About sustainability in social economy

It is not only playing an increasingly important role in private life, sustainability is also becoming increasingly important in professional life. Companies from all sectors are trying to optimize and find new approaches, also in social economy.

Peter Stepanek, lecturer from the Master’s Degree Program Social Economy and Social Work, talks about how a social enterprise can act more sustainably and how he would like to bring the topic of sustainability into the social economy at the university level with an international teaching project: Eco3Sustainability Management and Green Controlling in the Social Economy.

At which levels can a company act sustainably?

On the environmental, economic and social level. It is all about taking a holistic view.

Why is the topic of sustainability management still so sidelined in social economy, shouldn't this topic already be firmly anchored there?

I can only speculate, but one problem is that, especially in social economy, financial resources are often very limited and there is no scope for investments that only pay off after a few years. The financing logic via service contracts and subsidies often hardly allows for strategy and organizational development. The aim here is to sharpen the knowledge that sustainability does not always have to be expensive.

How can a social enterprise act sustainably without generating high costs?

It starts with the avoidance of waste, the consumption of energy and resources, the useful life of the devices as well as the origin of the office supplies. Using instead of owning is also a good approach. Devices or resources can be shared with other organizations. Here you can readjust without needing a large budget. In social enterprises in particular, passing on the sustainability concept to clients is an effective option. On the social level, social economy is increasingly looking inward. This includes, for example, health promotion measures, flexible working hours and possibly also social work for the organization’s own employees. It doesn't always have to cost a lot of money. 

The earlier you deal with sustainability, the better - to what extent does this idea play an important role in your profession?

At FH Campus Wien we train future managers for the social sector. Dealing with sustainability is part of management in the 21st century. We want and have to face current issues: we have been doing this for two years as part of the Spring School with a focus on post-growth economics and sharing economy. We have also organized an open course on alternative economic concepts, which has met with widespread interest.
In addition, we have taken a further step with an international project funded by the EU, Eco3, to draw attention to the topic of sustainability management and to send impulses to the university landscape.  We want to identify the aspects of sustainability relevant to social economy and subsequently develop a teaching module with three courses that is used at different universities and in different countries. 

What will the content of the planned teaching module look like?

First of all, we want to look at the topic of sustainability from its three perspectives: environmental, economic and social. We analyze what has already been researched and recommended by colleagues and make a selection that fits social economy. At the same time, we start with didactic considerations for the structure of the teaching module and various documents. We rely on modern teaching and learning materials that are also used in the flipped classroom and we want to pick up gamification elements that at the same time are also practice-oriented.

How do you imagine the gamification elements?

A simulation game, a Green Monopoly, is to be created, in which the aim is to leave the abstract level and make the complexity of everyday management in social organizations tangible with regard to sustainability issues. Here, the students can take on different roles in different types of organization and solve different tasks using “game instructions”. There will also be an online tool that students can use to run through various scenarios in social economy companies.
To what extent does the Master’s Degree Program Social Economy and Social Work benefit from this project, apart from the fact that a new teaching module is being created?
We believe that with this we have laid an important building block for the future. The economy and also social economy have to deal with dwindling resources. It is high time that these topics were given a permanent place in the curriculum. We see great interest among students in these topics. More and more students are writing their master’s theses on one of these aspects. We want to make our students fit for the important questions of the future.

How will the teaching module be embedded in the master’s degree program? 

We are currently revising our curriculum. The module should become a compulsory module.

How does the exchange with the partner consortium work? Who plays what role?

FH Campus Wien is the lead in this project. The other universities focus on the country perspective and contribute their expertise in social economy and social management. The two companies, which are also part of the partner consortium, cover the areas of sustainability and impact orientation and have a special focus on practical application. These diverse perspectives and approaches create a very diverse pool of expertise from which we can draw and work. We complement each other with the respective perspectives.

In conclusion: If you could change three things about sustainability management in social economy right away, what would they be?

  1. Financially promote the development of sustainable strategies and introduce a financial bonus from the sponsors for sustainable management
  2. Integrate sustainability as a fixed component in tenders from funding agencies
  3. Introduce mandatory, transparent reporting along the three dimensions of sustainability for all companies and organizations in the social economy.




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Vertragsnummer: 2020-1-AT01-KA203-078028