Sustainable Development is Out, Degrowth Is In

Sustainable development, facilitated over the last 50 years by the UN, underpins mainstream business sustainability – the art of balancing decision making over three co-equal pillars: economic growth, environmental protection and social progress. But any business equation that includes economic growth inherently endangers environments and societies because growth (ie development) depends on extraction and exploitation.

We need new post-growth business approaches to be able to degrow the damage being caused worldwide by global North production and consumption. Mainstream business models and conventional business sustainability practices are not going to achieve that.

We need new business models that aren’t growth focused and aren’t always trying to find that new frontier or new market, but are happy to rightsize, use short supply chains and serve their local community.

We need new business owners who are content to earn a much smaller financial return, or a good wage as cooperative worker owners, and obtain a much larger return in terms of enhancement of the commons.

We need new business managers who aim to understand how much extraction and pollution local people and ecosystems can actually tolerate in those places where they operate throughout the value chain and to make those limits their real sustainability targets, rather than some arbitrary internal incremental improvement.

There are really interesting changes to be made in business over the next few decades that will actually help shift society toward a new economic paradigm that has a real chance of reducing climate change, nature loss and inequality.

Featured image: Ian Macharia

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