It is well understood today that communities have a strong voice in deciding which development projects get built and which do not. It is no longer sufficient for a project proponent to secure only the government-issued permits and licenses. Project proponents also need a social license to operate.

A social license to operate describes a state wherein a project proponent achieves and maintains community approval and support for a project that impacts them.

The concept is not without its detractors, and is sometimes challenged on the basis of questions such as: Who grants a social license? How does one know when they’ve gained or lost a social license? Does any amount of community opposition to a project mean it does not have a social license?

Despite its detractors, the concept continues to be used by academics, politicians, Indigenous groups, environmental organizations, and project proponents to describe the confluence of factors engaged in these discussions, including: increased environmental awareness, community and local interests, declining deference to expert opinion, and the increasing significance of Indigenous rights in Canada following decades of legal victories by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.

The concept of social license to operate takes on unique characteristics when applied to the renewable energy sector, given what is at stake. Getting new renewable energy projects built is required to transition to a low carbon economy, and to get these projects built project proponents will need to secure a Green Social License.