For the last two segments of this series, I want to look at a model of a sustainable economy and finally at global, planetary sustainability. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey - I’ve certainly learned a lot. Although sustainability still feels like a huge, complex topic, I now have some concrete steps to take in my own life and a framework to think about life in general. We’ve made it the whole way from individual purchasing decisions, through manufacturing systems, communities and now the economy and planet. Thanks for sticking with me.
What kind of economy is sustainable? Regenerative vs. Extractive.
The standard capitalist economy is extractive - resources are privately owned, extracted and sold as long as it can be done profitably, even if human lives and the environment are degraded in the process. Often the costs to human health and environmental cleanup are borne by the larger community, as opposed to the specific polluters, unless governments intervene. The extractive economy has proved very successful at increasing wealth and production, but with great environmental costs and an uneven distribution that has left most wealth in the hands of the few.
In contrast, a regenerative economy, as defined by the Climate Justice Alliance, “is based on ecological restoration, community protection, equitable partnerships, justice, and full and fair participatory processes.” Rather than see resources as inputs to be used for profit, they are valued as important parts of a healthy ecosystem that must be protected and regenerated. This includes honoring the dignity of the human laborers at each stage of production with a fair wage and good working conditions.
Right Relationship — understanding the effects that each part of the business cycle has on all the others, the communities they involve, and the natural systems that impact.
Holistic Wealth — measuring wealth as the well-being of the entire ecosystem and its inhabitants, as opposed to financial wealth. The “wealth” of nature is in its abundance of life.
Innovative, Adaptive, Responsive — incorporating dynamic processes that can nimbly change as conditions change and new problems emerge that call for new solutions.
Empowered Participation — making decisions with democratic frameworks that grant individuals and communities a proper role and voice in shaping the outcomes that affect them.
Community and Place — valuing the unique cultural heritage and history of the local communities.
Edge Effect Abundance — the greatest abundance of life is typically found at the boundaries between different natural ecosystems. In business, this translates to incorporating a wide diversity of perspectives to generate more ideas and better results.
Robust Circulatory Flow — reincorporating “waste” byproducts as inputs into the production cycle.
Balance — seeking harmony between multiple variables: people and profit, efficiency and resilience, collaboration and competition, etc.
How can you apply these principles in your life?
These principles are each taken from the study of natural systems that maintain themselves in harmony with other living and non-living systems. You, too, are a living system and are always connected to many other systems around you. What relationships are thriving in your life and which need some extra care? How do you measure your wealth - in money or in overall well-being? How involved are you in the direction of your community? You can pose similar questions to yourself based on each of the principles and start to shape your life into a regenerative system. When we do this, we each make the economy a little more regenerative in the process. When enough of us do this, we can reach a critical mass capable of shifting the entire trajectory of the planet. More on that next time.
About the author:
Recovering lawyer, training to be a meditation teacher. Anxiety used to define me. Now I am devoted to bringing peace to the people and communities that continue to suffer from it.