This paper examines the potential of for-profit SSE organizations, such as cooperatives, mutual organizations and social enterprises, to complement or displace publicly traded companies in the provision of goods and services, with a focus on the United States and United Kingdom. The paper starts with a review of the traditions and current landscape of SSE organizations. It then assesses inherent characteristics of these organizations that may act as driver or barrier to their growth, before examining external opportunities presented by the current economic and environmental crises. The paper argues that growth for SSE organizations is not risk free, and tensions exist between their purpose and their growth through the market. The paper concludes that SSE organizations could become more important actors in the provision of goods and services, but particular attention will need to be paid to issues of scale, structure and process to preserve their integrity.
Carina Millstone is Research Fellow of the New Economics Institute based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has worked as a corporate sustainability consultant, is the founder of an ecological community project in London, and is currently writing a book on business practice in a steady-state economy.