Duncan Thorp: Shoppers can help build back better this festive season

“The festive season should be a time of celebration and people coming together with friends, family and colleagues. Whether you’re buying for adults or children take a look at the ethical alternatives and help build back a better Scotland.”

THE PAST YEAR has seen dramatic changes in the way we live our lives. Our very idea of what’s important and what isn’t has been questioned by many people. 

Certainly this includes our shopping habits too. We’re beginning to ask questions about how business and the economy works (or doesn’t work) for many people, particularly the most excluded.

How can we support our small businesses and keep local economies going? What’s the impact of our shopping on climate change? How have big businesses behaved over the past year? These concerns are becoming a key part of consumer decision making.

While the festive season this year might be subdued and low key, there may be an added anxiety of trying to organise a ‘normal’ Christmas, as well as the usual stress experienced by people trying to find interesting gifts.  

However, when we do buy gifts for family and friends there are other options. We can choose from a huge variety of ethical social enterprise retailers instead of Amazon, Apple or Primark. There are also better, greener alternatives to the seemingly endless Christmas waste.

Choosing where you spend your money and where you shop can bring about lasting, positive social change. By shopping at a social enterprise money is often kept circulating in the local economy. These are businesses that deliver positive social and environmental change, while contributing to Scotland’s economy.

According to new research from Social Enterprise Scotland, 38 per cent of Scottish residents said the experiences of lockdown have made them more likely to support social enterprises. This is good news for the thousands of social enterprises across Scotland that drive the regeneration of their neighbourhoods.

We now have Buy Social Scotland, a new online marketplace for shoppers to buy from social enterprises. It’s a place to find small gifts with a big impact from social enterprises across the country, featuring ethical products, experiences and vouchers, with arts and crafts, health and beauty, homes, sport and more.

These include Invisible Cities, which trains people who have experienced homelessness to become walking tour guides in cities and Mecoco that offers work experience opportunities for disabled people to make eco-friendly candles, diffusers and soaps.

Also featured are The Blankfaces, the UK’s first non-profit fashion label, helping the homeless in Glasgow, as well as food and drink brands Grace Chocolates, Heroes Vodka and Brewgooder. Want a new iPhone? Buy the ethical Fairphone 3 instead.

Buy Social Scotland taps into this emerging demand for goods and services with a positive social impact. According to Census 2019, there are around 6,000 social enterprises in Scotland, with a £2.3 billion economic contribution, employing almost 90,000 people. Over time the campaign will build a big catalogue of these ethical shopping options and more.

While there are social enterprises in every community, basic awareness of them among consumers is often the issue. Among Scottish residents who haven’t purchased from a social enterprise this year, 46 per cent highlighted it’s because they don’t know of any social enterprise to buy from. 29 per cent of Scottish consumers have bought from a social enterprise in the last year.

Of course the pandemic lockdown has hit social enterprises hard. Like other businesses, many social enterprises lost trading income overnight. At the same time, they have stepped up to support local communities that needed support more than ever before, with many demonstrating impressive local leadership. 

As consumers we can influence big business and ensure that governments put people and planet first. Ethical Consumer Magazine helps people make better shopping choices, compares high street retailers and helps find some of the ethical alternatives.

Remember, at this time of year, you can also find your local credit union to see what’s on offer in terms of savings, loans and debt management advice and check out top financial tips from Citizens Advice Scotland too.

The festive season should be a time of celebration and people coming together with friends, family and colleagues. Whether you’re buying for adults or children take a look at the ethical alternatives and help build back a better Scotland. This is how we truly make this the season of goodwill.

Duncan Thorp is Police & Public Affairs Manager for Social Enterprise Scotland