The foundations of the green movement – Part 5b: Sustainable economics: growth, steady-state or degrowth?

Creating a sustainable, green economy

In the introduction post I talked briefly about the three conflicting ideas within the green movement:

  • Green growth
  • Steady-state
  • Degrowth

So, what’s this discussion all about? There’s a consensus that economical growth is the most important root cause when we’re talking about ecological problems. Since growth (the constant increase of material-usage) it’s the root of the problem, it’s also the most important factor to work on. The key to developing towards an ecologically sustainable society lies within changing our economic system. The biggest question however remains: How? Green growth, steady-state and degrowth are the three main topics in this discussion.

I’ll describe these three visions more in detail in this post. At the end I’ve also put in my personal opinion about the whole discussion.

Green growth

Main statement: It is possible to grow an economy without stressing our environment further if (and only if(!)) we succeed in uncoupling materials, energy and economic growth.

In this strategy the key-word is eco-efficiency. Optimizing what we’re doing today, harvesting energy from renewable sources and a strong focus on clean-tech.

Interesting books and study-groups on the subject:

  • Factor Four: Doubling wealth, halving resource use (since 2010 this book was republished as factor 5) – Ernst Ulrich Von Weiszäcker, Amory and Hunter Lovins
  • Natural capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution – Paul Hawkins, Amory and Hunter Lovins
  • Cradle to Cradle – William McDonough and Michael Braungart (a book to be reviewed on this blog later on)
  • Réparer la planète: La revolution de l’economie positive (Repairing the planet: The revolution of positive economics) – Maximilien Rouer & Anne Gouyon
  • The third industrial revolution  Jeremy Rifkin
  • The blue economy (based on biomimicry), founded by Gunther Pauli

Green growth is most widely accepted as what a green economy should look like. The biggest struggle on this mindset right now is the message itself. How can you broadcast a positive message on such a frighting and paralyzing subject?

The biggest argument used in the discussions within the green movement in favor of this mindset is that not growing is ethically unacceptable. By denying the third world to have a bigger economy, we’re denying them our well being. The biggest challenge lies in creating a global green deal (hence the world-conference Kyoto or more recently in Rio).

The biggest risk with going for this strategy is populism. It’s a small step from green growth to greenwashing, ecological products could once again become a privilege for the happy few and so on…

Steady-state and degrowth

On the other side of the discussion are the ecologists that don’t believe in growth. They both believe that we need a stationary or steady-state economy as soon as possible, but they are still somewhat divided between the road to get there (steady-state vs. degrowth).

It was Nicholas Georgescu-Roegne who first linked the second law of thermodynamics with economical growth. His book “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process” inspired tons of other pioneers of the green movement. Since steady-state and degrowth are somewhat interwoven, I chose to list the interesting books and studies on the subject together (along with some keywords on what the books/studies are about):

  • The Entropy Law and the Economic ProcessNicholas Georgescu-Roegne: Key-concept: on a finite planet, infinite growth is impossible
  • Tool for conviviality – Ivan Illich: Key-concept: cooperation instead of competition
  • Small is beautiful – Economics as if people mattered (E. F. Schumacher): Key-concept: Economies of scale (to be reviewed on this blog later)
  • Ecology as politics – André Gorz: Key-concept: Eco-socialism, from consumer to prosumer (everyone creates and uses)
  • Steady-state Economics – Herman Daly: Key-concept: Decoupling quantity from quality
  • Le pari de la décroissance (degrowth) – Serge Latouche: Key-concept: Cultural revolution with a reduction for the market as a result.

The value of a macro-economic model for entrepreneurs

This final part of the series on the foundation of the green movement is my own opinion on the subject (feel free to comment, complement or ignore).

While the theoretical background of ecologism and green economy is an extremely interesting subject, discussions often end up in arguments on very theoretical frameworks. It is my opinion that since there’s a consensus on the final goal of a green economy (stabilized, controlled resource-flow), it’s time we start experimenting with what we know.

This time a one-size-fits-all will not be found. Instead of waiting for that model we should all start aiming for the goal. In the end there will be tons of conclusions on what worked and what didn’t. Right now the big discussion are most of the time excuses to keep doing the same because the system’s just not ready yet.

Start changing your business as an experiment, aim for flourishing both for your company (and everyone working in it) and your customers and stakeholders. Since a macro-economic model is the sum of our actions, it won’t change if we don’t.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Beyond growth or Beyond capitalism? | Keep the game, change the rules

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