Of green economy and sustainable capitalism

by Jun 9, 2012All Articles

The European Environment Agency recently released a report on progress towards the “green economy” in Europe. The EEA defines the “green economy” as one in which “the environmental, economic and social policies and innovations enable society to use resources efficiently, while maintaining the natural systems that sustain us.”
That is a very noble goal, and, like motherhood and apple pie, it has few detractors. But the problem is that the EU is seeing the problem of forming a green economy as being about policy and regulation, and not about human behavior and the existing way in which we conduct business. It is very true that we cannot advance at all without the political will to get to a conclusion, but there are fundamental changes that need to happen at all levels of society and in our behavior.
More fundamentally, there is a need to redefine the capitalist system in which we all thrive and on which we all depend. A recent article by columnist Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/identity-crisis-for-american-capitalism/2012/05/26/gJQACsRAtU_story.html) pointed out that capitalism has been through many past iterations, from the robber baron capitalism, to entrepreneurial capitalism, to worker capitalism, to shareholder capitalism.
Capitalism now has to modify itself into what the keynote speaker at the upcoming GCIS Summit (http://chemroundtables.com), John Elkington, has called “sustainable capitalism”. Elkington has defined sustainable capitalism as “value creation that would work for 9-10 billion people, within the limits of our one planet, and create blended (or shared) value across multiple forms of capital—financial, physical, human, natural, social, and cultural.” He has declared the decade ahead as the decade of sustainable capitalism.
But if this decade is not to be squandered, we need a lot of change, especially a resetting of our horizons as part of capitalism from quarterly results to much longer horizons. We need not only political will, but an environment in which individuals feel rewarded for taking a longer term, multi-faceted view of success. The will to do this exists in all of this. The politicians can bring us together. But they might also easily tip us into a world of fiefdoms, protecting their own economies in the name of “sustainability”, but actually driving progress in the wrong direction.
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