certainly not mainstream – embraced enthusiastically by those seeking opportunity for social enterprise but still fundamentally experimental if innovative. No doubt some commentators would dismiss it altogether. In doing so they miss one very important point: marry social enterprise with innovation and you’ve got the ‘power couple’ of the green economy – and I, for one, confer my blessing on this union.

There is a need for speed here – we know we’ve got to get CO2 levels down fast and we know we need to get more people into jobs now in order to boost the nation’s productivity. This means that the government must also play its part, for example by providing positive interventions in order to buoy up the green market – yes it costs money but social return on that investment in the shape of getting people into work would be instant. Economic return might take longer – but future gains are likely to be substantial.

I want to see social enterprise success stories from across the UK shouted from the rooftops. Once we become more familiar with the nature of successful green social enterprise, then we can set about promoting the jobs and skills needed in order to boost the entire green economy.

As CPRE has demonstrated, new ideas can be adopted very quickly. If we want to roll out a new green skill set quickly and effectively, we could do no better than tapping into the ever increasing and vibrant network of social enterprises across the nation.

At their best, they combine the essential essences of enterprise and charity – just what we need for a Big Green Economy, indeed a Big Society.


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